500 Tacos: The Vegan Nom

A taco a day for 2015 — and then some
The Vegan Nom
120 E. North Loop Blvd. (map), 512-217-7257, www.thevegannom.com
Hours: 7:30am-4pm Tue-Sun
By Mike Sutter | © Fed Man Walking | 06.24.15
The North Loop Food Store at Avenue F and North Loop is a charmed crossroads for Austin vegans. Sue Davis parked her Counter Culture vegan trailer here before moving to an East Side brick and mortar. Now this gas station parking lot is home to the Vegan Nom — in the same trailer, reborn — and it presents a charmed crossroads of its own: the cruelty-free aesthetic of its guiding mission and the full-flavor subculture of a taco trailer. And the Vegan Nom is popular enough that the wait for a late lunch stretched past an hour on a recent Tuesday. But I still don’t know about that name. What’s in a nom, you ask? Passing up a chance to call a vegan taco trailer Viva Las Vegans, that’s what.
Taco A: Del Fresco
Friends, vegan cheddar looks like wilted carrot sticks and tastes like all-day feet. This taco overcomes that handicap — even turns it into an asset — with the big citrus punch of cilantro-lime crema that coats the fresh tomatoes, onions and Romaine like a summer salad. With the mildly seasoned picadillo pretender at its core, this is the taco for your friends who scoff at the idea of a vegan taco. And on the day I went, the crispy taco shell they usually pull from a box was replaced with a freshly fried corn tortilla, an extra step that made this $5 pair of tacos the day’s best value.
Taco B: Bean Diablo
If the devil is ugly, the Diablo is his heir. A globbed mass of black beans, vegan chorizo, caramelized onions, peppers and guacamole, it looks like it was left behind in the Rapture. But what it lacks cosmetically it makes up for in filling spiciness, like the side dishes from a Tex-Mex combo platter between two corn tortillas. ($5)
Taco C: Vegan Del Rey
It’s either a testament to the power of this breaded mockfish taco or an indictment of fish tacos that this is one of the better fish tacos I’ve had in this series. The vegetable protein at the core is crisp and clean, and it’s dressed with purple and green cabbage, fresh avocado and sharp cilantro-lime crema. Building blocks of success for surf and turf alike. ($5)
 Scrambled: The Vegan Nom serves its breakfast menu all day, anchored by scrambled tofu that cooks up like a loose egg salad. Simple combinations start at $3 — tofu scrambled with vegan chorizo or potatoes, or tacos with avocado and beans or a veggie sauté. But I liked the way the $4 Ranchera Luna sounded: spinach, bell peppers, vegan pepper-jack cheese. I could even forgive the idea of alfalfa sprouts. For an extra $1, I added tempeh bacon, made from tofu’s higher-protein cousin, with more density to pick up smoke flavor and add a more enduring chew factor. The bacon was good, but the taco itself suffered the most from the longer wait. The spinach and sprouts melted into a floe of green, and the rest congealed into an ungainly mass. A missed opportunity for a fresh and refreshing breakfast taco.
 Tortillas: Do they make their own? “Oh, God no,” came the reply. As if it were out of the question. (The vegan trailer Cool Beans would argue otherwise.) Both corn and flour are storebought, but the end product is a well-grilled flour tortilla and doubled-up white corn.
 Rockin’ Vegan Queso?: Instead of the funk that characterizes shredded vegan cheddar, The Vegan Nom’s queso is a creamy decoction of pinto beans, a combination of the trailer’s three salsas and a spice profile like bean dip at a pool party. It’s not entirely queso in character or fact, but it’s pretty good on a chip. ($5 for a cup with tortilla chips)
 Salsa: Roasted chipotle salsa combines the familiar twang of ranch with a warm underglow of smoky chipotle. Points to the creamy green salsa for vivid jalapeño flavor; points off for its salty assault. There’s also a chopped salsa roja for something crisper and simultaneously hotter and cooler.
The 500 Tacos Project
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)