Going vegan—even if just for a few meals—might get a bit easier if Jared Simons has anything to do with it. The trick? Finding plant-based foods that hit all the signature textures and flavors of omnivores’ favorite dishes, and who doesn’t love a taco?
The former Escuela and No Name chef is building a menu of entirely plant-based Mexican food along Fairfax at Taco Vega, swapping grilled mushrooms for carne asada and subbing tahini or cashew for heavy cream in the house-made crema. The new taqueria—open for takeout and delivery—launched last week as a joint venture from Simons and co-owner Jared Meisler, of the Friend and Bar Lubitsch, and involves the kind of range that offers something for everyone, no matter their diet: tempura cauliflower that replicates beer-battered fish in a Baja-style taco; al pastor featuring grilled yuba, rather than pork; grain bowls filled with taco-spiced quinoa and braised kale; and heartier fare such as grilled oyster-mushroom asada fries drizzled with a house cashew-based queso.
“I want to convince omnivores that plant-based food is good; it’s more than steamed broccoli and brown rice,” says Simons, “and I think using the taco as a vessel, or the burritos or some of the bowls we do, showcases good food. Good food is good food whether it’s plant-based or not.”
Simons himself never fully intended to go plant-based. The chef once known for his fried chicken began training for triathlons and, as an experiment, nixed meat and dairy from his diet to help his performance. As of now he’s five years in and hoping to build Taco Vega around the same principles that helped him ease into a vegan diet: recreating classics.
The San Diego native reimagined the teen years he’d spent surfing with friends, then piling in and driving to taquerias for California burritos—behemoths stuffed with carne asada, French fries, sour cream, cheddar, guacamole and pico de gallo—and trios of rolled, deep-fried tacos. Naturally there’s now an all-vegan California burrito at the colorful new restaurant, as well as the taquitos, but here the carne asada is mushroom and the crunchy tortillas cradle a blend of quinoa in addition to potatoes.
“I wanted to kind of recreate that nostalgia of what that taco shop could be,” he shares, “and really bridge it to the perspective of health and wellness.”
Simons is also sourcing entirely non-GMO and largely organic ingredients. You won’t find pre-made or soy-based imitation meats on the menu; instead, it’s all vegetables and grains centered on corn tortillas from East L.A.’s Kernel of Truth Organics or flour tortillas made with Tehachapi Grain Project’s Sonora-style flour that is, naturally, fresh-milled locally.
Per California’s reopening guidelines, for now Taco Vega only offers pickup and delivery service, but eventually guests will be able to tuck into grilled-poblano tacos and caramelized-onion quesadillas on a patio, and when indoor dining resumes, they’ll find a few tables and a casual, streamlined setup within.
Until then and for far into the future, Simons sees Taco Vega as a healthful alternative for every kind of diner in L.A. and beyond. He’s already dreaming of opening additional locations, especially in food deserts, to bring his take on the accessible and universally loved taco to the masses. The plant-based movement is growing and he wants Taco Vega to rise to meet it.
“The consumer’s a lot smarter today, especially kids,” Simons says. “They know what is in a hamburger or what goes into making that hamburger, or what’s in that white bun they’re eating—so people are smarter, they know what’s on their plate. Even if you might not be vegan, you want to eat something healthy.”
Taco Vega opens Friday, January 8, at 456 N Fairfax with hours of 11am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, and 11am to 10pm Friday and Saturday.
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