Los Angeles is known for a thriving taco scene as well as a large health-conscious vegetarian scene, but the two worlds are rarely mentioned in the same conversation — unless it’s with a derisive comment for the other side. The words “vegetarian tacos” sound like blasphemy to some taco fans, but greens and vegetables are a traditional part of many regional Mexican recipes, and it's also worth remembering that many of today’s traditional tacos were once fusion tacos. (Consider that several beloved foods, such as tacos al pastor and Oaxacan cheese, arose partly from Arabic influence.) So whether you love traditional tacos, modern taco creations or all of the above — you’re right. And if you love good tacos, you won’t want to miss the tasty veggie options this city has to offer.
For all the veggie lovers out there — but also for the taco lovers — we offer our current picks for the 10 best vegetarian tacos in L.A. (several of which are vegan or can be made vegan).
Cauliflower Taco at Colonia Tacos Guisados
Meat eaters and vegetarians alike despaired when Colonia Tacos Lounge closed last year, depriving them of access to chef Ricardo Diaz's popular fried cauliflower taco. But since Diaz opened Colonia Tacos Guisados in Whittier, the cauliflower taco has reappeared and fans can once again get their fix. Fluffy breaded and fried cauliflower topped with salsa, cilantro and corn rests in a chewy, freshly made corn tortilla ($2.50). All the tacos here are strong, and Diaz is working on expanding the options, so new tacos continue to appear on the menu. 11114 Whittier Blvd., Whittier; (562) 699-2424, coloniagroupinc.com.
Calabacitas Taco at Cacao Mexicatessen
Not all vegetarian tacos are good for you, but the calabacitas taco at Cacao Mexicatessen is refreshingly healthy. A heaping portion of squash on a fresh, thick corn tortilla helps satisfy your hunger and your vegetable requirements at once ($3.60). Roasted salsa and pumpkin seeds add to the fall harvest taste, while a sprinkling of feta ups the velvety richness (vegans can order the taco without cheese). Compared with some others on this list, the calabacitas taco is subtle in flavor, but its charms will be obvious as you polish it off. 1576 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 478-2791, cacaodeli.com.
Jackfruit Taco at Plant Food for People
Jackfruit tacos are popping up in vegan and vegetarian joints all over town, since the texture and density of jackfruit make it a, well, meaty filling. Vegan taco truck Plant Food for People marinates its jackfruit for “carnitas style” tacos with terrific depth of flavor ($3). Whenever we order some of these tacos, we find ourselves turning right back around to order more. The tender spiced jackfruit, slightly oily corn tortillas and toppings such as cabbage slaw with chipotle mayo or New Mexico spicy salsa and beans add up to addictive street tacos. Still relatively under the radar for nonvegans, this spot is where vegan taco lovers come to worship. The truck often is set up at the Highland Park Farmers Market on Tuesdays and at events around Los Angeles. Check the website and Facebook page for location updates. Various locations; pffp.org.
Omega 2 Taco at Tacos Quetzalcoatl
Wandering the streets of East L.A. to taste delicious tacos from the trucks and stands on each block is one of our favorite pastimes. While most of the tacos are for meat eaters only, Tacos Quetzalcoatl offers a “taco Omega 2” for vegetarians. It’s filled with spinach, mushrooms and cheese, along with other veggies on hand, which could include corn, squash and peppers ($2.50). This taco tastes substantial and earthy, and you can make it your own with salsas from the condiment bar. East Olympic Boulevard at South Kern Avenue, East L.A., on weekends; South Central Avenue at East Eighth Street, downtown, on weekdays; (323) 392-4444.
Queso Fresco Taco at Bizarra Capital and Tacoteca
The queso fresco taco is a standout on the menu at two of Ricardo Diaz’s eateries: Bizarra Capital in Whittier and Tacoteca in Santa Monica. This decadent taco features fried farmer's cheese on a layer of barely-there sliced potatoes. Fresh avocado slices on top and a freshly made tortilla on the bottom add a healthy but satisfying feel, and a serrano salsa brings some punch. The taco looks simple and plain but tastes fancy and vibrant ($4 at Bizarra Capital, $5.25 at Tacoteca). 12706 Philadelphia St., Whittier; (562) 945-2426; 2460 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica; (310) 828-2115, tacotecasm.com.
