Ask any vegan you know, and if they’re honest they’ll tell you that a lot of vegan food sucks. Not because plant-based food is naturally bland, but because most restaurants don’t care about vegans. As I’ve played with transitioning animal-based foods out of my diet, I’ve gotten a small taste of how bitter the struggle for good vegan food can be. I’ve also enjoyed the sweet success of finding flavorful and delicious vegan food, made with care. With the roll out of their new vegan menu, Oaxaca Taqueria is out here showing vegans love, and hopefully showing other chain restaurants that vegan food can be more than an afterthought.
When I arrived, I met up with David Schaap, Oaxaca’s Culinary Director, and William Marple, a member of Oaxaca’s marketing team, who walked me through the new menu which includes Oaxaca’s two classic vegetarian tacos—stewed black bean and roasted potato—minus the cheese of course. But what Dave and Bill were most excited for me to try were the newest creations featuring Beyond Meat’s “chicken” and “beef.” Beyond Meat is a plant-based, sustainable, gluten-free, and non-GMO alternative to meat that is so much like the real thing they sell it in the meat aisle. Don’t believe me? Check out their website.
The first Beyond taco I tried was the “Carne” Asada. If I’m being real, I was initially freaked out by the remarkably non-vegetable appearance of the “carne.” Its look and texture was strikingly similar to actual ground beef or sausage which immediately made me think Soylent Green, but I suspended my suspicion in the enjoyment of the flavors that came with the first full bite. This was more than just a novelty imitation meat dish; but a tasty taco composed with the customer’s experience in mind. The pea proteins I was actually eating were entirely transformed. The “carne” was well seasoned setting a great foundation for the layers of flavor accompanying it. The first layer was a spicy and slightly smoky salsa roja which added heat but wasn’t overpowering. Then there was the tangy avocado lime salsa, cooling and bright like its beautiful light green color. And last but not least the whole thing was topped with beautiful pickled onions and cilantro. We were off to a good start.
Then I tried the “Pollo” Tirado and Tirado Mole (pronounced Moe-leh) tacos. The Tirado is a remix of the “Carne” Asada taco featuring pulled “chicken” instead. In this performance, the Beyond “pollo” didn’t sing solo, but soaked up the flavors of the salsa roja and avocado lime salsa in a delicious medley. Pulled “chicken” also features in The Tirado Mole taco, covered in thick Mole Negro with pico de gallo and cilantro as backup. Now, tenemos que dejar algo bien claro: Mole, an iconic sauce native to Mexican cuisine, is one of the most intricate and beautiful sauces of any cuisine. Ever. You can @ me all you want. With over 30 peppers, herbs, spices, and ingredients coming together perfectly in a beautiful chorus of flavor, mole is always the headliner of whatever dish it appears in. It may also go without saying that good mole is not easy to achieve. Mole at its best is like a masterfully composed song with each instrument and melody melding together to create something special. The Mole at Oaxaca is a decent cover.
I finished off the menu with the Frijoles Negros, black bean taco, and the Papas Y Rajas roasted potato taco. These tacos were EVERYTHING! Stewed black beans have been one of my favorite things to eat since forever, and the black beans at Oaxaca are phenomenal. The combo of salsa roja, avocado lime salsa, and pickled onion find themselves on this taco too but for me the addition of the bright, fresh tomatoes mixed with the bite of the onion in the pico de gallo made magic. And just when I thought I had tasted the best thing on the menu, I bit into the Papas Y Rajas taco. In my opinion, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with roasted potato, but the addition of sautéed Spanish onion and poblano pepper mixed with salsa verde made this taco a showstopper. Salsa verde is a Mexican green sauce packed full of the flavors of serrano chiles, cilantro, garlic and tangy tomatillos. Topped with more avocado lime salsa, cilantro, and pickled red onion, this taco got better with each bite.
What I loved most about Oaxaca’s new vegan menu is the amount of effort and care that was put into creating delicious food for vegans. In fact, Bill is actually vegan himself, and knows the struggle all too well. Dave and Bill both care about the food and the people who eat it, and that comes through. Even the tortillas are 100% organic, vegan, non-GMO and locally sourced. Most importantly whether you’re a vegan, a diehard meat-lover, or someone in the middle, Oaxaca’s new vegan menu is delicious food that makes you feel good after you’ve eaten it.