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Vegan Vibes 

The small downtown eatery Urban Fresh is serving up big flavors with even bigger health benefits

click to enlarge Chauncey and Dana Padilla

Chauncey and Dana Padilla

Urban Fresh, tucked away in downtown Tucson, is a tasty meat-free mecca with the Padilla family serving as your flavor saviors. Taking over the business almost two years ago, while keeping the original name, Chauncey and Dana Padilla, along with their children, transformed not only the look and feel of the place but how we eat vegetarian and vegan altogether.

"What we want to do is something totally different, we want to blow people's minds," grins Chauncey, putting out some freshly baked sourdough bread and prepping for that day's veggie fajitas lunch special packed with peppers, onions and squash with a side of tangy guacamole. "The menu changes daily so we are not only challenging ourselves, but our customers as well."

The Padillas were living in Colorado, when they heard about an opportunity to open their own restaurant in Tucson.

What the Padillas do with some simple spices, fruits and vegetables will easily change your perspective on vegan dining. They serve an inventive gyro sandwich that would rival any beef heavy option or a delectable raw pizza. Dana and Chauncey developed an herb and vegetable-blended crust topped with garden fresh ingredients. Their pot pie has no animal products and is delicious.

"You definitely won't leave here hungry," Dana smiles as she makes a watermelon lemonade and a green-tea cooler with a blend imported from the UK.

Their taco salad, with a bean and mushroom fusion acting as the meat, is easily split between two people and available in their "grab and go" section, which also includes healthy snacks and drinks.

If you are not that hungry, but need something to keep you going, Urban Fresh has a delightful selection of freshly squeezed juices and thick smoothies. Try their Funky Monkey, which is packed with bananas, deep flavored cacao, almond butter, coconut milk and dates (a lot of regular patrons like to add coffee) or the Green Berry, which includes a mix of spinach, avocado, blueberries and coconut water.

If you need a warm nosh, they also have a daily selection of hand-crafted soups and chili. On this particular day the Padillas had a tangy Thai ginger soup that was infused with lotus flowers and a sweet potato gumbo which popped with spice and filled you up without weighing you down. All of it fresh under $10.

Of course you will want to try their selection of wraps, most of which are raw, but not too many people know that they also serve breakfast. If you are in a hurry you can grab a savory vegan scone but you need to stop in and try their benedict dish. This bit of early morning wizardry is made with a spicy seitan sausage, creamy polenta and vegan hollandaise served over an herby biscuit or take the time to enjoy their sweet potato pancakes topped with a tart compote, which Chauncey likes to describe as "stacks of loving goodness."

Urban Fresh also have a secret menu that won't be a secret much longer. But you didn't hear it from us.

Oh wait ...

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