The orange High Plains dust obscured the blue sky above Amarillo, but my excitement about eating at Yellow City Street Food was crystal clear. It was my second visit to the eclectic restaurant, and I was psyched to introduce my vegetarian wife to its vegan- and vegetarian-friendly tacos.
The restaurant, owned and operated by Scott and Rin Buchanan, isn’t exactly the kind of establishment one expects to find in the heart of the Panhandle. Amarillo, after all, is home to the Big Texan Steak Ranch and its 72-ounce-steak eating challenge. But Yellow City Street Food has proved to be a favorite among locals who are looking for something different but still excellent.
Upon opening in 2013, it immediately attracted a diverse customer base, and it continues to do so. “I always think it’s going to start going more one direction, but it doesn’t,” said Rin, who is responsible for Yellow City’s vegan dishes. “It just keeps [being] really diverse. ”
Among the varied regulars is a group of firefighters who are fierce fans of the Hulk, a charred jerk chicken taco with a bramble of fresh greens, bright pineapple pico de gallo, sharp cotija cheese, and creamy remoulade. Sometimes the restaurant runs out of chicken, leaving the house-made seitan as the only substitute option. The first time the firefighters reluctantly had to order the vegan version, they were pleasantly surprised. “I thought you said you were out of the Hulk,” one first responder said. “No way this is vegan.” Now about half of the group orders the vegan Hulk. “We just love getting to introduce that to people,” Rin said.
On my most recent visit, a gray-haired gentleman wearing khaki shorts and deck shoes burst out of the restaurant declaring Yellow City Street Food’s fish taco the best taco he’d ever had. Indeed, it’s been good every time I’ve had it, with salty and sharp flavors from the combination of a remoulade, cabbage, Monterey Jack cheese, crema, and red onions. The main filling is a firmly textured swai fish in an elastic but pita-like flour tortilla from the local Carniceria La Popular.
My first meal at Yellow City — in the summer of 2020 to do research for the Ultimate Texas Tacopedia — included the fish taco, the vegan Hulk taco, the Dragon Tofu taco, and the fried mushroom Imposter taco. The Dragon Tofu was my favorite. The tofu is marinated for 48 hours in a soy sauce base mixed with maple syrup and garlic. Then it’s coated in a highly seasoned breading made from faux eggs and potato starch. The resulting crust seemed to hover around the tofu but didn’t slough off when I bit into it. I also enjoyed it on my most recent visit. It remains the best tofu taco I’ve ever had.
The Diablo Shrimp taco didn’t provide the infernal spice I was hoping for, but the pudgy shrimp had a good texture — firm but not overcooked. The greens gave a textural balance and clean edge, and the light sprinkling of black sesame seeds added a crunch. The Imposter taco featured heavily breaded cremini mushrooms sourced locally from Majestic Mushrooms, with a balsamic reduction imparting a wonderful zing. Another masterful option is the vegan carnitas taco, which uses shredded jackfruit. It even has a texture similar to the typical pork.
While Yellow City Street Food makes its own seitan from vital wheat gluten, chickpeas, and other vegan-friendly components, it’s the tacos that eschew meat substitutes that shine the brightest. For me, the best vegan tacos are the ones that use vegetables, fruits, and nuts to create not just stand-ins but distinct dishes that can and should stand out.
The operation’s current building is its second location. It opened in 2016. Originally, though, the Buchanans opened Yellow City Street Food as a downtown drive-through nine years ago, after chef Scott Buchanan was let go from his previous restaurant gig. It was an instant hit, which surprised Rin and Scott. The couple simply wanted to make enough to pay their bills. “It took off. We had people waiting in lines so long they were down the street, ”Rin said.
At the time, there were only two vegan items on the menu. Now the restaurant is a pilgrimage stop for vegans from across the country. One customer insists on stopping in during regular trips between Florida and California. A woman from Utah told the Buchanans she visited Amarillo just to eat at the restaurant. “She was just so excited, talking real loud, and said, ‘I love y’all. I literally travel here just to eat here, ‘”Rin recounted. A group from Austin treks nearly five hundred miles north for no reason other than to dine at Yellow City Street Food. “That means the world to us,” Rin said. And the demand for more vegan options grows — even in the shadow of a gluttonous beef-eating contest.