For those of us who grew up with store-bought hard taco “shells” and drive-through restaurants with fake bell towers, the steady evolution of north-of-the-border taco culture has been a revelation.
And maybe especially for vegetarians. There probably always have been good tacos in Fort Worth, if you knew where to look, but before the taco got all hip and yuppified, it was a hard world for meatless diners to crack.
Fuzzy’s was my first happy experience with veggie tacos, in the early 2000s, but its quality control has suffered as it has expanded, and there are many more interesting options now.
A good taco, I now know, combines the best savory Mexican flavors and every kind of texture you’re craving in one convenient, handheld package. You want something cooked and something fresh, something crisp and something creamy — in other words, the right balance of crunch and goo. Here’s my stab at identifying Tarrant’s best veggie tacos.
For meatless tacos, restaurants have to figure out what to put in there that has enough “chew.” The most popular answer has been to batter and fry something, and here no one outdoes Torchy’s Tacos, the mighty chain from Austin. It gets the award for best vegetarian taco choices, with three. The Dirty Sanchez ($3.50) has scrambled eggs, fried poblano strips, escabeche carrots, cheese and a creamy poblano sauce. The Independent ($3.50) is fried portobello mushroom with black beans, corn, avocado, spicy carrots and ancho aioli. And there’s the fried avocado ($3.75), which until the taco invasion would have sounded like something concocted by the State Fair of Texas, as outrageous as fried butter. It also includes vegetarian refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo. Torchy’s has locations in Fort Worth and Southlake; www.torchystacos.com.
Two other places are frying up avocados to good effect. At Tacos and Avocados in Roanoke, an outpost of chef Jason Boso’s empire (Twisted Root Burger Co.), the veggie taco ($3.25) has fried avocado, slaw, lime crema and sweet potato hash. The only flaw is that if you get one of the signature guacamoles as your side, it’s a lot of avocado. Or maybe that’s a plus. 101 S. Oak St., Roanoke, 817-491-4442; tacosandavocados.com
Taco Diner offers two veggie options: crispy avocado with pineapple relish and chipotle mayo, or poblano and mushroom with pico de gallo (good for vegans). This is a table-service place, and tacos are two for $6, or four for $10. Be aware that both come with a side of rice made with chicken stock, so ask for the vegetarian black beans instead. Locations in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square and at Southlake Town Square; www.tacodinerrestaurants.com.
Cheap and simple
At Salsa Limon, probably my favorite taco joint overall, the answer to the crunch issue is just a huge amount of pickled cabbage on top. The veggie tacos are simply avocado, rice and vegetarian beans, with cilantro, onion and that cabbage on top. At $2 each, this is the best cheap option I know. Three locations in Fort Worth, counting a food truck; www.salsalimon.com.
And Elote Mexican Kitchen in far north Fort Worth deserves a mention for its attention to vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free eaters. Solo tacos are $2.49, and the veggie option has simple sautéed veggies on double corn tortillas. You can add cheese, avocado or soy cheese, or get some tofu sour cream on the side. Everything here comes gently spiced (it’s a very family-friendly place), but you can add on “angry chiles” or the spicy spinach, which both pack serious, sinus-clearing heat. 12584 N. Beach St., 817-741-3600; www.elotemex.com.
At the highest price point, two places are doing excellent veggie tacos in grownup atmospheres with stylish decor and, you know, real dishes and flatware and stuff. Their approaches to fillings are similar.
At Mi Dia From Scratch in Grapevine, a fabulous full-menu Mexican/New Mexican restaurant with a serious tequila program, be sure to ask for the separate menu for vegetarian and gluten-free diners. The meatless tacos come with roasted vegetables and delicate huitlacoche, a Mexican corn fungus that’s reminiscent of truffles or mushrooms. (Be the first of your friends to try it! Or to pronounce it: weet-la-COH-chay, more or less.)
These come four to a plate, on authentically petite “street-style” corn tortillas, topped with crema, queso fresco and micro cilantro, and with vegetarian black beans and poblano rice on the side. The price is steep — $16 — and it can be hard to choose these over the other five vegetarian entrees, including New Mexican vegetable enchiladas and a huitlacoche relleno. 1295 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-421-4747; www.midiafromscratch.com.
Revolver Taco Lounge in Fort Worth does wonderful huitlacoche tacos, too, also four to an order, for a similar price ($15 — corn fungus is a rare and precious thing). And Revolver offers a second vegetarian option: tacos stuffed with calabacitas (sautéed and spiced squash), for $12. 2822 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-820-0122; www.revolvertacolounge.com.
And no, I don’t include Velvet Taco on my best list. I’m grateful that it has three meatless options, but they’re filled with falafel and tahini, tabbouleh and tzatziki (in a piece of lettuce instead of a tortilla!), or paneer and chutney. They’re tasty, but are they tacos?
Of course, this is my list of favorites. What did I miss? Let me know who else is doing great veggie tacos.
• The vegetarian dinner at Grace restaurant Aug. 7 was such a success (a sellout, with a waiting list) that owner Adam Jones says he’s making plans to give vegetable dinners twice a year, perhaps to showcase fall and spring produce. This was one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had, with carrot-braised carrots, toasted barley risotto, a cauliflower steak, a frozen white gazpacho …
• The Hattie May Inn, Fort Worth’s new vegetarian B&B, is hosting a hands-on cooking class Aug. 28 on how to use leafy greens. $35. 817-870-1931.