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September 5, 2023

Decolonizing Tacos: Vegan Taqueros in Texas

By: Mando Rayo

Plant-based tacos aren’t just one of today’s trends. Before the introduction of pork and cattle to this side of the hemisphere, plant-based foods were the norm. In this episode, we skip the meat and talk to vegan taqueros and taqueras in Texas to understand what goes into making vegan options for taco lovers. Guests include Edgar Delfin from Lick It Up (El Paso/Austin), Chris Rios from The Vegan Nom (Austin), and Belen Hernandez from Belenty’s Love (Dallas).

The full transcript of this episode of Tacos of Texas is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.

Intro Hi, my name is Adria and I’m a musician from the border, El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. To me, tacos sound like a reunion with my loved ones full of good memories, wrapped in a tortilla, a symphony of taste that has no boundaries. From the street corners in Juarez to a fancy bistro in El Paso, from Mexico’s heart to the world, black beans, your choice of guisado, shredded lettuce, guacamole and delicious salsa. Oh, and don’t forget cilantro and lime for a celebration on each bite. This is Adria from Estereomance and you’re listening to Tacos of Texas on KUT. Have you tried avocado lard? Move over peas and guacamole. Get in on the latest craze in whole living and eating with avocado lard. It’s great for the skin, belly and your nalgas. Get it now at whole comidas stores. Small print. This product does not resemble avocados or avocado accessories. [music]

Mando Rayo What’s a Taco world? I’m taco journalist Mando Rayo and welcome to the Tacos of Texas podcast season tres, tres, tres, produced by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. And we’re back exploring taco culture in Texas through the eyes of the people in the Lone Star State. So grab a flor de la calabaza and tortillas de maiz and get ready for some muy tasty taco conversations. [music] In today’s episode, we’re skipping the meat line and talking to taqueros and taqueras in El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth. We’ll talk to Edgar Delfin of Lick It Up Tacos, which originally started in El Paso and expanded to a truck in Austin a few years ago. We’ll also talk to East Austin native Chris Rios, whose taco truck Vegan Nom, now has a brick and mortar in the North Loop neighborhood. Then we’ll talk to Belen Hernandez, bringing a little love into the virtual studio all the way from her Fort Worth Mexican restaurant, Belenty’s Love. We’re talking about plant based tacos on today’s Tacos of Texas. [music] While I’m not quite ready to give up on my carnitas and barbacoa, especially con ojos, I’m really interested in how these taqueros have given it up and how they’ve also brought Mexican cuisine to the vegan restaurant industry. Now, I’m not trying to convince you about anything in this episode, but I want to take a closer look at the vegan taqueros within our cultura because our cultura actually begin with a diet that was very much a plant based one. That’s right. Plantas. And how do we know this? The Florentine Codex. The Florentine Codex is an encyclopedia created by a Franciscan missionary who was studying the Aztecs in order to convert them to Christianity. In his account of the Aztecs, he describes the food they eat, which were primarily plant based before the Spanish introduced eating animals like pigs and cows to the Americas. So what does it mean to decolonize your tacos? I know a lot of us Mexicanos grew up eating carne like three times a day. We start with chorizo in the morning, bistec in the afternoon and at night, maybe some pastor. To decolonize your tacos means to revisit and reclaim the ways our ancestors ate before they were colonized and, say, return to the foods that nourished us and kept us alive for centuries before we started eating in other ways, which affected our bodies and the environment over time. One of the most well-known books of the last ten years that talks about going back to our Indigenous ways of eating is Decolonize Your Diet by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel. Their book has both recipes and a manifesto in which they urgently call on people of all ethnicities to connect with their elders now to recover the vital cultural knowledge needed to survive. They share recipes like cauliflower ceviche, chili, the quinoa, mesquite, corn tortillas and amaranth chocolate cake. Ooh, que rico! In a KQED article, the author shared that they were motivated to write the book when one of them was diagnosed with breast cancer and their research for cancer related diets. They came across a phenomenon called the Latina Immigrant Paradox that says Latin immigrants arrive in the U.S. a lot healthier, and throughout generations, they start to lose the health benefits they had when they arrived. So some people are motivated to decolonize their tacos because of their health, but some go plant based because of their connection to the land and animals that Chavez and Dolores Huerta actually didn’t eat meat because they believed in the fair treatment of all living things. Their fight for justice didn’t end with farmworkers and applied to everything they did. Today, we’re also seeing more people who aren’t vegan enjoying plant based foods as well. An NPR story reported on vegan mix pop ups in Southern California, where full time vegans, especially white ones, are a minority. Young Mexican-Americans were just hearing about how good the food is and showing up. You’re probably already eating a lot of foods that vegans eat or foods that are decolonized. It’s time for a segment we called ¡Ya la comes! Which means you eat it already. Beans. ¡Ya la comes! Rice. ¡Ya la comes! Calabazas. ¡Ya la comes! Corn Tortillas. ¡Ya la comes! Nopales! ¡Ya la comes! Well, maybe all of y’all don’t eat this one, but maybe you should give them a try. How about that? So whatever your food inclination might be today, you’re going to enjoy hearing from vegan taqueros that are cooking up some of the tastiest vegan bakers in Texas. [crunch sound effect] Oh, it’s taco time. And now here’s a word from our sponsors. From me. Vamos a Chuco Town con Visit El Paso. It’s the hometown of this taco journalist. There’s no other place like Big Bend, Texas, where the stark beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert can be enjoyed in all its magnificence. Situated along the Texas Mexico border in far west Texas, Big Bend’s remote location makes the journey here a long one. And last year, coming from El Paso, the Sun City is the best starting point to your Big Bend adventure. Not only is El Paso easy to get to, but you’ll also find everything you need for as long as you’re in town. Take your pick. From upscale downtown hotels to comfortable accommodations from the biggest names in the business. When you’re ready to explore Big Bend, you’ll find that the national park is less than 300 miles away from El Paso, which has. To our friends at Visit El Paso for sponsoring this podcast episode. Follow Visit El Paso on Instagram and Facebook at Visit El Paso or on their website at Visit El Paso dot com. No fees equals more tacos at Amplify Credit Union with fee free banking at Amplify, you’ll never pay another account fee, overdraft fee or transfer fee ever again. And no fees means un poquito mas de sabor. It’s not a bank, it’s a credit union. And their goal is to remove the obstacles that stand between their members and financial success. So they turned off all their bank fees. Because it’s not just about giving back. Sometimes it’s about not taking in the first place. And you know what? Amplify is the first financial institution in Texas to put an end to bank fees, Amplify charges $0 in overdraft fees. That’s right. Zero. Amplify offers fee free banking to both personal and business members. To learn more, go to go amplify dot com slash tacos. Our first guest is Edgar Delfin, founder of Lick It Up, located in both El Paso and Austin, Texas. Lick It Up first opened as a food truck in the patio of a well-known dive bar in El Paso, Texas, and since then expanded to a brick and mortar at International Bar in downtown El Paso, as well as a food truck in East Austin. Edgar is also accompanied by his Austin food truck assistant manager Fernando Corona. Here’s our chat with Fernando and Edgar in the studio.

