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Turns out, vegan can be painless.

Image: Alice Levitt

My friend Jessie is a big booster of the OST. She sold me on the virtues of Ray's BBQ Shack with very little effort. I was a little less eager to follow her lead to Sunshine's Health Food Store and Vegetarian Deli. I like my meat, and if possible, I like it at every meal. But Jessie's passion finally prevailed today and I can't thank her enough. Sunshine's not only made me rethink vegan food, it shifted my attitude on Tex-Mex.

The café, located in a warehouse that I never would have found if I hadn't known to look for it, may be best known for its homemade bean burgers, po' boys and juices, but I was more interested in tasting dishes as off the beaten path as the restaurant itself. The toothsome kale salad, spicy with a raw garlic dressing, was an obvious must. I was also a fan of the bean thread noodles yellow with curry and nori-wrapped salad of carrots, cabbage, avocado and peanut butter with well-caramelized soy chicken. But the standout dish was also the biggest surprise: vegan enchiladas.

A dish that focuses so zealously on cheese can't be good without it, right? Wrong, especially, if you're like me and balk at the orange cheez sauce we see way too often on Tex-Mex grub. Sunshine's version of the dish centers around four tortillas rolled around soy beef crumbles and rice, then slathered in mild but peppery enchilada sauce. But the raw cashew cheese is the pièce de resistance, adding richness but not the chemical slick that I dread in conventional Tex-Mex. Yes, the faux fromage is missing the stretch of real cheese, but with flavor that intense, I didn't miss it.

The beans, unaccountably rich without lard, accomplished a similar feat, while the cilantro-heavy pico lent a welcome kick of vegetal freshness. The moral: Trust that your friends have your best interests at heart. Or at the very least, that a vegan dish can sometimes be even better than the real thing.

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