• vegan chain dining: baja fresh

    November 19th, 2010quarrygirlbaja fresh, LA restaurants

    UPDATE 11/22: people are pretty divided on this churro issue. i am gonna let y’all do your own research on this one!

    UPDATE 11/22: after some sleuthing, it would appear as though churros at baja fresh are NOT vegan. look for the **** at the very bottom of the post for more info.

    UPDATE 11/19: the churros at baja fresh are VEGAN as well! 🙂

    i don’t usually jump at the chance to eat out at chain fast food restaurants, but it’s always nice to know when they have vegan options.

    recently we were checking out a movie at the arclight, and had to find somewhere to grab a super quick lunch before the show. we haven’t been to baja fresh in years, so we decided to give their vegan options a whirl. i was pleasantly surprised by how decent it was, by how much food we got for $8, and by their epic all you can eat salsa bar. honestly, anywhere with a bottomless salsa bar is alright in my book.

    here’s a quick rundown of what’s vegan at baja fresh…

    when i wrote to the company asking about vegan options, they sent me a detailed reply that i will include at the end of the post, but until then this is the easy to remember stuff. rice and beans are vegan if you get them without cheese (i would specify no cheese on everything), the side salad is vegan if you get it without cheese, chips and salsa are vegan, and corn tortillas are vegan. flour tortillas are not vegan…so sorry, no burritos, folks! with that info, it’s pretty easy to get a meal whether it be in the form of a burrito bowl, some bean tacos, or a couple of sides (which is what we ordered).

    side salad, no dressing or cheese

    we started off with a side salad (no cheese or dressing), which was somewhere around 3 dollars. i was expecting it to be all limp and puny, but it was actually pretty crisp and high quality. it came covered in crispy tortilla chips and fresh pico de gallo—so good! we ordered it without dressing, and then covered it with buckets of different salsas from the bar. have i mentioned how much i love the salsa bar?! they’ve got pico de gallo, green sauce, red sauce, black sauce, chopped cilantro, onions, everything! we probably added ten bucks of value to our meal just on salsa refills.

    side order of rice and beans, no cotija cheese

    we also got a couple orders of rice and black beans (no cheese), which were pretty big for just over 2 bucks. baja fresh’s rice is the best…it’s all orange and mexican-seasoned. i’m so stoked it’s vegan because most rice like this is made with chicken stock. again, we covered these babies in a mountain of salsa and were good to go.

    i know a lot of you are probably thinking, “a post about baja fresh, what the hell?”. but since chipotle gets so much love from the vegan community, i thought we should throw some baja’s way as well. sure, chipotle makes a mean vegan burrito…but baja fresh has better rice, better bottled hot sauce (all chipotle has is tabasco), and an insane salsa bar. chipotle doesn’t even have a salsa bar!

    anyways vegas, if you are ever in a pinch, you can definitely find good, cheap food at baja fresh! here is the email i received from the corporate office regarding vegan options:


    Thank you for taking the time to contact Baja Fresh. Unfortunately, we do not provide a separate, vegan menu. I can, however, provide the following information.

    There are no animal products in the preparation of our rice or beans; however, when we plate the beans on some entrees, they are sprinkled with Cotija Cheese. The Cotija Cheese can be eliminated upon request. Our tortilla soup has a chicken base. We do not use any other type of chicken or beef broth.
    The manufacturer ingredient specifications for the Jack Cheese and Cheddar Cheese used in our restaurants do not contain animal rennet. The Cotija Cheese used in some of our menu items does contain animal rennet, and can be eliminated upon request.

    The following Baja Fresh menu items contain Eggs:
    Ranch Dressing
    Breaded Fish
    Fish Salsa

    The following Baja Fresh menu items contain Milk/Whey:
    Sour Cream
    Jack, Cheddar and Cotija Cheese
    Ranch Dressing
    Breaded Fish
    Flour Tortillas
    Tortilla Soup
    Salsa Crema

    The following Baja Fresh menu item contains Butter:
    Ranch Dressing

    The above information is based on standard product formulations and is current as of August 15, 2005. Variations may occur due to differences in suppliers, ingredient substitutions, recipe revisions, or product assembly at the restaurant level.