Edgar Delfin My name is Edgar Delfin. People know me by Pato. I’m the owner and founder of Lick It Up. I’m originally from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. I moved to El Paso back in 2013, and I’m here in Austin operating Lick It Up as well.

Fernando Corona And I am Fernando, Fernando Corona. I am from El Paso, and I just help them run the business out here in Austin.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. So Pato, tell me about your nickname.

Edgar Delfin Oh, you know what? My dad gave me his version of why they call me Pato, and then my mom gave me her version.

Mando Rayo There’s always multiple versions.

Edgar Delfin It’s the truth. Yeah, but, yeah, both of them say, like, when I was a little kid, I used to do, like, a like a duck face, you know, like, and like, kind of, like, pucker my lip. Yeah. And ever since they started calling me Pato, some people don’t even know my real name. They’re like, Oh, Edgar. Like who? Like who’s Edgar? [Mando laughs] Oh yeah that guy from Lick It Up. Pato? Yeah, Yeah, I know that guy. That’s funny, huh.

Mando Rayo Pato the vato.

Edgar Delfin Pato the vato, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mando Rayo So obviously, my name is Armando, Mando. But at home, when I go home, they call me Paco. No relationship is just random anyway. But enough about me and nicknames. Let’s get into it. When you think of tacos, you think of, like, meat-heavy dishes. Right? So what spread the idea or inspiration for this plant based food truck?

Edgar Delfin Right. So back in 2017, I was vegan at the time. I’m vegetarian now, but I was vegan at the time. And just like anybody, I just want to open up a business. I just wanted to do tacos. And there was, there’s still this bar called Monarch in El Paso over there by Rio Grande in Mesa and I decided to open up a food trailer, which was like a sheet metal trailer that I brought from Juarez. I mean, it was not in the best conditions to do tacos there, but I did it right. Super hot. If you if you cook tacos in the middle of July, with burners up in El Paso, Texas, that would change your life forever. You can definitely survive anything in the world.

