Chow Bella

Minus the Meat: Two Standout Spots for Vegan Tacos

Vegan “carne” asada tacos at Mi Vegana Madre.
Vegan “carne” asada tacos at Mi Vegana Madre. Patricia Escarcega
How do you show your excitement about a cult vegan food cart opening its first brick-and-mortar location? You could be one of the first diners at Mi Vegana Madre’s soft opening and chow at the table nearest the kitchen while proudly sporting your VEGAN AF T-shirt.

An excited crowd came to Mi Vegana Madre's new Glendale digs to munch from the restaurant’s meat-free menu. It’s small and cute inside, bringing in a lot of natural light through its big front windows, and getting some green from the plants shelved within.

Currently, there are four tacos you can choose from. We scarfed one of each.

Two of them – the carne asada and the al pastor – offer faux meat filling.

The former is a soy and gluten protein cut into steak-like strips, spiced and marinated, and grilled before getting lodged inside corn tortillas and topped with cilantro, onion, and tangy red salsa. The latter is a soy "meat" marinated in a housemade chili sauce, joined by pineapple, cilantro, onion, and tomatillo-avocado salsa.

Both do a good job of mirroring the flavor and texture of their meaty progenitors while standing on their own as vegan entrees. If the two were locked in a battle, the carne asada would be the victor. The spices offered a tongue tingle given extra zest by the tomato salsa.

Mi Vegana Madre's chalky options. - AMY YOUNG
Mi Vegana Madre's chalky options.
Amy Young
A third taco, the San Lorenzo, is busy but it works. Inside are tender nopales and trumpet mushrooms that add some chew to the overall softness. The flavors are nice thanks to epazote, a Mexican herb that, when cooked down, can be reminiscent of an earthy oregano.

And finally, the De Monja is the taco equivalent of a Vietnamese spring roll. Inside its soft corn shell, there’s a slaw made from cabbage, cilantro, radish, and lime. The slaw is mixed with carrots, onion, and cilantro. Topped with tomatillo-avocado salsa, this is cool and crispy handheld perfection – airy, with lots of crunch and zing.

Mi Vegana Madre doesn’t fuck with vegan cheese. At least, not at the new spot.

Eyebrows might raise, then, when you see that nachos are on the menu. But we plowed through the generous basket of cheese-less nachos al pastor without a single tear.

The kitchen stuffs layers of chips with "al pastor." It then covers the layers in that tomatillo-and-avocado salsa. We couldn’t help but think that carne asada might also be a fit for this chippy dish.

click to enlarge La Santisima's artsy interior - AMY YOUNG
La Santisima's artsy interior
Amy Young
Central Phoenix’s La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop is another place you can devour vegan tacos, though you wouldn’t know it from the website. The in-house menu is totally different from what you see online.

La Santisima's Mexica Ahuacatl taco is a winner. Thick slices of fried avocado are warm and soft inside their layer of crunch. Cabbage, pico, and salsa with cilantro and jicama add texture and flavor.

Here, asada and al pastor tacos are made with cauliflower. Huge chunky pieces practically turn these tacos into tostadas, as they force tortillas to lay flat. The cauliflower weight is supported by two tortilla shells.

The Gandhi taco is all about black beans. There's also lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. If a bean base is up your alley, then this taco makes up for its basic status by tasting good.

You can get your cactus on here, too. Of the choices, try the Guisado Tenoch. It’s carbed-up with potatoes, a nice partner to the cactus and mushroom mix. Guajillo salsa gives the taco a punch. Warning: This one comes with cheese, but the dairy can be held.

Many of the vegan tacos at La Santisima can also be ordered as burritos.

Phoenix’s taco game is already pretty strong, with places boasting traditional and signature takes anywhere you can shake a stick in the Valley. These vegan spots are only making our city's taco game stronger.

Mi Vegana Madre. 5135 West Palmaire Avenue, Suite E, Glendale.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday; closed Monday.

La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop. 1919 North 16th Street (plus a Glendale location); 602-254-6330.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young