After visiting Gracias Madre four different times, I must say that I am disappointed with the place. I had high hopes: a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant! Unfortunately, most of the food here is mushy, drab and bland. They insist on baking every damn dish and using a heavy cashew cream in practically everything they serve, which adds little to no flavor and makes every dish seem to be the same indistinguishable mash of cream and overbaked vegetables.
There's none of the color, freshness, simplicity, lightness, zing and pop that you'd expect to find in Mexican food. If you're looking for good vegan Mexican food, I recommend Flacos in Berkeley instead.
But I'll start off with what's done well at Gracias Madre here, though:
-the sweet potato quesadilla appetizer ($8), is made with sweet potato and caramelized onions and covered in a spicy cashew cream sauce. My Mexican, non-vegan friend and I both loved this dish---it was definitely spicy, but not overly so, in my opinion. It had a wonderful array of textures, from the firmness of the tortilla to the heft of the sweet potato and the creaminess of the sauce.
-the chocolate cake with cinnamon sauce and toasted coconut ice cream ($8). Holy crap this was a great dessert. The cake was perfectly moist and soft and the cinnamon sauce added some seriously good taste. When combined with the smooth and creamy coconut ice cream, it was a masterpiece.
Now the not so good:
-for my main course I had a nopales (cactus leaves) dish ($14). When you cook cactus leaves, they tend to get a little bit sour, as this dish showed. When you mixed the nopales with the black beans, brown rice and tortilla on the plate, the dish came together, but not perfectly so. I wasn't as impressed with the nopales as I was with the quesadilla.
-my friend had the enchilada with mole sauce ($13) which he thought was okay, but also not great. Based on the few bites I had of his dish, the flavors just didn't pop, though I thought the mole sauce was well-executed.
-the pozole is lame ($7). This stew initially was served to us lukewarm, but they graciously took it back and remade it for us, hot and fresh. But the tastes didn't feel quite right, and neither of us liked this dish.
-the verenjena con queso fundido ($8). Yet another heavy, baked dish with a mishmash of seasoning, excessive use of the cashew cream, with all the vegetables (eggplant, tomato, poblano chiles) turned into a mush with no color or textural appeal.
The restaurant itself is a spacious (but crowded) and the service and ambiance are good.
In short, I think Gracias Madre needs to cut back, simplify its menu, and focus on keeping its vegetables crisp (how about sauteing instead of baking?) and and bright. I think that would go a long way toward solving the food issues here.
I cannot, however, recommend Gracias Madre, other than for dessert and drinks. Go to Flacos instead.