As customers walk past Bar Bombón’s open door, the wafting aroma of freshly baked sweet plantains and decadent tres leches cake overwhelms them while they are greeted by friendly smiles from the waiters and the subtle sound of Latin music playing in the background. Nestled on the corner of 18th Street, the soft overhanging lamps, beige tiles, and rustic decor further entices them to try it out.

Photo: Chloe Norman

Owned by vegan entrepreneur Nicole Marquis, Bar Bombón distinguishes itself from other Latin American restaurants because its menu is solely composed of plant–based items. By veganizing traditional Latin American dishes like smoked pork pernil and Peruvian yuca, Marquis proves that you don’t have to abandon dietary restrictions to enjoy the bold flavors and tastes of traditional Hispanic cuisine. 

Honoring Marquis’ Puerto Rican heritage, Bar Bombón has become a hot spot for Philly's vegans and non–vegans alike seeking to experience authentic Latin American dishes in a city dominated by cheesesteaks and meat lovers pizzas. A superb culinary experience coupled with its welcoming atmosphere, Bar Bombón is a must–visit for all Penn students looking for a top–notch dining excursion. 

On my trip to Bar Bombón, I spent an exorbitant amount of time debating my order before I finally settled on their renowned buffalo cauliflower tacos with a side of guacamole picante and house–made tortilla chips while my dad opted for their Philly steak empanadas and hearts of palm ‘fish’ tacos. Each bite of our meals was packed with dynamic flavors and spicy savory sauces, with the stand–out items being the crispy empanadas and mouth–watering tacos. 

The first item to arrive was the guacamole picante and house–made tortilla chips. Composed of fresh avocados with tangy cilantro and lime and hints of jalapeño and spicy chili peppers, the guacamole was the perfect balance between creamy and chunky, making the crispy tortilla chips easy to dip without breaking apart. Its light, smooth texture posed a nice contrast to the crunch of the tortilla chips, and it was the optimal appetizer to curb our hunger before the arrival of our entrées. 

Photo: Chloe Norman

Next to arrive were the freshly baked Philly steak empanadas. A crispy puff pastry filled with warm melted ‘cheese,’ corn, and pico de gallo, the Philly steak empanada won the heart of my dad, who lauded them to be a divine creation ordained by the heavens themselves. Baked to a perfect golden brown, the savory flavors of the empanadas were augmented by the side serving of spicy ketchup, a perfectly–blended dipping sauce. Although a staunch believer in the supremacy of Chick–fil–A’s Polynesian Sauce, he admitted that Bar Bombón’s spicy ketchup had catapulted to the top of his list of dipping sauces, finding itself above his beloved Chick–fil–A. 

Photo: Chloe Norman

Finally, we were presented with our main entreés: My buffalo cauliflower tacos and my dad’s hearts of palm ‘fish’ tacos. Undoubtedly my favorite dish of the night, the buffalo cauliflower tacos were bursting with flavor, an ethereal blend of natural spices and savory ornaments. Filled to the brim with avocado, cilantro dressing, black beans, and white onion, the buffalo cauliflower tacos were a healthy, vegan–friendly alternative to traditional beef tacos while retaining the impeccable Latin flavors that popularized the original dish. The crunchy outside of the fried, spicy cauliflower made for a perfect crunch against the softer texture of the tortilla taco shell, while the cilantro dressing added a refreshing hint of tang to an otherwise relatively spicy dish.

As for the hearts of palm ‘fish’ tacos, my dad was once again thoroughly impressed, lauding them as some of the “best tacos I’ve ever had.” Although he is not vegan, he was adamant that the ‘fish’ tacos were abound with powerful flavors that made it almost impossible to discern that they were plant–based. Composed of a vegan fish substitute, grilled corn slaw, avocado, cilantro lime vinaigrette, and chipotle crema, the tacos were packed with spicy, savory ingredients that made for an exquisite meal that put a contemporary twist on a classic recipe. 

For anyone searching for a dining experience filled with bold flavors, savory dishes, and authentic Latin American cuisine, I implore you to visit Bar Bombón. With an amazing staff, a cozy atmosphere, and heavenly meals, Bar Bombón is the hidden gem of Philly's vegan food scene. The next time you’re dining out with friends or family, make sure to carve out time for a quick stop–by—I promise, you will not be disappointed. 

TL;DR: The Best Vegan Latin American Cuisine in Philadelphia, just a short drive or SEPTA ride from Penn’s campus

Location: 133 S. 18th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103

Hours: Monday–Wednesday: 4:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m., Thursday: 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday: 11:30 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Saturday: 10:00 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Sunday: 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.

Price: $$