South Texas’s most accessible menu item — the humble bean and cheese taco — can be dauntingly problematic for San Antonio’s sparse vegetarian population. Among local foodstuffs it is unmatched for economy and portability, a working musician’s dream. Unfortunately, it is also usually tainted with Tex-Mex cuisine’s most ubiquitous additive: bacon fat.
“Ninety-nine percent of Mexican food has bacon grease in it,” scolds Helen Velesiotis, proprietor of Olmos Park’s acclaimed Taco Taco. “We don’t do that.”
Velesiotis and Taco Taco are among an ever-growing number of progressive central SA eateries catering to vegetarians (and good health in general) by offering lard-free beans. Several other formal restaurants offer veggie beans as well (Guajillo’s, El Mirador, et cetera), but hard-rocking, hard-drinking music aficionados demand the most casual nooks to nurse their nightclub hangovers on a Saturday morning for pocket change.
It’s hard to exaggerate how well Taco Taco does everything they do. So, hyperbole aside, their refried beans taste like they were trod upon by tiny gods’ feet. They’ve concocted the perfect beans-and-cheese combo, upon which there can be no improvement: deliciously and delicately flavored refried beans (lubed with pure vegetable oil), American cheese, swathed in their amazing corn tortillas. The flour tortilla version is much bigger, but don’t get greedy — the corn alternative packs an infinitely more delectable taste-punch.
Cascabel, Southtown’s traditionalist jewel, was recently numbered among Texas Monthly’s 50 best Mexican restaurants in the state. Among other fare, they offer the mysterious and elusive cuitlacoche — a black corn fungus also known as “corn smut.” The bean and cheese tacos are über-authentic, served in two overlapping corn tortillas with black beans and queso fresco as the only options. They offer several interesting salsa choices, each bringing their own version of tangy and spicy. The wait staff is attentive and patiently eager to translate any intimidating menu items into English for you monolinguists.
Green has established itself as the only strictly vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio. Regrettably, most of their menu items reside on the blander side of the street. Railing against this is the treasonously flavorish bean-and-cheese taco. While this variance ought to be well taken, the pendulum has swung too far in the case of their refried beans, more appropriately described as “peculiar tasting.” They nearly defy culinary description, unless “over-blended paste of oniony muck” sounds culinary.
Also warranting inclusion (since they’re the only other certifiably veggie-friendly taco place in town) is Alamo Heights’ fixture Adelante, which has devoted itself to healthy (and mostly tasteless) Tex-Mex cuisine. Adelante’s version is only really notable for apocryphally including tomatoes and lettuce at no extra charge. While Las Salsas represents a mystery among the restaurants visited: one gets the sense the wait staff has been instructed to enthusiastically answer in the affirmative to any and all questions asked of them. Their tacos are good (and topped with the desirable shredded American cheese), but suspiciously baconesque. What with overwrought, Morrisey-inspired lyrical rants against meat-eating reverberating in our mucial vocabularies, it might be best to steer clear of any ambiguity. •
BEAN & CHISME
Taco Taco – Go for the corn tortilla version. It’s smaller than its flour counterpart, but a great pairing with the melty American and their delicious red salsa. Sit at the bar and Helen Velesiotis will regale you with her unique take on tacos, Greekness, and the lard epidemic.
Cascabel – Someone’s grandmother wallpapered the men’s room in generic sports imagery, and that’s the only dull aspect of this otherwise brightly-beaming taco shanty. Once you leave the narrow confines of the bathroom, endeavor to be adventurous, and for a few dollars more sample the exotic cuitlacoche — even though it means perhaps one less tallboy later.
Green – Forgo the bean and cheese (thus destroying the only purpose of this article) in favor of the (slightly) tastier egg-and-Soyrizo. Order an extra tortilla to go, if you care to, and later you can read your favorite mystery novel through it.
Adelante – Let’s be honest: you don’t live in Alamo Heights, and you probably don’t have a car. The VIA will only drop you on the outskirts, and you’re not inclined to walk the rest of the way for what amounts to a paper-pulp taco.