500 Tacos: Mr. Natural

An Austin taco a day for 2015 — and then some
Mr. Natural
1901 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin (map), 512-477-5228, www.mrnatural-austin.com
Hours: 8am-8pm Mon-Sat. Also at: 2414-A S. Lamar Blvd. (map)
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 10.29.15
It takes a special kind of discipline to drive past Kerlin BBQ, park across the street from La Barbecue, then walk into a vegetarian cafe. And it takes a special kind of attraction to keep you there. At Mr. Natural, that attraction is diner-style vegan and vegetarian food at good prices, with proper dietary discipline and an Old Austin cafe vibe.
Taco A: Crispy taco
Vegetarian food doesn’t have to imitate meat to stand on its own. But sometimes it can’t help itself. Chorizo is one of the more forgiving stand-ins, because the chile spice does most of the work. Even so, Mr. Natural’s soy chorizo holds up to the textural demands of the sausage: firm without going rubbery, emulating the greasy sausage glow without being, you know, greasy. Firm, roasty blocks of potato give the meat more structure to hold firm inside the crisp taco shell. The shell’s the only shortcoming, really, the kind you get from a box. ($8.25 lunch special on Thursdays  with salad and any two sides/available daily at $7.95 with rice, beans and salad)
 Sides: It’s hard to talk about crispy tacos at Mr. Natural without talking about the Thursday lunch special, a slow stroll past the serving line, where you pick a salad and two sides. Salads might be fresh spinach or a toss of lettuce and tomato or a dry ambrosia of coconut, carrots and raisins. For sides, I skip past rice and beans for a thick gordita filled with tofu and black beans and a moist tamal filled with whole sunflower seeds and tofu.
 Migas: Mr. Natural serves breakfast all day, and the breakfast taco is a vegetarian’s playground, especially migas like these, which emphasize thick, freshly fried corn tortilla pieces first, crisp pico de gallo second and eggs third. Ask for a corn tortilla. Find out why below. ($3)
 Tortillas: With the rolled agility of a tortilla and the flavor of cornbread, this is one of the best corn tortillas in this series. It’s thick enough to have layers and springy enough to give sharp contrast to the fried chips inside migas. Mr. Natural buys its whole wheat tortillas, but they’re thinner and less leathery than most.
 Salsa: This might be a health-food store and vegan-friendly cafe, but this smoky red tomato salsa packs some carnivoral snarl.
 Something sweet: Unbleached flour, soy milk, vanilla, evaporated cane juice, soybean oil, soy icing. Uninspiring on their own, but so delicious when they work together, those ingredients form a decadent vegan strawberry cupcake, with fresh fruit on top and ruby-red preserves at its heart. ($2.50)
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)