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It’s our 11th annual Best of the City issue, celebrating the best Las Vegas has to offer in everything from dining to entertainment to family fun! Also in this issue: Making sense of the Whitney Hologram Experience, an activist fights Big Solar with … poetry? Writer in Residence Krista Diamond considers The Real World’s infamous 31st season and how America’s Got Talent is changing Strip entertainment.

Shroom Boom

Enrique Gonzales and EvaSara Luna at Desert Moon mushroom farm
Photo by Christopher Smith

Enrique Gonzales and EvaSara Luna at Desert Moon mushroom farm

Enrique Gonzalez and EvaSara Luna have brought
a gourmet fungus farm to life in the desert

In a small, tightly packed warehouse in the shadow of the Tropicana, EvaSara Luna unzips the flexible door of a Mylar-lined, LED-illuminated grow tent. Inside, along the soft walls, are lines of industrial-strength shelves packed with epicurean gold.

“They’re called ‘pink oyster,’” Luna says, pointing to curvy-cupped gourmet fungi bursting triumphantly from clear, recyclable plastic bags. These savory beauties, unmistakably rose-tinted, are among the many varieties grown at this hyper-local mycological enterprise, Desert Moon Mushrooms.

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of vast, dank indoor farms whose acre-wide dirt floors are dotted with symmetrical round caps of white button mushrooms. Desert Moon is the aesthetic opposite of that. Here, inside a handful of grow tents, multihued organic fungi burgeon to fruition: delicate, furry-looking lion’s mane; golden oysters reminiscent of orchestral trumpets; fairyland-like black pearl kings; and more. The kaleidoscopic urban garden scene brings to mind a tropical coral reef blended with a space telescope nebula photo.

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“A mushroom’s life begins with those bags — that one is oak, this one is organic soybean hulls,” says Enrique Gonzalez, Luna’s life and business partner, in another part of the snug warehouse. There, the duo assembles 12-pound bags of substrate, a 50-50 blend of shredded wood and legume husks. “The soy hulls are kind of like a supplement,” he adds. “Higher nutrition, higher nitrogen.” (At top right, blue oyster mushrooms; bottom right, pink oyster mushrooms)

Once filled, the bags are sterilized with steam for 13 hours. Only then are mushroom spores — the fungi kingdom’s equivalent of seeds — introduced to the substrate in a cleanroom outfitted with laboratory-grade HEPA air filters. Utmost hygiene is essential in cultivating Desert Moon’s culinary product line.

Luna and Gonzalez turn out some 140 inoculated bags a week, and they have a sizeable repertoire of mushroom varieties resting in spore state as well. “We have more than 20,” Gonzalez says of the company’s total unique cultivars. “But we don’t grow them all at the same time.”

“We do six on our menu, our usual that we have at all times, but we’re always coming up with new mushrooms here and there,” Luna says.

What led Luna and Gonzalez to this niche market? Curiously, neither had a deep familial or cultural attachment to mushrooms when they were growing up in Las Vegas. For both, the fascination started after graduating from UNLV.

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Gonzalez brings a bit of the wild side to their shared story. Armed with a mechanical engineering degree, he went north from the sere Mojave Desert to the verdant forests of Alaska for six years. There was a gastronomic kicker, though: “All my buddies were into hunting, but I’m vegan,” Gonzalez says. “So what I hunted were mushrooms.”

Luna got her degree in sociology, but casework was not in her career plan. “I knew I wanted to start a business after college. I didn’t want to do the 9-to-5 thing,” she says. “I did a lot of research on what would match my values — I’m also vegan.”

After Gonzalez returned to Southern Nevada, their mycelial endeavor started to take root. Luna spent a lot of time researching micro-mushroom farming on YouTube and beyond, and a business plan began to take hold.

In the less than two years since the couple embarked on their agronomic venture, their products have become a hit in the Las Vegas food world. But it was all something of a lark at the start, Luna says. “‘Let’s just give it a try,’” she recalls them saying their first days in business. “And pretty much it just blew up from there.”

These days, Desert Moon delivers delectable merchandise across town, including to acclaimed restaurants such as Delilah at Wynn Las Vegas, where Executive Chef Joshua Smith created a side dish including the Desert Moon name. That’s extraordinary for a small, new-to-the-game vendor.

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“Our mix usually includes chestnut, lion’s mane, black pearl king, and pink oyster mushrooms,” Smith says. “We use them as a garnish in a few dishes, but primarily we use them for a side dish that sells very well.”

And while Desert Moon’s mushrooms can look exotic — even extraterrestrial — they are eminently approachable on the plate (and palate).

“We prepare their mushrooms very simply with basic aromatics like olive oil, salt, pepper, shallots, garlic, and sherry wine,” Smith says. “We serve them with whole-roasted garlic cloves and a sweet-and-savory sauce that includes white miso, sherry vinegar, kombu seaweed, and a knob of smoked butter.”

It’s no trade secret that the food-service industry, especially on the supply chain side, can be an impersonal, take-it-or-leave-it affair. Not so with Desert Moon, according Smith.

“One of my favorite things about working with EvaSara and Enrique is their customer service,” he says. “They write us often to ask if we’re happy with the product and to see if there’s anything they can do better. I wish all vendors were this caring.”

Chef Smith’s guest-favorite mushroom mélange is likely an occasional, on-Strip treat for most Las Vegans, but Desert Moon delicacies also show up seasonally at neighborhood eateries such as EDO Tapas & Wine in Chinatown and Summerlin-adjacent Honey Salt.

Beyond restaurants, Desert Moon also sells its fantastic fungi to retail customers at farmers markets throughout the valley, including the Wednesday gatherings at Bruce Trent Park on Rampart Bouldevard. Maitakes, shitakes, and chestnuts sometimes make a show at the Desert Moon booth, as do premade mushroom growing kits for home chefs.

Building on its accomplishments, Desert Moon has other developments in the works. First, Luna and Gonzalez are in the process of creating a new product: mushroom jerky. “We’re hoping to get into something like Whole Foods with it,” Luna says.

Increasing Desert Moon’s chances of dried snack success, Luna was recently chosen as one of 10 participants in a Farm2Food Accelerator program cosponsored by the Nevada Department of Agriculture and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Foundation. The five-month curriculum mentors woman-owned farming, food, and beverage businesses in expanding into new markets.

Continuing Luna and Gonzalez’s mix of serendipity and commitment, the Farm2Food Accelerator award came as a surprise. First, Luna received an email out of the blue to apply. She did, but adds, laughing, that she didn’t go overboard on her application — she thought she had a slim chance of getting accepted. But here she is.

She describes the entrepreneurial training program as being about creating a new value-added product. “It’s been very helpful so far,” she says. “It’s only been two weeks, and I’ve learned a slew of things. I just feel lucky being part of it. I feel it’s going to do us well.”

In response to demand, Luna and Gonzalez are also planning to move into a much larger warehouse space soon. Business is growing like … well, you know.

Mushroom photos: Courtesy Desert Moon