National Taco Day: Jonathan Gold’s favorite vegetarian tacos
St. Swithin’s Day? Tu B’Shvat? Around here, the most important holiday of the year is National Taco Day, declared by the most sacred of public relations consortiums to be an occasion where every man, woman and child in America may enjoy the taco of his or her choice. In Los Angeles, of course, every day is pretty much National Taco Day, but don’t let that stop you from stopping by your favorite taquero on your way home.
We have often been accused of leaning a bit too far toward offal in our taco recommendations, although we fail to see what could possibly be wrong with a half-dozen tacos de buche. But in the spirit of the holiday, may we offer a selection of vegetarian tacos? No animals were harmed in the making of this column.
Tacos de champiñones. Loteria Grill and its sister restaurants are known for their Mexico City-style tacos guisados, thick corn tortillas wrapped around stews like chicken tinga, meatballs in chipotle salsa, and tongue in spicy green sauce. The seared-shrimp tacos with dark morita-chile salsa are pretty good too. Does this mean that you should ignore the mushroom tacos seasoned with epazote and crumbled cotija cheese? No, it does not. 12050 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (818) 508-5300. www.loteriagrill.com.
Tacos de chiles toreados. If you really want to barbecue your tongue, these tacos at Ricardo Diaz’s gastropub Bizarra Capital may be just the thing: a bit of cheese and five kinds of grilled chiles, including the fearsome habanero and something even hotter from a relative’s backyard. You can practically hear the hiss of steam when you gulp from the nearest glass of thick, milky horchata - a liquid, by the way, that while delicious, will do nothing to alleviate your suffering. 12706 Philadelphia St., Whittier; (562) 945-2426.
Tacos de calabacitas. Guisados, as you might have guessed, is also dedicated to its namesake stews, heaped on tortillas made from nixtamal ground several times a day. The tacos of cochinita pibil, Yucatan-style roast pork, are probably the marquee tacos here, especially when you ask for the heat to be ramped up to level 10. You will be warned. But if your tastes run in a gentler direction, try the tacos de calabacitas - squash stewed with mild chiles and kernels of sweet corn – and chuckle as your friends suffer nine circles of meaty habanero hell. 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd., Boyle Heights; 1261 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (323) 264-7201. www.guisados.co.
Avocado tacos. If Border Grill were a person, it would be old enough to have graduated from law school, and would probably be living in a groovy little house in Glassell Park or somewhere, raising chickens and tending its plot of organic nopales in its spare time. Instead, it is a restaurant – a few restaurants, really – still serving spit-shined versions of southern Mexican classics made with first-rate ingredients in the company of a really good bar. Do they put quinoa, amaranth and corn relish on their avocado tacos? They do. And you should be happy about it. 1445 S. 4th St., Santa Monica; 445 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. www.bordergrill.com.
Cauliflower tacos. We are at Colonia Taco Bar, a wondrous Eastside taco oasis, to praise the tacos made with florets of fried cauliflower -- crunchy, soft and then crunchy again; the sulfurous funkiness of the vegetable mellowed, made soulful, by the sharpness of the capers in the salsa and the merest touch of cream. 13030 E. Valley Blvd, La Puente. (626) 363-4691.
Squash, Oaxacan cheese, and burnt tomato tacos. Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos has grown up a little. It now occupies a truck instead of a street cart, and it now parks outside Cognoscenti Coffee in Culver City a couple of days a week in addition to its three per week outside Handsome Coffee Roasters deep downtown. Avila is the rare taquero who has worked with chefs like Walter Manzke, Gary Menes and Alain Ducasse. So the tacos you get at Guerrilla are pretty much the ones he decides to sell you, which are as likely to be stuffed with diver scallops or Tuscan kale as they are to be heaped with carnitas. The tacos made with roasted squash and seared Oaxacan cheese does tend to turn up a lot, though. And if they offer something called the Staff Meal, a salad with farmers market lettuce, pears, and cheese, do not hesitate. Find the schedule at www.guerrillatacos.com.
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