For years, taco culture has been revised like this, through experimentation in kitchens, and in backyards, its subgenres expanding and shifting with the availability of ingredients, and flourishing in the hands of creative cooks.
Vegan tacos are often left out of the conversation, but if there’s a taco that illuminates this moment in Los Angeles — the uncertainty, the constraints, but also the resilience of the cooks working through them, eager to nourish and sustain their businesses and their communities — it might be a black vegan taco al pastor. It floats on a soft, freshly made corn tortilla, seasoned with a little guacamole, onion and a dribble of life-affirming salsa.
Vegetarian and vegan taco fillings aren’t new. You can trace their lineage back through Indigenous cuisines, and the cooks who worked with regional flowers, fruits and vegetables, long before the introduction of pork, by colonists.
The genre has a history here in Los Angeles, too — Plant Food for People started selling jackfruit carnitas a decade ago, and in 2018, the vegan tacos from Taqueria La Venganza won a fierce citywide taco competition hosted by the local publication L.A. Taco, beating out more well-known meat tacos.
“That was a pivotal moment,” said Javier Cabral, who scouted contestants for the battle that year, and is now the editor in chief of L.A. Taco. “That was the first time the city, and the food media, saw that vegan tacos weren’t just a fad, and they weren’t just something hipsters were eating.”
Vegan taco stands were concentrated in more gentrified neighborhoods, with a mostly white customer base. But Mr. Cabral notes that their audience has slowly expanded, in part thanks to vendors like Vegatinos, making hulking vegan versions of regional Mexican foods — tacos de suadero and chicharrón, pozole and Jalisco-style birria.
“That’s been key in winning over the old-school demographic,” Mr. Cabral said. “Nothing fancy.”