Mando Rayo But it’s a dry heat, though bro, dry heat. [laughs]

Edgar Delfin Well, yeah, you’re right. But not when the flat tabs on in the air to that. Yeah, I did have, like, a meat based menu like I used to do pastor tacos, alambre tacos, carne asada tacos. But I didn’t like. I mean, I didn’t like meat and, like, the smell of meat, like, I didn’t like working with meat. And at the time I was like I had one vegan option there, which was like a beet taco and some flautas. Right. And once the some of the vegan community knew about that, about that menu, they were like, Oh, I’m going to go to Lick It Up because they have a vegan option. And I met a bunch of these people in and they’re like, Oh, I’m so glad you have a vegan option. I was like, I’m vegan too is like, Oh, your vegan? Like, Yeah. And then I was like, thinking about, like, why am I doing something I don’t like, right? Obviously, I knew why because, you know, I was just trying to make a business. So surely and steadily I started changing the menu little by little, and I started like, okay, so now it’s going to be 70% non-vegan, 30% vegan. And then I went 50 50, then it went from 75 25. And before you know it, I just in December of 2018, I decided to you know what? I’m going to go completely vegan. And everybody was super excited. But I think that was important for me to make that transition because I just wanted to have the same menu. But everything vegan, right? And then that’s where you start figuring out, well, what can I make this same profile of flavor without losing any of my, you know, not alienating some of my customers? Right. So just like anything in cooking, you just have to try it out. Keep doing it. Making the salsas is good, making the carne asada good. Are we going to use this kind of protein? Are we going to use soy based? Are we going to use all of this? So all of this things just started coming together, right? I always tell this to anybody, like I’m not afraid of making well-seasoned greasy tacos. I’m not afraid of that because that’s the kind of food I used to try out in Juarez.

Mando Rayo In Juarez.

Edgar Delfin I mean, this is just a personal taste of mine that I just like a greasy taco. I do. There’s something about a greasy taco, but it has to do a lot with the size of the flattop. If you notice, most any taquerias or any taco stands in Mexico, their flattop is so small, right? But because it’s so small, you have the meats and the tortillas kind of right next to each other and they get some of that fat, some of the salt, some like all that flavor, and they kind of just cook it all together.

Mando Rayo Oh yeah, it’s that sazón.

Edgar Delfin Sazón, you know, and I noticed like where it does have more a more budget buy, a bigger flat top, they kind of separate that their tier from the protein. Right. And it’s different. The tortilla doesn’t taste the same. Yeah. So I almost all my cooks try to get some of that fat. They try to put that seasoning from the top, from our soy based protein in the taco. So going back to the question is that yes, Lick It Up was based off of what my experience what flavors came from Ciudad Juarez. Yeah, because Ciudad Juarez, after 12 a.m. at night, you’re going to find out the best food and like anywhere. And it’s great. And it’s and you see these big lines and you got this huge community of people who like to party and they like to eat and they’ll tell you, like, nah, man, we’re going to eat tripas today or tonight and tomorrow we’re going to do tortas and Sunday, we’re going to do flautas. And then a little crudo, yeah, we’re going to do menudo here. And then we’re going to do barbacoa. And then it’s Monday and it’s like, oh, man, we got to go get some burritos. And it’s just a nonstop thing of just eating, eating.

Mando Rayo You just like, open up the world of El Paso Juarez. It’s a new world. It is.

Edgar Delfin Right. And it’s the same with El Paso. So, yeah, like, you have all these people just eating this amazing food, but that I think that’s what Lick It Up comes down to.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Edgar Delfin That Fernando or me or my other employees, they understand that trajection.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Edgar Delfin They understand where it comes from.

Mando Rayo Right. Right.

Edgar Delfin It’s not like we just like, Oh, we’re going to make tacos.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Edgar Delfin How do you make tacos? We didn’t google this, right? There are some things you can’t google.

Mando Rayo Right, Right. Yeah, yeah.

Edgar Delfin You can’t google an adobada recipe sometimes.

Mando Rayo Oh yeah.

Edgar Delfin You can’t Google how to season a protein. You can’t.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Edgar Delfin That’s just the experience of doing this all the time. And even you ask the cooks on, on the taquerias, what do you put in that.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah.

Edgar Delfin Lo por que le pone esto primero? You have to ask questions. Even though they’re busy and they don’t like those questions, they’ll answer them.