Sweet Potato Taco at Guerrilla Tacos
Although the seasonal menu changes regularly at beloved food truck Guerrilla Tacos, the sweet potato and feta taco here has had some staying power and continues to be a regular menu item. A heaping pile of rich sweet potato is enhanced with a red almond chile salsa and topped with feta and scallions — sometimes a sprinkling of toppings, sometimes a mound ($4). A comfort-food taco with a little extra pizzazz, this sweet potato taco makes a great breakfast. Check Facebook or Twitter for where and when to find this truck. The fresh ingredients used at Guerrilla Tacos, often local and organic, are what really shine here and make every item a good bet (as well as a little pricier than your average street taco). So if a different veggie taco is on the menu when you visit, give that one a try, too. Various locations; (818) 640-3033, guerrillatacos.com.
Mushroom and Garlic Taco at B.S. Taqueria
While the clam and lardo taco at B.S. Taqueria has had us swooning for a year now, the rest of the tacos at Ray Garcia's upscale taqueria are terrific, too, including the changing veggie-taco option. The current vegetarian taco is mushroom and garlic, featuring six kinds of mushroom (shiitake, maitake, shimeji, white beech, oyster and king oyster), each type sautéed separately with thyme, oregano and lemon to achieve the proper tenderness. A white bean pureé spread over a freshly made blue corn tortilla creates the taco's base. Fresh chives, a layer of panela cheese (vegans can order without cheese) and all six kinds of mushrooms come next, while a raw chile de arbol garlic salsa, a sprinkling of parsley and several toasted garlic chips finish it off. Substantial and flavorful, this is a great taco, not just a great vegetarian taco ($10 for two). Since this menu will change, order soon and often. We also love the hibiscus and cactus taco here, which we’re told is likely to reappear as a veggie taco option in the summer. 514 W. Seventh St., downtown; (213) 622-3744, bstaqueria.com.
Crispy Fried Taco with Chorizo at Gracias Madre
Gracias Madre has been winning over fans with its upscale vegan food in West Hollywood since opening in 2014. The chorizo taco here is stuffed with spiced potatoes and tempeh, fried to create a crispy shell, then topped with cashew “crema.” Cards on the table: This taco's filling bears almost no relation to the meaty flavor of chorizo, and the overall effect is fairly reminiscent of an Indian samosa. But if that twist is cool with you, it’s the most satisfying taco on the menu and a delicious potato snack that pairs well with cocktails ($6, available for lunch and happy hour). 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 978-2170, graciasmadreweho.com.
Crispy Rajas Taco at Border Grill
The crispy rajas taco at Border Grill is one of the richest vegetarian tacos we've had — and it's definitely not vegan-friendly, as the blended potato filling is full of milk and cream. Tender sautéed peppers (rajas) stand out against the creamy potatoes, and a gently fried tortilla adds a bit of crisp. The sweet pickled onions on top are a great complement to the rich filling, and the corn guacamole smear underneath the taco makes the dish more filling and adds veggies (but it's a generous serving and can overwhelm the taco — save some guac to eat with the chips and rice). At the downtown location, vegans and those looking for a lighter lunch can try the black bean and sweet potato taco, a healthier option that's still full of decadently salty, heavily roasted flavor. Tacos here can be ordered three at a time for lunch and dinner (mix taco types if you like) with rice and beans on the side ($12-$15 a plate), and the crispy rajas taco is also available à la carte during happy hour downtown ($3.50). 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown; 213.486.5171. 1445 4th St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-1655. bordergrill.com.
Jesse Taco at Organix
In the back of Organix grocery store in Eagle Rock, a kitchen functions as a vegan deli. Order carryout or grab a spot at the two tables in the middle of the store. The tacos here are invigorating and vibrant, not always words associated with vegan “meat-alternative” dishes. The Jesse taco features plump portobello mushrooms marinated in a bold cilantro pebre (Chilean salsa) and topped with a chipotle vegan mayo ($3). The spicy jackfruit “barbacoa” taco is also a zesty and tasty choice here. If you're making a meal of the tacos, we recommend two of each. 1731 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 254-0284, organix-la.com.