Two drinks into Gracias Madre’s deep cocktail list, I’m reminded of the beautiful painted lady butterflies that break from their chrysalides deep in the Mexican desert only to migrate north through California to mate. Their bright orange, red, and yellow hues fluttering by can be such a curiosity, especially when you’re apologizing when dozens inadvertently smash into your windshield on the 405 like paintballs. So sorry, painted ladies!
Gracias’ bar manager Luis del Pozo is a butterfly of a different type: He’s sociable, he always has a colorful bowtie, and the drinks he crafts at the plant-based restaurant have migrated from south of the border. Sure, there’s a margarita and Paloma, but the flavors he pulls together using only diffuser-free tequilas and mezcals with pure organic ingredients are spirit-forward and balanced as a yoga pose, and the library of ingredients he sources make his program truly unique.
The cocktail So Fresa, So Clean, for example, blends muddled strawberry, Blanco Tequila, and cachaça into a fruity-frothy glass of bliss. The white meringue-like head on top isn’t your traditional egg white, it’s aquafaba, which is a vegan-friendly chickpea brine that’s flavorless and actually sticks around throughout the whole drink.
The patio at Gracias Madre on a weeknight is packed with both dates and groups despite being a breezy winter night; their candles in front flicker wildly as their heat lamps give off a warm red afterglow across everyone’s cheeks. Inside, the bar is just as cheery as plates of sizzling food flow past, smelling somewhat like fajitas and satisfying warm masa.
Perhaps most surprising thing about the Gratitude-turned-Madre eatery is that executive chef Alan Sanz isn’t a devout plant-based eater, yet loves the challenge of creating from-scratch vegan Mexican food. It helps that he’s given a broad palette to paint from as the restaurant has their own organic farm in Norcal called the Be Love Farm.
Definitely try the jamaica flautas that are light and crisp on the outside, yet earthy, floral, and tart on the inside. The guacamole, nacho cheese, parmesan, green sauce on top is piled high enough to top each bite with extra yummy bits. Pair it with the Ha-My-Cah Not “Jamaica” cocktail that amps up the bite with some jamaica syrup, lemon juice, rhubarb bitters, and fresh lime juice. Although the pairing is somewhat like matching denim jeans with a jean jacket, it somehow rocks harder than La Bamba!
Gracias Madre is at 1617 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach, graciasmadre.co