Pablo Suarez piles a layer of greens on to a large metal tin before throwing on lentils, white beans, roasted carrots, mozzarella balls doused with pesto sauce and popcorn-sized falafel that have just been pulled from the deep fryer.
“What else would you like to add?” he asks matter of factly. The question catches me off guard. The day before I had paid nearly twice the price for a salad half as exciting just 10 blocks north in a Palermo Hollywood hotspot with a bread bowl that smelled and tasted like a kiosco hot dog. I hesitate for too long and Suarez begins listing off the entirety of the menu: roasted eggplant, tubule, sun dried tomato, hummus, baba ganoush, avocado and rainbow of hot sauces.
“How much more can I add?” I ask sheepishly. His shoulders and eyebrows rise in unison and his free hand reaches out with an inviting gesture, “As many as you want.” I feel like I’m bogarting all of Suarez’ attention, but no one seems to care. Everyone in line is chatting with one another or with the guys behind the counter, who seem to know everyone by name. Someone passes me a small metal coffee cup with a freshly made pumpkin and ginger soup that tastes like a smoked yellow cheese with a touch of earthy sweetness.
Suarez hands me a kaleidoscope of color, texture and flavor buried underneath a fog of hummus. The flavors pop from one end to another. A bright orange slice of carrot has a roasted sweetness that gives way to a pop of sour vinegar that explodes from the gooey eggplant. Smooth white beans are offset by earthy lentils. A touch of salt on extra crunchy falafel adds an new dimension to the creamy slices of avocado that accompany it. It is no wonder that there is a line out the door at Rollin’ Lui Alimentos, a vegetarian lunch spot in the middle of Chacarita that makes up for its small size with generosity everywhere else.
He has been a casual vegetarian for much of his life but it wasn’t until an extended stay in Amsterdam that he realized that vegetarianism didn’t have to be as difficult as it was in Buenos Aires. “Eating out was always un tema. You always got stuck with a bad salad,” he explains, “In Amsterdam it wasn’t hard at all which was something very new for me. When I came back to Argentina I started cooking more and making things I saw there with ingredients I could find here.”
Suarez spent most of his professional life working in film production before opening up shop in February of last year. “My work was something that made me come undone. It was intense and stressful. Cooking was always something that brought me back together.”
The restaurant is built as an extension of Suarez himself in a small storefront that had laid abandoned for nearly twenty years, “everything here was built with our own hands.” A self-described ‘lax vegetarian’, meat does not appear on the menu that offers wraps and salads because he doesn’t consume meat himself—he can’t remember the last time meat was in his house. Nothing gets sold that isn’t made in-house, which extends to sauces and drinks. Complimentary water and natural juices made with orange, lemon or grapefruit replace the typical soda.
“But we aren’t fundamentalists. I’m not here to tell people what they can and cannot eat,” Suarez insists, “If someone wants to have a coca light there is a grocery next door. But we aren’t going to sell things that we wouldn’t consume ourselves.”
The non-preachy approach extends to the entire menu, which Suarez jokes is just a list of suggestions—guests are free to swap one ingredient for another or build their own wrap all together.
I enjoyed the Sri Sri prepared with chunky chutney, crunchy braised cauliflower, sweet roasted carrots and a yellow curry sauce that tasted of turmeric and butter and dripped all over thick french fries. The Green Lui has a nice mixture of acidic eggplant escabeche and red onion balanced out by savory hummus and avocado. All the wraps are stuffed with falafel, which are made fresh on a continuous loop—you can also order them in a cone swimming in your favorite sauces.
A faux hamburger made of rice, lentils and chickpea is stuffed between two slices of pita. It’s recommended to stack it high with everything and dress it with hot sauce made of jalapeño and habanero or barbecue. Butterflying it in half reveals a gluttonous globe filled with colorful vegetables generous in size and flavors that play nice with one another rather than try to dominate one another.
“The other day someone came in and told me that they had never eaten vegetables before coming here,” Suarez finishes, “And after eating our roasted carrots they started preparing them at home. That’s enough to keep us going.”
Roll’in Lui Alimentos
Jorge Newbery 3654, Chacarita
Monday through Friday 12:00 – 3:30 PM
Friday evenings 8:00 PM – midnight
Saturday 12:00 – 4:00 PM