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Viva vegan


Mexican restaurant goes vegan, again, with pleasantly surprising results.

Greg Elwell March 19th, 2014

Tamazul

5820 N. Classen Blvd.

What works: The jicama wraps and tacos are so good, you stop caring that they’re vegan.

What needs work: The tamales needed a little more filling and flavor. 

Tips: Juice is really more of a smoothie. The spicy green is expensive but glug-worthy.

Vegan tacos at Tamazul
Photo by Shannon Cornman

A Mexican restaurant, perhaps only behind steakhouses and burger joints, is a place I expect to find meats of several flavors and varieties: chicken enchiladas, beef tacos, shrimp fajitas, pork tamales and chile con carne that is heavily carne.

And even when there’s no meat, our Tex-Mex culture likes to lay the dairy on thick and plentiful. Spinach enchilada? Onion and pepper quesadilla? How about a heaping helping of gooey cheese and sour cream with that?

So when I was invited to eat at Tamazul, 5820 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City’s only — to my knowledge — vegan Mexican restaurant, I was ... intrigued.

Personally, I don’t understand the beef (haha, jokes) many omnivores have with vegetarians and vegans. We all talk about food — too much in my case. And for all the, “Oh, that stuff will kill you,” comments from the plant-eaters, I know I’m guilty of plenty of “But this cheeseburger tastes so good” responses.

Here’s an idea. Eat what you’re going to eat. If it’s good, tell somebody. Maybe they’ll want to try it. And, wow. Here it goes: You might want to try Tamazul. Because I’ve eaten there. And it’s pretty good.

I don’t know that I’m grading on a curve, exactly, but I will admit to thinking, “Huh. That’s not bad for vegan food,” a few times. Not everything was a winner, but I discovered enough to keep me interested and plenty to sate my prodigious, Galactus-like hunger.

To start, the chips and salsa ($5) are an easy choice. It’s just blue corn tortilla chips served with a trio of mango chipotle, pico de gallo and salsa verde, but if you’re nervous there’s nothing for you, this one’s simple and to the point.

I also like the nachos ($13), which have a little “cheese” and “sour cream” (both nut-based) along with black beans and pico. This is hearty stuff. And despite the quotation marks above, the flavors on the faux-dairy were really good.

In fact, that cashew crema sour cream features on a few of my favorites, including the jicama wraps ($8). These delicate little appetizers are just tortillas stuffed with avocado, jicama, peppers and sprouts and then topped with chipotle-infused crema and some mango salsa. It’s light, it’s creamy, it’s flavorful and I cannot believe I’ve shared them with anybody. These wraps should be mandatory.

That said, if you’re looking for the usual gang of vegan ingredients, the quinoa and kale ensalata ($12) is a veritable murderers’ row of Whole Foods Market’s all-stars. Plaudits go to the cumin oil, pico and salsa verde for transforming ingredients into a dish.

But if you’re eating Mexican food, you’re probably wondering about the tacos and burritos. And who can blame you? For most of us (me especially), these have come to symbolize the very foundation of the cuisine.

The tacos ($12 at lunch, two tacos with soup or salad for $8 and $14 for four at night w/ choice of fillings) are surprisingly tacolike. I mean, sans the ground beef or chicken or steak, I was surprised how well chili tempeh filled that protein and texture void. Add in peppers, cabbage and guacamole (and more of that crema) and suddenly, it’s like you’re eating fancy tacos supreme, and I mean that in a good way.

The burrito ($12) is a little harder to compare, partially because it’s served cut down the middle. I’m sure you can pick it up with your hands, but I felt more comfortable knifing and forking it. Filled with spinach and quinoa, it’s filling, if not traditional. One wish: I want those heirloom beans that come on the side to appear a lot more often. Kind of a vegan refried beans, they were creamy, flavorful and a perfect taste of what a lot of people might be missing.

For dessert, steer clear of the chocolate avocado pudding ($9). It had a nice kick, but a few flavors were unfriendly to my palette. Instead, go for the mango lime cheesecake ($9) on a blue corn crust. It might not be traditional, but it’s very tasty.

Despite a rocky past, with chef turnovers and a change back to a purely vegan menu, Tamazul is a welcome addition to our restaurant community. More than that, though, it’s turning out some pretty delicious dishes. And that, regardless of the philosophy, is the real measure of success for me.

 
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