New taco shop even lets vegans in on the birria craze
A 100-percent plant based birria platter, featuring four quesabirria tacos served with consomé for dipping
Once, when I was writing a news story about an early morning raid to arrest a drug dealer, a police officer explained to me that whoever moved into the newly vacated house could expect customers to keep showing up. You could paint the house a new color, he told me, give it a new street number, but people would continue to associate the physical location as a place to get their fix, probably for years.
The same principle must apply to vegan restaurants. Because, often as not, where one vegan restaurant closes, another one opens in its place. This seems especially true for the restaurant space at 4332 30th Street, in North Park. First it was home to a diner called The Modern Vegan. Later, it became Chicago Not Dogs, which specialized in making meaty, Chicago dishes, meatless.
Neither of them lasted long. But not to worry: last month, a vegan Mexican restaurant from Las Vegas slid right in with its first California expansion. And why not? It’s unlikely animal proteins have ever touched this kitchen, and most locals adhering to a plant-based diet have had the location on their radar since 2019.
Once a vegan food counter, always a vegan food counter
Vegans showing up for this one should be pretty pleased with what they find. Only a little of its infrastructure has changed — there’s the same bar counter and separate dining room set-up as Not Dogs, but less cinder-block drabness than Modern Vegan. More importantly, Tacotarian delivers on the promise of its name, with a robust menu of quite satisfying, 100-percent plant-based tacos.
To begin with, it gives vegans the unlikely chance to join in on the quesabirria crazy. Here, the spicy, stewed beef is replaced with a combination of jackfruit, with some Beyond Beef crumbles for added flavor and texture. This vegan birria is served on rather decent corn tortillas with melty non-dairy cheese, but what really cinches the birria experience is a small tub of red consomme.
Faux fish taco with mango salsa
The vegetable-based stock proves thicker than the traditional beef broth, and it’s swimming with stuff like diced carrots and pinto beans, but dip a quesabirria taco in there and you may flood the palate with a worthy approximation of the original, flavor-soaked dish .
My biggest qualm isn’t that jackfruit texture doesn’t quite stand up to that of beef, but that Tacotarian only serves its birria as part of a $17, four taco platter. It may be best, shared.
Fortunately, the rest of the menu’s tacos go a la carte, ranging from 3- to 5-dollars a piece. On the 5-dollar side sits what I expected to be any vegan taco shop’s greatest challenge: a fried fish taco. Tacotarian actually takes two stabs at the Baja taco: the first with fried avocado, for the easy win.
The second opts for Good Catch, a commercially available fake fish patty made from peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans. Served on a flour tortilla, I might question the taco’s mango salsa pairing — I’m not personally a fan of the stuff — but in most ways that matter, it reminds me of the fish tacos I readily line up outside food trucks to eat.
Like a Taco Bell Double Decker, Tacotarian’s “super taco” wraps a gringo taco with refried beans and a flour tortilla
Tacotarian’s vegan menu covers plenty of other taco shop fare, ranging from carne asada fries and California burritos to cauliflower ceviche. But my favorite of the bunch was a surprise. The so-called super taco starts with Tacotarian’s $4 “dude” taco — what most of us would call a “gringo taco”: ground beef, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and sour cream on a hard shell corn tortilla. For an extra buck-fifty, the super taco wraps this in a flour tortilla, with a smear of refried beans in between.
Taco Bell fans will recognize this as the fast food chain’s “Double Decker” taco. I’m almost happier about a vegan version of this, than I am the birria. Joined by the beans and crunch, its Beyond Beef crumbles and nondairy toppings become virtually indistinguishable from the real thing, which has long been a guilty pleasure.
Hopefully, Tacotarian sticks around long enough that it’s still the vegan restaurant in residence when I come back around to look for a super taco fix.