    Our ingredient listings are reported by the manufacturers. Baja Fresh® Mexican Grill, its franchisees and employees do not assume responsibility for a particular sensitivity or allergy to any food provided in our restaurants. We encourage anyone with food sensitivities, allergies, or special dietary needs to consult with a medical professional for informed answers relating to their specific sensitivities and the risks involved when dining out.


    Noelle Bannon
    Baja Fresh Customer Care
    Baja Fresh® Mexican Grill


    ***UPDATE: this just in from mr. wishbone. he wrote to baja fresh a while back and they wouldn’t give him an ingredient list for the churros. they did however give him the nutritional info:

    “Thank you for taking the time to contact Baja Fresh. Unfortunately,
    we do not provide a separate, vegan menu. I can, however, provide the
    following information.

    Churros Nutritional Information: Calories-230, Fat (g)- 10, Calories
    from Fat- 90, Saturated Fat (g)- 2.5, Trans Fat (g)- 0, Protein (g)-
    2, Carbohydrate (g)- 32, Dietary Fiber (g)-1, Cholesterol (mg)- 25,
    Sodium (mg)- 260”

    mr. wishbone explains, “As you can see the churros contain 25mg of cholesterol, and as you may know the only dietary source of cholesterol is animal products. My contact at Baja Fresh was Noelle Bannon, Baja Fresh Customer Care, NBannon@bajafresh.com”

    hmmmmm. there seems to be conflicting info floating around regarding the veganocity of the churros. my advice would be to stay away!

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45 responses to “vegan chain dining: baja fresh” RSS icon

  • yeah, I’m done with Chipotle. no salsa bar and crappy hot sauce.

  • i think Baja Fresh is pretty darn okay. but i actually totally look forward to Sharky’s Tofu & Veggie tacos. good salsa bar also.

  • hi! if the tortillas aren’t vegan, what makes you think that the crispy tortilla chips on top of that salad are?

  • Yeah, that’s the one thing that keeps me from craving Chipotle – the rice. It’s so plain there. They need the orangey flavored rice!!!!

  • have you tried plancha? started by a former poquito mas owner – they’re awesome and have a buncha vegan options:


  • @jakey: I think the crispy tortilla thingys are made from the same stuff as their vegan tortilla chips.

  • i’m pretty certain the corn tortillas are vegan so the strips probably are also.

  • I’m with carmel france on preferring Sharky’s Burritos. I mean, its cool that you can get a couple things at Baja Fresh that are vegan but it doesn’t seem really worth it for me when I can get awesome tofu burritos at Sharky’s.

  • Gauri Radha गौरी राधा

    Good to know what can be ordered by vegans here!!

  • Didn’t realize their tortillas weren’t vegan. Frankly, I find their food super bland. Their veggie burrito is the reason I started going to Chipotle. The salsa bar is a definite plus, but, aside from that, I’ll continue to skip Baja.

  • I don’t go to places like Chipotle or Baja Fresh for anything other than burritos, so this is so not helpful. WTF is whey doing in a tortilla anyway?

    And I don’t know what all the hating is about on Chipotle’s cilantro-lime rice. I think it’s delicious.

    I really need to check out Sharky’s now.

  • I really don’t know what milk/whey is doing in certain flour tortillas. Like bread, a tortilla should only have 3, maybe 4, ingredients.

  • are flour tortilla’s not vegan as a rule, in general, or just here?

  • Sharky’s >> all others!

    That said, I once called BF corporate and (after being transferred from person to person, however they were extremely kind) they read off the ingredients on the churros and THEY WERE VEGAN. THAT’S RIGHT, VEGAN CHURROS. I don’t get them very often, but I have had them and they’re pretty awesome. Granted, not authentic, but, dudes. VEGAN CHURROS.

