Elijah Tapia is the youngest of three brothers, a co-owner of Pancho Brotherz dispensary in the Mission District, and a plant-based chef. His pop-up Tu Erez is his most recent venture, but the cook has been working in kitchens to bring “healing food” to people since he was a teen. The 21-year-old went vegetarian when he was 12, and leaned into the idea of food as medicine when his older brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. But it wasn’t always easy to say no to all the delicious food his family would offer him, he says. “We Mexicans eat everything — carne asada, your grandma’s food, all that,” Tapia laughs. But that’s why he’s making it all as accessible as possible. As of October 29, at a Mission District block party, everyone will have the chance to taste Tapia’s creations.
The block party, La Vida Divina or the Divine Life, will feature myriad activities and performances celebrating Mexican culture including Aztec dancing, pumpkin and face painting, ofrendas, and loads of local music. For his part, Tapia is rooting Tu Erez in Mexican food while aiming to cook “medicinal” meals. While not custom-making food for people’s specific illnesses, Tapia focuses on providing plant-based options and sourcing local ingredients. The debut menu will include red and green chile tamales, each stuffed with jackfruit, served with sides of rice and beans and vegan crema, as well as birria and fish tacos, both of which will be plant-based riffs on the classic dishes. Desserts include conchas, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, funnel cakes, and churros — Tapia has a bit of a sweet tooth.
But even the desserts are created along the wellness guidelines Tapia has established for himself. He’s been vegan for five years and worked in an apothecary, dedicating himself to herbalism and leaning into what he calls “shaman-grown” medicine and food. “All the love you put into the food, you get back,” Tapia says. Born and raised in Berkeley, his family traveled through Alameda and San Lorenzo as a kid. He ended up graduating high school at 15 years old and went right into the restaurant industry. As a kid he hosted bake sales, often dishing up tamales. He completed an internship at Sequoia Diner on MacArthur through a family friend who was a chef in the kitchen and ended up working part-time there and part-time at Zachary’s Pizza. “My parents taught me to pursue my dreams no matter what,” Tapia says.
The entrepreneur, whose big ambitions are still rising, hopes he can keep bringing his food to the Bay Area in bigger and bigger ways. Tu Erez’s menu will always be fully plant-based, and mostly Mexican — what Tapia calls his expertise. After this weekend, he’d like to continue his pop-up at farmers markets and events throughout the Bay Area. But the future is still fairly TBD at this point. “I just want to share my love of food with the world,” Tapia says.
Tu Erez will debut on October 29 at Cesar Chavez and Bryant Streets from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.