Explore the Vegetarian Side of Los Angeleno Mexican Food at Taqueria Lower East Side
The Veggielante is on a mission to spread the word about places to order good, meatless grub. Check out this week's pick.
Nopalitos tacos at Taqueria LES | Tara Mahadevan
Destination: Taqueria Lower East Side (198 Orchard Street, 212-677-3910)
Neighborhood: Lower East Side
Overview: The first location of Taqueria opened in Jersey City in 2006, and the restaurant's success pushed the owners to open a second location in Manhattan two and a half years ago. They took over a slot in the Lower East Side, plastering every square inch of the walls with Los Angeles-themed paraphernalia. That's because Taqueria is a Los Angeles taco bar with no frills, no fronts, and no fusion: The restaurant's cuisine is the kind of homestyle Mexican food like you'd get in the City of Angels: tacos, mostly, with a few other platters, tostadas, and sopes.
Taqueria follows its own version of the 10 Commandments -- no fajitas, no nachos, no Chipotle-sized burritos -- and it doesn't do substitutions; it only serves what's on the menu, so what you see is what you get. But ingredients are delivered daily, and everything is served fresh and made in-house, including excellent freshly squeezed margaritas.
Highlights: Order the nopalitos tacos ($3/taco), two of which are enough to make a meal. Two corn tortillas come piled with nopal (cactus), onions, cilantro, bright salsa, and salty queso fresco. If you're not familiar with nopal, note that this is not an inedible plant that'll make your mouth bleed. The prickly pear cactus is native to Mexico and a staple in Mexican cuisine. It's slightly tart and extremely verdant; the texture is comparable to snappish green beans. It's not dissimilar from other grilled vegetables, and it plays well with the other ingredients. Corn tortillas, by the way, mean this dish is also gluten-free.
Guacamole at Taqueria LES | Tara Mahadevan
Start your meal with Taqueria's guacamole ($7.50), a dish of freshly smashed avocados nicely sown through with spice and boasting the pungency of onion and cilantro. The thickly cut tortilla chips are fried in-house, and they pack a huge crunch. You'll also get a complimentary side of house-made salsa, which adds more kick if you find the guacamole lacking.
Other vegetarian items here include the quesadilla de hongos ($5), a corn tortilla stuffed with mushroom and cheese.