  • As much as I love having salsa choices, salsa bars are sanitation disasters and are super grody. :/

  • I always ask for avocado slices on everything I order there

  • If they’re quality flour tortillas, they’re vegan. Otherwise they’re chock full of shit you can’t even pronounce, so that they’ll last 2 months without going bad.

    I don’t know why whey is in SOME flour tortillas. It’s usually only in the super-commercial grocery store variety.

  • You said the Churros are vegan but aren’t they covered in refined sugar? If so that’s not vegan.

  • Wah wah, possibly. I didn’t check the sugar source. A girl’s gotta eat.

  • I haven’t eaten at Baja Fresh for a long time, and back in the day I liked Poquito Mas a lot better. I should check with them to see what their vegan options are.

    @GEF I think traditionally flour tortillas are made of flour, shortening (often with lard), salt, and water. Modern flour tortillas have a lot of extra things added like honey or whey so it’s best to check the ingredients.

  • I don’t like regular Tabasco (too vinegary) but I like the chipotle and green stuff.

    As far as salsa bars, though, you can’t go wrong with Sharkeys. My favorite by far. AND they have tofu!

  • Chipotle Tabasco is awesome. Not a watery consistency like the red stuff.

  • I’m glad people have had great experiences at Sharky’s, but I haven’t been so lucky. There was chicken in the first tofu burrito I ordered at the Pasadena location, and they were not very polite when I took it back to the counter. The tofu burrito they replaced it with was cold throughout.

    I have no plans to try that location again, but I might try the Hollywood one — is that the one everyone likes so much?

  • the hollywood Sharky’s is fantastic (and i’m pretty sure the one people are talking about). plus, it’s in a .5 mile radius of both BF and the Chipotle, and by far the best option in my opinion. Salsa bar is incredible as well.

  • Have people confirmed that the tortillas at Sharky’s are vegan?! are we sure??

  • Does anyone know about the tortillas at Poquito Mas? They seem fresh since they make a big deal about making them right in front of everyone, but I have never asked. I did ask about the pinto beans and were told it’s just beans, onions and oil.

    What do people eat at Poquito Mas that’s vegan?

  • 1. mmm… vegan churros :p

    2. I’ve emailed Sharkey’s multiple times in the past with no response so I haven’t eaten there since I was a vegetarian. Does anyone know what all their vegan options are?

    3. Regarding Baja Fresh, do they fry the tortilla chips in the same fryer as they do the breaded fish? I don’t mean to be all picky, but if so, I’d rather pass on those.

    4. I agree with Tabasco being too vinegary and watery. I love the other two choices at Chipotle too 🙂

    5. We need a “like” button in the comments section.

    6. I like that comments by by Quarrygirl are in red 🙂

  • Regarding Sharky’s vegan “churros”….
    Yes, they are vegan but don’t get them at Sharky’s. Trader Joes has the SAME EXACT THING called “Mini Cafe Twists” for a lot less money and they come in a large container.

  • @Anires: Realistically, if you’re the kind of vegan concerned about refined sugar, you probably shouldn’t eat at a place like Baja to begin with (I’m pretty sure they’re owned by McDonald’s, for one thing).
    No judgment (I think it’s admirable), but veganism comes in gradations just like vegetarianism does. Many vegans eat questionable sugar when they’re dining out.

    In conclusion, you can pry my Sharky’s from my cold, dead hands.

  • I too much prefer Sharkeys. Especially because they have brown rice! It kills me that Chiptole and Baja use that horrible white rice. But baja’s black salsa is my jam!!!

    Only horrible thing about Sharkeys–since I have been eating there pretty much weekly for the past 2 years, I have found a real chunk of meat in my tofu on three separate occasions. I get super pissed every time and they give me free meals. You would think this would be enough to deter me from eating there but its just so good eeek. The churros are awesome as are the sweet potatoes which are off the menu–but order them!

