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Beloved Filipino-Mexican restaurant Señor Sisig is leading the way in showing how an omnivorous kitchen can turn out a plant-based menu that’s every bit as exciting. The Bay Area hotspot wasn’t content with offering boring bean burritos or unseasoned rice bowls as an alternative to its flavorful but meat-based Filipino-Mexican dishes like chorizo and pork sisig. So the restaurant recently announced it will now offer a completely vegan alternative for every item on the menu.
We spoke to the co-owner of Señor Sisig, Evan Kidera, to get a better idea of exactly what it was like to shift a meat-heavy restaurant into a plant-based safe space — and let’s just say it took a lot of trial and error before Kidera and his co-owner Chef Gil Payumo hit vegan-friendly gold. Here’s what Kidera had to say about Señor Sisig’s journey toward offering vegan parity at an omnivorous restaurant:
What made you want to include equal vegetarian and vegan options? Why was that important for the restaurant?
When we started we always had a vegetarian version of sisig, which we did with tofu — and that was just because we saw that, back in 2010, there were a lot of spots with vegetarian options. I personally, at the time, was a vegetarian for eight years prior to us opening the business and so I was really into putting something on the menu that was vegetarian.
We had a location on Valencia Street — which is one of the best corridors, I think, in San Francisco — and we had been operating a food truck [parked in a parking lot] at that location. We had a food truck there for two years and then we ended up signing a lease on a space a couple blocks up on Valencia to open our first restaurant right before the pandemic started.
And so, you know, we [opened the brick-and-mortar but] still had access to that parking lot. And I just kept thinking to myself, you know, like, what can we do? Can I start another business or do another food truck at that location? I didn’t want to put a Señor Sisig food truck that did the same thing as the restaurant just half a block and a half away. I thought we could do a more Mexican-style vegan food truck because we all have the expertise already — but then I was like, why don’t we just do Señor Sisig but vegan?
That idea really struck me and I got really excited about that idea because we had built a brand in San Francisco, you know, it wasn’t like a Chipotle or a nationwide like McDonald’s or whatnot, but I thought about it like, what if McDonald’s started a branch off that was all vegan? I just thought it would just be a hit because if you could go into the space and you didn’t have to ask for anything vegan, you just knew everything was vegan, it just makes it a lot easier to order for vegans and non-vegans alike. [Señor Sisig Vegano opened in November, 2020.]
We slowly started introducing the concept to some of our brick-and-mortars. Some locations could house the whole concept and all the vegetarian proteins, other ones were smaller and couldn’t have all the proteins. We also added all the cheeses and the sour creams, and our sauces became all vegan — and so you could make basically anything vegan.
What was the biggest challenge of making the switch to having vegan-friendly options?
I think the biggest challenge was really learning about what’s vegan and what’s not. I mean, obviously, we knew like, from a dairy, meat standpoint, all those things, we knew what was vegan and what wasn’t. But we didn’t know down to the sugar, the sauce, and all the little things that could have been processed in different ways that would make them non-vegan. That was a real learning process for us to the point where we had to ask all the vendors and the people we were sourcing things from, you know, is this vegan? There were even some guacamoles that we were looking at that were not vegan just based on the sugar that they were putting in it. It really was challenging, but it was also a learning opportunity for us and it really expanded our minds.
I think the other part was to execute the flavors right. The idea was for somebody that’s non-vegan to be able to go to that truck and almost not tell a difference that what they’re eating is vegan was important to us. We took our time with it and went through numerous iterations of different sauces and cheeses and marinades with proteins and it was just a lot of trial and error to get to where we felt we had a product that we were comfortable with putting out.
What has the clientele reaction looked like? Have you had more vegan clients or have omnivorous eaters shown interest in eating more plant-based?
The reception was great — especially with vegans but also with clientele that we used to have who have converted to being vegan in the last ten years. Now that we’re able to give them this option, they can kind of have the full experience of Señor Sisig without having to remove all the things down until you have just, you know, beans, rice, tortilla.
I think we definitely have more vegan clients cause we’re promoting this heavily and I’m sure the word of mouth has gone pretty far as well — but omnivores have also shown more interest, including myself. I don’t always order the pork or the chicken. Sometimes I’ll go with the regular chicken, but everything else is vegan. The greatest compliment we receive is like, “damn man, I couldn’t tell that was vegan!”
What is your favorite vegan version on the menu?
I have to go with the Señor Sisig chicken burrito with vegan egg. It’s very good. The texture is great when it’s scrambled and you get the best of both worlds where you feel satisfied, like you ate something that was considered maybe comfort food, but you don’t feel weighed down by it.
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