Christian Manuel Ventura Alatorre, chef and owner of esteemed vegan restaurant Sushi Momo, says it’s time he devote himself to Mexican cuisine. He believes Nopalito, a new plant-based Mexican street food venture poised to open at the corner of Avenue des Pins and Saint-Laurent in mid-October, will help him do so.
“I’m Mexican, but when I came to Canada my first job was in a Japanese restaurant. I didn’t have any experience, but I really loved the cuisine. So I focused my time on that technique for the past 10 years. Now, it’s time for me to go back to my Mexican roots,” Ventura Alatorre tells Eater.
After opening Sushi Momo in 2014, then an affiliated vegan sushi counter called komomo in 2018, Ventura Alatorre opened Casa Kaizen this August. The restaurant centres on plant-based tapas that blend Asian and Mexican flavours — indicative of his slide homeward. “Whereas Casa Kaizen is 50/50 Mexican and Asian, Nopalito will be more like 90 percent Mexican,” he says.
The Mexican street food in question at Nopalito isn’t a taco, as a hint offered on its Instagram page suggests, but a torta: a traditional Mexican sandwich commonly filled with carnitas, cutlets or pulled pork. These varieties are on offer at T&T Tacos and Tortas, located less than one kilometer from Ventura Alatorre’s newest outpost. But the establishments won’t necessarily be competing for attention: Nopalito’s tortas will be plant-based.
“Nopalito” means “little cacti” in Spanish and when it does open — next door to Casa Kaizen — it will be filled with them. But first, Ventura Alatorre says it will operate on a takeout-only basis. “We have been working hard to prepare the space as quickly as possible so that a takeout operation is in place for the second wave of coronavirus. This spot will also serve as takeout for Casa Kaizen, which is only equipped for dine-in.”
The setup would be similar to that of Ventura Alatorre’s sushi operations. Sushi Momo on Saint-Denis is dine-in only, whereas komomo, a few doors down, operates exclusively as a takeout counter. “komomo has been doing very well during the pandemic. I don’t think people realized before that they could get takeout from Sushi Momo, so sales have increased now,” he notes.
To fully realize the transition from Japanese to Mexican cuisine, Ventura Alatorre says there is a “master project that is fully Mexican” in the works for next year, and like all the others, it will be plant-based.
Nopalito will open in mid-October for takeout only on 3723A St Laurent.