  • Went to Baja yesterday for the churros. They were fresh and delicious. Only 99 cents! I may go back today. 🙂

  • Just came back from Baja Fresh. FYI, they said the chips and churros are fried in the same fryer as the chicken taquitos. Up to you. Also went to Sharkeys for the tofu fajita burrito some people mentioned. Got it with added avocado slices since I wasn’t sure if the guac is vegan. They confirmed the beans are vegetarian. Not sure about the rices. The girl was cool about me asking for a wipe down of the grill, the grill guy not so much but he did it. Fyi, it’ll take longer to get your food. He sprayed it and said I would have to wait a while?

  • So when I looked at the display board menu the tofu burrito was listed on it’s own and had only veggies, beans, and tofu listed, so I was surprised to find rice in my burrito. Oh, and a huge bag of chips. Anyway, as I ate my tofu fajita burrito in the car on the way home (my husband was driving), even though it’s dark out, I also noticed that the veggies looked buttery. I arrived home just now and promptly called the Sharkey’s I ordered from. I was happy to hear that the rice does not contain chicken stock but as I almost cut her off in delight, you can hear her going back and forth with the cook “it has tomato…BUTTER…” 🙁 WTF!

    On a happy note, the tortilla chips are fried in a separate fryer and the veggies are cooked with oil and are butter free! 🙂

  • Would love to see a write up like this on Sharkey’s…

  • i like the Sharky’s in Long Beach. i don’t make that drive just to eat there but when i’m nearby i make sure to get a tofu and veggie taco (and sometimes a beer). i’m bummed to hear there’s butter in the rice.

  • Gina, the churros you ate are not vegan. There is lard in them and they are fried in the chicken fryer. They are also covered in bone-char sugar. Back when I turned vegan about six years ago, I wrote to all of these non-vegan restaurant chains to get ingredient information. That is what I was told: chicken fryer and lard and non-vegan sugar.

    (To those who eat bone-char sugar, the people at Baja Fresh said in their email to me, “… the churros are also covered in refined sugar, which is known to be refined using animal by-products and therefor makes the churros not vegan.”) Yes, we all have to eat, but vegans don’t have to eat bone-char sugar in such large amounts (covering a churro!) That’s my two cents.

  • same here: i like the Sharky’s in Long Beach. i don’t make that drive just to eat there but when i’m nearby i make sure to get a tofu and veggie taco (and sometimes a beer).

    as far as cholesterol in the list, it isn’t really an indicator of anything. more definitively is the ingredient list. without that, no claims can be made to the veganocity of the churros. except for the one person who had the list read off over the phone.

    i’m not a fan of baja fresh, really bland to me. salsa bar is a plus, but sharky’s wins this round for salsa bars.

    all in all save for Coco Renos in long beach, chipotle is the second best bet.

  • CHURRO-GATE 2010!

  • It’s true, dietary cholesterol overwhelmingly comes from just animal sources. (It does exist in plants too, but in such negligible amounts it’s not really worth labeling unless people are touting its health benefits.)

    I seem to remember hearing that they use different churro distributors at different locations, and I know that they said that the ones used at the one I was at (Northridge) had that animal-free ingredients list. Aside from the bone char, sigh.

    And you can trust me…I got my degree in nutrition so I didn’t miss anything that they rattled off to me 🙂 Maybe they’ve changed their ingredients since then, since it was well over a year ago, and maybe they just have nutritional info for a different supplier’s churros. Who knows. It’s a crapshoot eating out. I don’t really eat there since finding out about their tortillas anyway. Also, SUPER bummed about the butter in the rice. WTF Sharky’s :'(

  • Hi Raspberry,

    I don’t want to shoot the messenger so please don’t take this personally, I also do not have a degree in nutrition so I must refer to experts in the field for my information.

    In a Google search for “plant sources of cholesterol” I was only able to find one reference: http://hubpages.com/hub/Believe-It-Or-Not-Plants-Also-Contain-Cholesterol

    That article did not have any source documentation, and was discussing Sitosterol.

