“That guy could turn me vegetarian!” I uttered, or rather, typed, these unlikely-if-you-knew-me words on Chowhound last night. The “guy” in question is chef Wesley Avila of Guerrilla Tacos, who will apparently be serving a vegetarian taco with mushrooms and hazelnut “dirt” at Tacolandia 2014 (happening mañana at the time of writing).
I first encountered Guerrilla Tacos at Tacolandia last year, where they were serving a classic lengua (beef tongue) taco. While it was expertly prepared and tasted great, it did not tip me off to their prowess with vegetables. My ignorance was quickly corrected over this past year.
What could possibly potentially turn this dyed-in-the-wool carnivore into a herbivore? Simple: Use fresh, local vegetables, pair them with interesting ingredients, incredible salsas, and cook each dish to-order. Easier said than done, but Wes Avila and his crew does just that every Wednesday through Sunday out of their bright, blue Guerrilla Tacos truck. Here’s just a few recent examples of what they can do with vegetables:
Portobello Mushroom Taco, with fried egg, duxelles, portobello conserva, burnt tomato chile, and chives: The cubes of portobello were tender, the duxelles (a mixture of mince ‘shrooms, aromatics, herbs, and spices) spread in between the two tortillas was flavorful, and the sunny-side up egg was perfectly cooked!
Morel Mushroom Quesadilla, with farmer’s market greens, chives, Oaxacan cheese, burnt tomato chile, and cashews: Continuing with the mushroom vibe, this was an “open face” (unfolded) quesadilla, with generous portions of morels and cheese and some greens to lighten things up a bit. A bit unwieldy to eat, but it was delicious!
Heirloom Tomato & Squash Blossom Quesadilla, with Oaxacan cheese, Valbreso feta, market greens, almond chile, fried corn, and herbs: The tomatoes were incredibly fresh, and the cheese had a kind of queso frito quality to it. Also, the almond chile was great. Strangely, I didn’t find any squash blossoms in the quesadilla…
Golden Beet Taco, with queso fresco, Brussels sprouts, dehydrated grapes, pine nuts, árbol chile, and cilantro: Brussels sprouts and beets, the bane of childhood vegetable consumption, have both made culinary resurgences. They also work really well together apparently, with the help of the other seemingly disparate ingredients. Is “dehydrated grapes” the molecular-gastronomical term for raisins?
The kicker is of course that Guerrilla Tacos is not a vegetarian-centric enterprise; they also make great, stick-to-your-ribs meat dishes! While the above Chicken Albondigas Taco (ajonjoli salsa, castleveltrano olives, chives) didn’t work for me (’twas a little dry), the other meat-centric dishes I’ve had have all been fantastic. Again, some recent offerings:
Pork Short Rib Burrito, with fingerling potato, Swiss chard, and raw tomatillo: Speaking of quality ingredients, it’s not just for vegetables; Guerrilla Tacos sources their pork from Cook Pigs, a small, family-owned ranch/farm that raise some of the best pork I’ve tasted. This burrito was no exception, with the bitter greens complimenting the short ribs perfectly!
Lamb Tongue Taco, with charred flowering kale, manchego, raw tomatillo chile, pickled onions: Unlike most lengua, which is cubed, the lamb tongue was “pulled” or shredded, not unlike carnitas, and had a mild, not too grassy taste. The pickled onions and tomatillo chile added a great, tangy kick.
Beef Chile Colorado Taco, with tomato-braised beef shoulder, jalapeño, onions, garlic, avocado, and cilantro: The seasoning almost tasted like 沙茶醬 (shā chá jiàng), a Chinese “barbeque” sauce. The beef was very tender without falling apart.
Fried Oyster & Beef Tendon Taco, with raw tomatillo chile, herbs, and shallots: Um, wow. The oysters were nicely fried. The tendons were springy. The combination of the tendon, the tang of the tomatillo, and the cilantro paid homage to phở (likely unintentional, but I wouldn’t put it past Wes).
Wait, oysters? Oh yeah, Guerrilla Tacos and Wes Avila also kick ass with mariscos!
Octopus/Chorizo Taco, with pistachios, árbol chile, lime, avocado, and cilantro: Another amazing surf and turf combination, both proteins have strong flavors, but they complemented rather than competed with each other.
Honolulu Ahi Tuna Poke Tostada, white miso, scallions, habanero, and togarashi: Pretty much a straight-up classic poke, it was delicious. No worries about raw fish from a food truck; the tuna was super-fresh!
Any place that can make me not order multiples of the tendon/oyster taco or ahi poke tostada, so that I have room to try their non-meat options, is definitely making magic with vegetables. Would I convert to vegetarianism if it was the only way to get Guerrilla Tacos’ vegetarian dishes? Fortunately, I don’t have to; but I’d consider it, and that’s something!
Looking forward to whatever chef Wesley Avila and crew are cooking up tomorrow! See you at Tacolandia 2014! [Update: My report on Tacolandia 2014.]
Guerrilla Tacos @ Cognoscenti Coffee
6114 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA
Wednesdays, 10 AM to 2 PM
Guerrilla Tacos @ Blacktop Coffee
826 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA
Thursdays/Fridays, 9 AM to 2 PM
Saturdays/Sundays, 9 AM to 1 PM