Mando Rayo They’ll answer them,hey’ll answer them, they’ll answer them.

Mando Rayo And what brought you to Austin, both of you?

Fernando Corona Oh, well, just a change in pace. Really. Get to the next level in a way. You know, trying to graduate from El Paso, basically.

Mando Rayo Do we all graduate from a El Paso?

Fernando Corona We could say that, yeah. That’s great. [all laugh]

Mando Rayo But why Austin specifically?

Edgar Delfin Actually the funny story is that we were going to open up like it up before South by Southwest in 2020, and then we started seeing those those reports of like, Oh, there’s this, there’s this virus going on. And me and my partner, we’re like, nah come on, it’s not going to happen. Let’s do this. And first week of March or even before March, like we started hearing like companies pulling out of south by and I was like, Oh, this is real. So we stopped there. We didn’t go. But then we’re like, All right, well, it’s August. Our sales did plummet over there and like, like any restaurant business during the pandemic. We bought a food truck and we opened up a food truck here. At one point, we had four food trucks, but then we came with another problem, which was the labor demand. Yeah. So I was like, okay, that’s a reason Fernandes here, because he’s been really loyal to us. He’s he’s been through all of it. You know, he’s done 12 hour shifts sometimes. Yeah, Yeah.

Fernando Corona Festivals.

Edgar Delfin Festivals.

Fernando Corona They can thin.

Edgar Delfin He can.

Mando Rayo Parties? Any Quinceañeras? [crosstalk] Ándale, ándale, ándale. Well, Fernando, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your experience and maybe some of the menu items.

Fernando Corona Well, personally, I’m not vegan, but joining this team has been really eye opening to not only how to cook vegan food, but how it is actually possible to translate the actual meat recipe into something easy. And you don’t have to stick to just one set of vegan options. For example, like you were saying, you’re soy or you can do. I don’t know, tempeh. I don’t know if it’s the same, but it’s been really, really cool. And I know that there are not many vegan options out there. And I think as far as I have tasted, Lick It Up is like the most traditional taste in vegan food.

Mando Rayo Like traditional vegan or traditional Mexican?

Fernando Corona Traditional Mexican. It’s as close as it can get to like the real deal.

Mando Rayo Speaking of your menu, give us a rundown of your tacos.

Edgar Delfin Okay. So right now we’re running with six tacos. It’s a carne asada taco and it’s soy based. We don’t buy none of those, like beyond beef, beyond meat or impossible. We make it in-house. It’s marinated with soy sauce, a vegetable concentrate. We do pepper, thyme. We marinated pretty good until you get close to that flavor, obviously. Lime juice, vinegar. And we have it with some pico de gallo. We have our abodaba Taco, which is another wild recipe that Butcher gave me back in Juarez.

Mando Rayo Oh, okay.

Edgar Delfin So I follow that one true to the heart. I always love the adobada. Then we have a mushroom chorizo taco, which is a like a mushroom, chorizo soy-based chorizo with some mushroom green chili peppers and onions. And then we top it off with some cabbage and some crema all made in-house. Then we have our chorizo con papas. Mm hmm. Which is always good. Classic, classic. And we put some cheese on that. I kind of recommend that with a flour tortilla, and then we have a potato. Un papa asada which is papas with carne asada, pico de gallo and crema. We do use a lot of cheese because I mean, we’re from Chihuahua. Chihuahua uses cheese on their tacos.

Mando Rayo That’s right.

Edgar Delfin People from the south of Mexico, they’re so tough on us on the north because we use cheese on our tacos.

Mando Rayo Yeah, I know, I know.

Edgar Delfin But I don’t care. They’re cheese.

Fernando Corona And it’s plant-based cheese.

Edgar Delfin It’s plant-based cheese.

Mando Rayo Right, right, right. Yeah. Yeah. So do you still have a shop in El Paso también and Austin?

Edgar Delfin Yes.

Mando Rayo What does that look like?

Edgar Delfin Well, in El Paso, we’re inside of International Bar, so you can probably say it’s a restaurant.

Mando Rayo Okay.

Edgar Delfin We have a kitchen there. Now, what’s important to me is that Lick It Up is open late at night. I started the business closing at 2 a.m. and expect the same to do it that way. No vegan hours for me, right? I open at five and we close at 2 a.m. and that’s the way I was raised with the taquerias in Ciudad Juarez in El Paso. But the reception’s been good. I always love when people say like, Oh, I can’t believe this is vegan. That’s what I want to hear. A couple of times I had Mexican, like, abuelitas grandmothers trying our food and saying that it’s great. And for me that’s the biggest compliment. A huge compliment.