    But I was able to find numerous respected websites stating that plants do NOT contain cholesterol. Here are a few quotes and links:

    American Heart Association

    “What about cholesterol and diet?
    People get cholesterol in two ways. The body — mainly the liver — produces varying amounts, usually about 1,000 milligrams a day. Foods also can contain cholesterol. Foods from animals (especially egg yolks, meat, poultry, shellfish and whole- and reduced-fat milk and dairy products) contain it. Foods from plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds) don’t contain cholesterol.

    New York Times Online

    “Food Sources
    Cholesterol is found in eggs, dairy products, meat, and poultry. Egg yolks and organ meats (liver, kidney, sweetbread, and brain) are high in cholesterol. Fish generally contains less cholesterol than other meats, but some shellfish are high in cholesterol.

    Foods of plant origin (vegetables, fruits, grains, cereals, nuts, and seeds) contain no cholesterol.”

    LiveStrong (Lance Armstrong)

    “Plant Foods
    Consumption of plant foods can protect against heart disease. A plant-based diet can help keep cholesterol numbers in range or lower cholesterol levels that may already be on the rise. Plant foods do not contain cholesterol, even if they contain fat, and therefore are an important part of a heart-healthy diet. When building a plant-based diet, focus on whole fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, legumes and soy. These plant foods not only provide a good source of fiber but contain essential vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.

    Can you please reference any plant foods that contain cholesterol and the reference source? (Please do not use the mentioned hubpages.com article as it has no references.)

    Thank you,
    Mr. Wishbone

  • Churrogate reminds me of the “vegan” donut scam of (approx) 2002.

    There was talk in the vegan underground of vegan donuts in Glendale.

    I went, had a conversation with the manager (I was dubious) and she insisted there were no eggs in the batter.

    I got some and was very sick afterwards.

    Turns out it was a problem of translation. Yes, they did not add any eggs to the batter, but there were powdered eggs in the commercial mix they bought.

    Moral of the story: be wary. Be very wary.

    And really, with all the tasty vegan desserts around town, why risk it?

  • Hey Mr. Wishbone, no worries! I, along with a professor of mine, was shocked to hear another professor of mine saying that cholesterol exists in plant form. It’s sort of misleading to call it that, though – it’s not really cholesterol per se, but phytosterols, or plant sterols. They have very similar structure to cholesterol, but are obviously different. Here’s a little background:



    Long story short, they’re not technically cholesterol, they’re very good for us (in fact, they’re sort of like anti-cholesterol), and we only get them in our diets in very small amounts. That’s why any food that’s enriched with them always boasts it as a health claim. You can take them as a supplement, too, and. At any rate, I’m sure that the alleged cholesterol in those churros isn’t because they enriched it with plant sterols 😉

  • forget that last “and”…typos are the bane of my existence.

  • Thanks Raspberry,

    I did look into it further and the structure of plant Sitosterol is similar to cholesterol in that it is a waxy/fatty substance (but it has an extra ethyl group) and as you mention it acts like an anti-cholesterol (especially Beta-Sitosterol)and can actually help with cholesterol lowering in the body.
    I’m not sure the FDA would be happy with it being listed as cholesterol in a nutrition statement though. (That would be interesting to research, but who has the time? 🙂

    I also agree that the Baja Fresh Churros most likely DO NOT have 25mg of healthy plant Sitosterol but more likely egg and/or milk products that contribute to the cholesterol nutrition panel data.

    It is interesting to note that while scientifically those plant substances are often called “cholesterol-like”, physicians(such as those producing the cholesterol fact sheet for PCRM.org) still use the statement that “plant foods contain no cholesterol.” Therefore it is my belief that the term “cholesterol” is usually reserved for animal products when used to describe dietary guidelines for medical compliance.

    So if anyone wants my churro opinion: I don’t think Baja Fresh churros are vegan at this time.

    Take care,
    Mr. W

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