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Los Cabos, the ultra-popular Mexican vacation hub that stretches from Cabo San Lucas to San José del Cabo, is celebrated for its fine dining scene with world-renowned restaurants such as Nobu, Cocina de Autor, and Manta. But the food culture of the destination never catered specifically to vegetarians — until two young Mexican sisters decided to open a restaurant that reflects their plant-based values.
Natalia Vera and her sister Ivana Vera were 24 and 22 years old respectively when they opened the first vegan eatery in the tourist hotspot in April of 2017. They named their passion project Chula, Mexican slang for beautiful. “We thought of a short and easy word anyone can pronounce and represents women empowerment,” Ivana told Vegetarian Times. “It ended up being a great nickname since everyone in town calls us Las Chulas.”
Natalia was the first to go vegan, doing so when she was 16. Throughout her youth, she was curious about the origin of her meals, which led her to study nutrition. She realized that she had a gluten intolerance and that consuming animal products made her feel ill. “I wanted to give my body the best and I thrive on plant-based meals,” she says.
Ivana had a harder time letting go of consuming meat. She was a self-proclaimed animal lover – but also burger fanatic. “From cows to dogs, to cats and pigs, I’ve always admired animals. But I contradicted myself, I was eating them,” Ivana says. “I also had a hormonal imbalance and terrible acne.”
Ivana’s hormone and acne problems went away after she adopted a plant-based diet plan created for her by her nutritionist sister, Natalia. In addition to alleviating her health issues, she says now she feels like a true animal lover. “I love being vegan because I’m giving a voice to the animals and I don’t support industries that harm our planet.”
Both sisters say they have been inundated with questions from loved ones claiming to be concerned about their health as vegans. Mexico is a meat-centric culture and it was hard for their community to understand how they weren’t protein deficient. “Everyone was worried about our nutrition and thought being vegan was radical,” Ivana says. “People are more familiar with veganism but it’s still a hotly debated topic because people grew up thinking differently,” Natalia adds.
Chula is part of a burgeoning vegan scene across Mexico — one that returns to the inherent plant-based practices of Indigenous Mesoamerican people. “A decade ago, it was hard for me to find products in the supermarket or find something in a restaurant I could eat,” Natalia says. Los Cabos now also has a fully-vegan burger joint, Mi Vegano Favorito, and vegan options are available at many restaurants including a tasting menu at Don Sanchez Restaurantand a cooking class at Los Tamarindos.
One motivation behind opening Chula was to create an establishment for locals who are curious about vegan food. With this in mind, the Vera sisters decided to maintain accessible price points. Locals in Los Cabos tend to get priced-out of the expensive dining scene. The Vera duo firmly refused to be a part of that gentrification — even if it meant lower profits since Chula uses organic ingredients that are expensive to source.
“We wanted to have a little café where we could transmit a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle and show how eating plants can be delicious, that choosing organic is better for you and that taking care of your community is key,” Ivana says.
Natalia uses her background to ensure dishes are nutritious and balanced. “All dishes have complete protein and all food groups. The quality of our ingredients is super important to us, nothing was bought in packages and everything is made from scratch,” Natalia says. Open for brunch Tuesday to Sunday, Chula offers a mixture of vegan renditions of Mexican and American plates.
“The base of Mexican meals are plant-based, so it was very easy for us to offer a wide variety of traditional dishes without giving up on flavor,” Natalia says. One bite of the chilaquiles with cashew cheese or a tortilla chip pulled from the sky-high stack of nachos proves Natalia’s point instantly. Other brunch items on the menu include waffles with almond butter and a grilled-carrot lox bagel with a smear of cashew cream cheese and capers. Leaving without dessert is a mistake; desserts include a decadent selection of homemade peanut butter cups, cashew cheesecake, and golden milk energy balls. With Natalia’s gluten intolerance, the sisters have always baked gluten-free offerings.
Los Cabos first fully-vegan menu earned a steady stream of customers and the sisters have upgraded to larger spaces twice since they opened. Throughout the moves, the Vera sisters have maintained the Chula vibe with a dusty rose wall adorned with white cacti inspired by the surrounding desert.
Ivana is a firm believer that being vegan goes beyond your plate. Once you question the origin of what you’re eating, you can’t stop. Zero waste can go hand-in-hand with being more aware.” Chula serves as a community space for local artisans to sell their crafts, and zero-waste vegan products including soaps, soy candles, a toiletries refill station, and the Chula Closet of pre-loved clothes.