Mando Rayo That is it. Abuelita’s stamp of approval.

Edgar Delfin If somebody said it’s too oily, it’s too this. Eh okay.

Mando Rayo Esta bien, esta bien.

Edgar Delfin But my abuelita likes it. So.

Mando Rayo So then. Yeah, Deal with it. Deal with it. [laughs]

Fernando Corona That’s the main critic.

Mando Rayo That’s a main critic. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So in closing, what would you say to somebody that isn’t as familiar with vegan food Mexicano? What will get them to your food truck?

Edgar Delfin Okay, so there’s a couple of things. All of my employees are not vegan and they still try the food and they go, It’s good. Like Carmen. She has a great palate for food. She does. She she’ll tell. It’s like it’s like a compass for her. And she’ll tell you, like, go here. Go there. Go a little less here. Or even though I have my recipes, I think recipes are only an indication of where to go. But it won’t take you where you need to go. Because for the whole reason that ingredients changed, tomatoes change. Jalapeños are not the same. Chile de arbol, like the salt. All these little things do matter. And as we finish our recipes, she’ll always give some kind of insight. So she’s doing food that she likes also, even though she’s not vegan, right? Yeah. So if you’re not vegan and you want to try this food out, trust me, there’s some input from people who are not vegan and they want to taste it the same way. We’re not trying to make food for vegans. I’m sorry. I think I love my vegan customers. Yeah. We’re not trying to make foods for vegan. I’m trying to make good food for everybody. Yeah.

Mando Rayo With sazón.

Edgar Delfin With sazón and that’s it. You know, we just don’t use animal products. That’s it. Yeah, but the flavor and the love is there for sure.

Mando Rayo Well, it sounds great. I can’t wait to come and try it out.

Edgar Delfin Yeah, of course.

Mando Rayo Well, thanks so much for coming by the studio. Definitely some paisas.

Edgar Delfin Yeah. Yeah. Of course.

Mando Rayo Bringing in the comida en the border todo eso. [laughs]

Edgar Delfin Yeah.

Mando Rayo All right. Thanks, fellas.

Edgar Delfin All right thank you, Mando. Thank you so much.

Mando Rayo [crunch sound effect] Oh, it’s taco time. And now here’s a word from our sponsors. From me. Did you know that Waterloo Greenway is building a park system through downtown Austin? Once completed, the project will reach from Waterloo Park, located near the Capitol building, all the way to Lady Bird Lake. Waterloo Greenway and the city of Austin just broke ground on the second phase of the project. The confluence, located by Waller Creek boathouse. Now under construction. The confluence will feature suspension, bridges, hike and bike trails, a boardwalk, and many green spaces arboles y plantas so you can get up close and personal with nature. Check out some of the awesome renderings of what the future of Waller Creek will look like once the confluence is complete at Waterloo Greenway dot org slash future. Make sure to follow Waterloo Greenway on Instagram and Facebook at Waterloo Greenway and on their website at Waterloo Greenway dot o-r-g to stay up to date with construction progress. Muy gracias to our friends at Waterloo Greenway for sponsoring this podcast episode. [music] Our next guest, Chris Rios, is an East Austin native and the founder and executive chef of the Vegan Nom Austin’s original all vegan taco truck. Vegan Nom has won and been nominated for multiple awards for best tacos and best food truck in America. Chris is currently working to open a patio restaurant in the North Loop neighborhood. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Rios Hey, thank you. Thanks for having me here.

Mando Rayo Hey, I hear this is your first podcast.

Chris Rios It is my first podcast. So it’s a historic event for me and just happy to be here.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Tell me you’re originally from Austin, aren’t you?

Chris Rios Yes. Born and raised on the east side. So I’m very rare, you know. And it’s been such a privilege being a part of the community my whole life. East Austin. I hold a fond memories and just a lot of emotion in my heart there. So a lot of good childhood memories when I’m there.

Mando Rayo Love it, Love it. Thank you so much. And thank you for being here as well.

Chris Rios Yeah man, I appreciate it. I’m happy to be here. It’s an honor.

Mando Rayo You know, we’re talking about plant based tacos, vegan tacos, obviously.

Chris Rios Yes.

Mando Rayo When did you become a vegan?

Chris Rios Oh, wow. So I became vegan back in 2011. October 26, 2011.

Mando Rayo Wow, you got the exact day.

