Vincent Contreras is the chef of GuacStar, a Mexican restaurant in Tempe with a completely herbal menu. (Photo: Courtesy of GuacStar)

GuacStar, a Mexican restaurant with a cocktail bar, will soon arrive in Tempe. Established to open in early 2020 near the main campus of Arizona State University, the restaurant will be another Phoenix dining option for vegans, vegetarians and Mexican food lovers.

Chief chef Vincent Contreras said he wanted to approach food in a tasty and healthy way, and show that Mexican food does not have to be fried or fatty to have a delicious taste.

None of the dishes at GuacStar will include animal products, Contreras said. That means they will not include meat, milk or eggs, for example. He and his partner Jimmy Carlin prefer to call the plant-based restaurant instead of vegan because “vegan is a lifestyle.”

Carlin said he wants GuacStar to be a restaurant where vegans, flexitarians and those who lean toward veganism can cross. Flexitarians are people who can eat meat occasionally, but do not include it as part of their normal diet, he explained.

“We don’t want to make people feel bad about their food choices,” Carlin wrote in an email. “It’s great to have deep principles, but we don’t need to shout them from the rooftops.”

Who is chef Vincent Contreras?

Contreras said that while some people are connected to think that tacos and taquitos come with meat, he wants to challenge that notion in GuacStar.

It also brings that way of thinking to your personal life. He and his son try to eat a plant-based diet at least four days a week, and in general he tries to avoid buying mass-produced and factory-grown meat.

“All the effort to raise a cow, kill a cow, all resources, is ridiculous,” said Contreras. “Reduce the scale and make quality meat.”

This will not be the first time Contreras will experiment with plant-based versions of the foods with which it grew. He previously worked as a chef at Casa Terra, a vegan restaurant in Glendale where he beat his family with meatless meatloaf, he said.

In addition to Casa Terra, Contreras previously worked at The Brickyard in Chandler, Local Bistro in Scottsdale, The Cultured Pearl (formerly Pearl Sushi Lounge) in Scottsdale and at the Prado and Match hotel restaurants alongside Michelin-starred chef Alex Stratta.

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What to expect on the menu

“When I look at plant-based foods, I try to cook with everyone in mind,” said Contreras. “I want everyone to enjoy this.”

For GuacStar, Contreras said that most of its ingredients will be obtained from Arizona and will be certified organic. Fungi, an important component of restaurant dishes, are grown within a 20-mile radius of the restaurant. Almost all food will be made from scratch, he said.

For jaca carnitas, for example, Contreras adds a reduction that includes Coca-Cola, star anise, jalapeños and orange juice. The process gives jaca an essence similar to the way traditional carnitas are cooked in their own fat, he explained.

The menu has not yet been finalized, but may include:

  • Different types of guacamole, including grilled peaches and jalapeño, roasted mango and poblano pomegranate and charred street corn.
  • Flamed cheese with “chorizo” crumble, creamy cheese sauce with plants, poblano pepper, tequila reposado and homemade chips.
  • Green pozole with shredded “chicken” made in seitan’s house.
  • Oaxaca chocolate mousse cake with morita pepper and pistachio ice cream.
  • Prickly pear, a cocktail with Hendricks gin, prickly pear, agave nectar,
    non-dairy cream, silk tofu, sour lemon and a touch of kombucha.

While a couple of dishes may use simulated meat brands, Contreras said he avoided that on his menu to avoid “over-processed” food.

“I am not trying to reinvent many things,” Contreras said. “I think everything has its place. Everyone has a certain way of making guajillo sauce. It’s not easy to cook this kind of food and take it to a certain level.”


Details: 930 E. University Drive, # 208, Tempe.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8092. Follow her on Twitter: @PriscillaTotiya.

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