For some people who turn to a plant-based diet, finding substitutes for their cultures’ traditional meat-heavy dishes can be tough. Recently opened vegan Mexican restaurant PlanTita’s Kitchen hopes to give plant-based eaters that comfort of home.

The restaurant serves dishes like pozole verde made with jackfruit and aguachile made with hearts of palm instead of shrimp or white fish. Many of the recipes were passed down from the mom and grandma of owner Aileen Castañeda and then refined by chefs Manuel Bañuelos and Jesus Ruiz. Soon, the restaurant will offer veganized versions of traditional birria, handmade sopas, tamales, and much more.

An Enmolada plate, center, Queso-Loaded Fries with Drunken Beans, left, and Elote Fried “Ribbs” at PlanTita’s Kitchen in Long Beach, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.
Queso-loaded fries with house queso, chipotle veganaise, braised soyrizo, drunken beans and yellow chile aioli at PlanTita’s Kitchen in Long Beach, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Castañeda was born and raised in Long Beach, so opening up her restaurant on the Westside was a no-brainer.

“It’s my city,” Castañeda said. “I usually have to drive pretty far to get a good meal or an authentic dish. I wanted to bring it somewhere close to us.”

Castañeda’s journey to becoming vegan started with a yearslong struggle with an eating disorder. At 21 years old, she began going to therapy and started her healing process. Part of that was a diet change.

“I wanted to do something extremely drastic to just apologize to my body for all that harm that I did to myself,” Castañeda said. 

The day after she made the decision to go vegan, her mother made birria to celebrate her father’s birthday. Castañeda was bummed she wouldn’t be able to eat it, but it also gave her an idea. She would use her mom’s sauce and instead of cooking meat in it, she made the dish vegan for the first time using tofu.

“Ever since, I was like, oh my God, I’m going to start veganizing every single dish that we have,” Castañeda said.

But the road to actually opening her new restaurant hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. At only 28 and as a woman of color, Castañeda says she’s sometimes been dismissed or not taken seriously.

Chef Jesus Ruiz cuts a pineapple as he works in the kitchen at PlanTita’s Kitchen in Long Beach, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.
Elote Fried “Ribbs” garnished with house chili seasoning and drizzled with creamy chipotle veganaise at PlanTita’s Kitchen in Long Beach, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“I’m never gonna forget, there was this architect that I needed for a full plumbing plan. … He said, ‘Who is gonna finance this? Is it your dad?'” Castañeda said. “It’s been a couple of times that I feel discriminated against just because I’m a woman and I’m so young.”

Despite her young age, Castañeda has had no financial backing to open the restaurant. It’s actually her second business. She also owns an insurance agency with her sister. She’s been wanting to open up a restaurant since 2020, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to postpone until now.

“I think I always knew I was going to be successful no matter what I did, that’s the reason why I never gave up,” she said.

Castañeda’s determination comes from a desire to write her own story instead of being influenced by anyone else’s, and so far, she says, she’s been overjoyed with the reception from the community in the short week she’s been open.

The restaurant will soon offer Mexican brunch and Castañeda is in the process of obtaining an alcohol license as well as expanding the menu options.

PlanTita’s Kitchen is at 1950 W. Willow Street.