If you think that in order to eat tacos al pastor or carne asada, you need to eat meat, you best think twice. Or better yet, visit “the vegan side of Mexico,” as the restaurant, Healthy Substance, describes themselves. Since it opened its doors in 2018, it has demonstrated that traditional Mexican foods can be enjoyed vegan.
Founded by Patricia González, originally from Guadalajara, Jalisco (Mexico), Healthy Substance emerged as a healthy and more ethical alternative to Mexican staples. It was also seen as a wellness alternative by her husband, Don Camerino González, who founded Taquería Los Comales.
The story of the restaurant’s founding has “many layers,” Miguel Franco, chief financial officer of Healthy Substance and González’s son, told the Weekly.
“The seed was sown several years ago when my mom, who was always looking for ways to live a healthy life, saw a doctor who observed her eyes and recommended ways for her to take care of herself. The doctor suggested that she stop consuming dairy and meat, and go vegan,” he said.
Two years after starting her vegan diet, her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer. Franco remembers his mother, devastated by the news, looking for healing alternatives to help him, combining medical treatment with more natural methods and a vegan diet. “That combination could do miracles, and in that moment, she needed one,” he recalled
Convincing Don Camerino, the mastermind of the taqueria chain, to try some tacos al pastor that were not made from animal meat, was a major challenge for Patricia. Franco remembers that one night, she invited him and his brothers to dinner, and served them the tacos al pastor. At the end, she sat down with her own plate, prompting one of her children to point out that she couldn’t eat tacos al pastor since she was vegan. She replied that actually she could, that she had managed to create the perfect al pastor recipe that did not require animal sacrifice.
“Don Camerino was impressed,” Franco remembers, “and everyone, in support of his health, became vegans.”
Within months, Don Camerino’s health began to improve and when he would go out to eat with his wife, she had to adjust his menu or order salad. And from there came the initiative to open a vegan Mexican food restaurant in Garfield Park. Part of the reason they picked this area is that they considered it relatively close to his taqueria in La Villita via the I-55.
Franco said that it was destiny that they arrived at Garfield Ridge since they could have gone somewhere else where vegan food was more popular. “We have created a presence in this place, we have had great acceptance and it’s something that people from different backgrounds enjoy,” he added.
At some point, Patricia also returned to college to take culinary and food service sanitation classes—she already had a degree in Communication Sciences from her native Guadalajara.
In early 2020, Healthy Substance was recognized by Yelp as one of the Top 100 Restaurants in the country—it ranked number 57. “It was exciting,” recalled Patricia, who was in Mexico when Franco called her to share the news.
That same year, it was added to the list of restaurants at the Taste of Chicago. Due to the pandemic, they adjusted the food festival as a Taste To-Go concept that time. This year they were part of it again, as well as Sueños Festival and Lollapalooza, bringing their food and mission to new generations.
In June 2021, Don Camerino passed away. But Patricia’s legacy continues, which she loves to share, inspired by her lifelong love for Mexican food.
“Our food really has a bigger impact. Every taco we sell is an al pastor taco that requires no animal sacrifice. And to further that movement, we created the ‘impossible’ carne asada taco. We have transformed our menu and will continue to transform popular Mexican food without sacrificing animal lives and without sacrificing flavor,” Franco pointed out.
Eating delicious, feeling good and being good to animals is possible. Get to know “the vegan side of Mexico” in Chicago.
Healthy Substance Vegan Restaurant, 6852 W. Archer Ave. Monday–Saturday, 11:30am–9pm; Sunday, 11:30am–6pm. (773) 306-2808. healthysubstance.com