J’Asada Tacos | Photo by Madison Rutherford
As a local reporter, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with a slew of small business owners who have palpable passion and pride for their craft.
It’s a pretty gratifying gig, one that I don’t take for granted. And when I see that mirrored in Valley restaurants, retail spaces and other institutions, it reminds me why I love what I do.
One such inspiring instance is husband-and-wife team Kevin and Maria Lebron of Pachamama, a plant-based pop-up restaurant that has been operating at events and farmers markets since 2019. Last September, they opened their first brick-and-mortar in Phoenix.
Maria says they took the transition from a temporary experience to a permanent space in stride. At the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market, they featured a full menu, cooked onsite and offered a refined restaurant experience. Now, they simply don’t have to worry about loading and unloading the food and equipment.
The Lebron’s love for cooking – and for each other – is evident. The couple met in high school and have been together for nearly two decades.
“We’ve been together for a very long time, so we’ve learned to communicate with the smallest words,” Maria says. “Everything we do here is a combined effort. We have so much pride in what we’re doing, so it just works.”
Kevin says the feedback on the new restaurant has been “overwhelmingly awesome,” welcoming in both new faces and steadfast supporters from the pop-up days.
The word “Pachamama” translates to “Mother Earth” in the Quechua language. The name is an homage to both the bountiful offerings of Mother Nature and the duo’s Latin American roots. The food that the couple cooks showcases this beautifully – mostly Mexican cuisine that strays from mock meats, instead utilizing fruits and vegetables to develop thoughtful and creative flavors.
El Pancho Burrito | Photo by Madison Rutherford
Pachamama’s cute storefront is nestled on the corner of Indian School Road and 19th Avenue. Lively Latin music provides the soundtrack to the tidy space, the walls of which are lined with local art. The open kitchen allows patrons to perch on a stool and watch the Lebrons whip up their meal while sipping on a hibiscus or cucumber agua fresca from a grab-and-go fridge, which is also occasionally home to house-made sauces and snacks.
The special during my particular visit was the El Pancho Burrito, a medley of marinated hibiscus “carne asada,” rice and pinto beans, avocado crema and spicy serrano salsa, all neatly folded in a fresh tortilla. I am here to tell you that it is one of the best burritos I have ever had. I also made sure to tell Kevin and Maria, which I hope is a good enough reason for them to make it a permanent fixture on the menu.
Next came a trio of the crispy, crave-worthy Tacos de Papa loaded with creamy chile garlic spuds, cabbage and cilantro, served with almond arbol salsa on the side. Spicy potatoes are this vegetarian writer’s new best friend. And that tasty, tangy arbol salsa? Absolutely addicting.
Ceviche de Mi Corazón | Photo by Madison Rutherford
To my delight, the roasted hibiscus made another appearance in the J’Asada Tacos – this time with more of that dreamy, creamy avocado crema and serrano salsa, plus onions and cilantro, all cozied together in these craveable fried tortilla. I couldn’t get enough.
The tacos are in a category on the menu called “The Hot Stuff,” which is both literally and figuratively sizzling. Luckily I love spicy stuff, but if you want something more mellow, look to the “Chill Out, Yo” section, where you will find Ceviche de Mi Corazón, Pachamama’s clever take on the citrusy South American appetizer, made with hearts of palm (the name of the dish translates to “ceviche of my heart”), celery, onions, serrano, cilantro and guerito chiles. Raw fish who?
I can’t wait to go back and try the Wauli-Nut Rizo Burrito, which features a house-made blend of walnuts and cauliflower and aji aioli.
The Lebron’s passion clearly shines through each dish. I admire that passion and adore the food, which Maria says is all “made with gratitude.” I’m certainly grateful.
4115 N. 19th Ave, Phoenix, 602-586-3991, pachamamaphx.com