Tacoria Redefines Rabbit Food

Francesca Fierro, Editor

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It’s like Urban Outfitters for Mexican cuisine: exposed steel ductwork, Edison bulb chandeliers, and a neon sign that spells “It’s Not Love it’s Tacoria” in fluorescent pink cursive.  Tacoria, a fast-casual eatery in Montclair, naturally draws a young, artsy crowd. Teenagers crowd the counter tops and take pictures of their burrito bowls and colorful tacos to plaster on their Instagram stories. It’s so busy being cool that you don’t notice the additional vegan menu with bases like roasted brussel sprouts and fried avocado. Wait, what? Isn’t vegan food carrots and kale smoothies? 

Yes, that’s right.  Despite its youthful ambiance and quirky touches like the sticky note wall and graffiti murals,  Tacoria offers a completely plant-based menu for its vegan customers, or in my case, a challenge to a vegan skeptic. My visions of deep dish pizza and beef and broccoli come to mind, only to be crushed mercilessly and replaced for, well, rabbit food.  Or is it?

Deciding to give vegan food the old college try, I ordered a burrito box with roasted brussel sprouts in a chipotle aioli sauce on a bed of rice, black beans, and pico de gallo. I will admit, the absence of charred chicken or even a dollop of sour cream made me nervous. What if I hate it? Will I feel like a fake fan every time I listen to Greta Thunberg? Will I be now become the living embodiment of a hypocrite when I make fun of my animal-loving sister for her love affair with cheeseburgers? 

Three bites in and I was convinced: vegan food isn’t about the absence of meat but the celebration of vegetables. Brussel sprouts, my sworn enemy in elementary school, are delicious when roasted, as they become crispy and smokey and the perfect complement to their aioli sauce, which had the same addictiveness as the cult-favorite white sauce of the Halal Guys. I didn’t  feel like the dish was somehow incomplete and instead left feeling satisfied without being uncomfortably full. Why obscure the ancient comfort of food grown from the ground with meat or dairy? The three main components, (brussel sprouts, beans and rice) were allowed to shine in their simple glory. 

Especially in America, we have developed the idea that a meal is not complete without some sort of animal protein present.  Salads have to be topped with chicken, pasta with ground beef, and the crowning glory of the Thanksgiving table is, after all, is the bird. 

“What? That’s it??” my sister cried incredulously upon seeing my food arrive. And if served a vegan or vegetarian meal at someone’s home, we immediately assume the hosts are cheap, poor, or the type of preachy, Whole-Foods-obsessed vegan everyone loves to hate. 

But I challenge this idea of vegan food being insubstantial or worse, elitist.  What is insubstantial about eating produce from every shade of the rainbow? What is elitist about eating the same things our agricultural ancestors ate thousands of years ago? Vegan food is brimming with creative potential, and is a positive force for the environment, animals, and your health. And even though vegan food has a famous reputation for sky-high costs, some staples like rice and beans are some of the cheapest foods one could buy. 

The next time you see a vegan menu as you’re out and about, stop and scan what they’re serving.  Chances are, they’re ingredients you already have in your kitchen. Vegan food doesn’t have to be complicated or bland. A quick Pinterest search will enlighten you to flavors for every palate. And yes, you can even have your obligatory kale smoothie and feel like a boss.