Nicole Marquis was well acquainted with the corner of 18th and Moravian streets from her commute to HipCityVeg, the vegan fast-food spot that she has owned and operated since April 2012. “This corner is so incredible but it really was unattractive,” she says. “You have Anthropolgie, a.kitchen, the beautiful park and [it was all] just lined with dumpsters. So I took the opportunity to develop another concept.”
When a New York-based cupcake chain formerly in the narrow space closed its doors, Marquis took over, originally aiming for a vegan taqueria. She ended up with Bar Bombon, which opened late last month.
“It’s such a small space that I immediately thought of a taqueria because you can make the kitchen really efficient in a small little space. And then I wanted to take an opportunity to use some of the space for a takeout window,” she explains. “Then I thought, let’s get some inspiration for this because I don’t know how to cook Mexican food per se. I know Puerto Rican food, but I love everything in a tortilla. So I wanted to blend Latin cuisines.”
Marquis’ mother was born in Puerto Rico and she spent her childhood visiting the island for holidays and extended summer stays.
“I was raised in the culture. Rice, beans, avocado, tomato and fried plantains — that’s my go-to,” she says “Every time I go to my mom’s house, that’s what she has for me because I’m vegan. I always say that’s my favorite meal. It’s just so simple and so good.”
Before opening Bar Bombon, Marquis and a few key members of her staff headed to San Juan for an intensive four-day research trip. They explored the city, taking in the local culture and color. And while Marquis is the first to note that meat plays a central role in Puerto Rican cuisine, eating a vegetable-based diet was remarkably simple.
“We really noticed that you can eat vegan here,” she says. “The avocados, the fresh tomatoes, the plantains, the fruit — it was incredible. Fruits and vegetables were forward there, and that’s what we’re going for here.”
On the menu:
Bar Bombon embraces staples such as yuca, empanadas and sopa de arroz con pollo from Puerto Rico, and tacos, enchiladas and guacamoles from Mexico. And while there might be chicken, beef, chorizo and even fish on the menu, all of the proteins come with telltale quotation marks indicating that they’re made from organic, non-GMO, soy, grain and locally sourced tofu.
Tropical drinks and fruit juices are major players in the cuisines that Marquis looked to when opening Bar Bombon, and the locale boasts both an inventive cocktail selection, heavy on the rum, tequila and mezcal, and freshly pressed juices that are offered up on their own or as mixers for some seriously good cocktails.