Chris Rios That’s my vegan birthday. I celebrate that every year. And it’s been a life changing event for me, not only on a health perspective, but just my whole life and circle and family and friends and community.

Mando Rayo What inspired you?

Chris Rios I became vegan because I was about the climate change. I started thinking about how current situations with our food supply was affecting the Earth. I was concerned about the water. I’m concerned about water pollution. I was concerned about animal welfare and just a lot of things that I was starting to see. I was like, Man, if we don’t do something about this. I mean, it empowered me to do something that that’s what it was inspired me to do something. You know, I’m Latino. I grew up on the East Side when it was predominantly Hispanic. Yeah. And, you know, my family, my grandma, both my grandma, we’re a cooking family.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Chris Rios And we grew up, you know, in that it’s part of our culture to eat meat. I thought about that and I was like, What if I can make some things to where, you know, veganism will allow me to help me and my family get have become healthier somehow. And there’s a lot of positive things that goes with it. I feel healthier. I feel, you know, I feel it’s a spiritual journey for me.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. No, I appreciate that. And I respect that as well. And you were inspired so much so that you started your own food truck.

Chris Rios I did. I did start my own food truck. I had my own shipping supply business, and I was one of those guys that would just daydream about like having his own food industry business. And this is before Chef the movie. [Mando laughs] I was no chef. But I could relate to that movie because I had that enthusiasm, that passion about like, I want to do this. And I would make mock menus like this one we’ll do. And I’d show my family and friends and everyone gets hyped up. You know how it is, right?

Mando Rayo Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Rios Yeah, it all started with the menu in the name and I was just bouncing around like, What should I do? What should I do? And then I became vegan in October and I tried to go out and get some vegan tacos. [both laugh]

Mando Rayo How was that?

Chris Rios Oh, I failed miserably. I was like, Oh my God, I can’t get my taco fix. And, you know, my family, we’re big about tacos. You grow up eating breakfast tacos, especially, man.

Mando Rayo Right?

Chris Rios Right. You know, So I was like, That’s it. You know what I’m going to do? Vegan tacos, rockin’ vegan tacos. And so I got to have, like, a parent name or something because nobody knows what vegan is. I’m like, you know, The Vegan Nom because it’s like, taste so good.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Rios So six months later, I open up The Vegan Nom on the luck of faith, my last $500 that I have and I just had some faith. I was like, I’m going to do this. The odds were against me and my family, you know, a lot of them that were supportive, but they thought I was crazy.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. They were like, what?

Chris Rios No meat? No cheese? My cousins, too, like.

Mando Rayo Well, you don’t eat pork. Here, try this baloney sandwich. [laughs]

Chris Rios I get that all the time.

Mando Rayo Right?

Chris Rios They didn’t understand, but they were like, he’s doing his thing, hijo is doing his thing.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. Love it, love it.

Chris Rios I kind of, I’ve kind of always been like that.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah.

Chris Rios But I’ll tell you what, though, man. It. It was definitely an awesome journey of the day that I opened. I remember the first day I opened up and we made an announcement on social media was it had a footprint, but it wasn’t as big as it is now. Like, you know, you can just go out there and just put the word out. It’s like, okay, everybody knows. So there, it really had to work. I passed out fliers and felt like Ritchie Valens from La Bamba. Chris Rios and his rocking vegan tacos, it was awesome because that first day that we opened up doors, I mean, there was like so many people that showed up to support. And I’m telling you, I was the line cook and I’ve been the line cook for the first four or five years at Vegan Nom, the main one, like the main one that was just kicking them in, in and out. But that day was like. The most. I was like, I was just like going at it and it was just nonstop. And and we sold out like in two or 3 hours. But I’ll tell you what, man, that was some of the most concentrated time where I work nonstop. And I was like, Oh my God, what did I get myself into? I only got one person here and I’m like, knocking out these tacos.

Mando Rayo Yeah, Yeah.

Chris Rios You know, it it was just amazing. And we’ve we’ve been we’ve had that support ever since, and it’s been just an amazing journey, and it’s. It’s changed my life.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah, it sounds like it, it’s amazing. And so, like, when you just opened, were you thinking, well, I need to make vegan tacos for a certain clientele or or it has to taste this way or that way?

Chris Rios Oh you know what? I, I put it out there. I said, this is what I like. This is what I grew up with. This is something that I wanted to share with the community. And I feel like breakfast tacos especially, it’s comforting. It’s comfort food. It brings me comfort. It reminds me of growing up as a little kid. So I wanted to share what I grew up with but make it vegan with the community, you know, talking about the target markets and stuff like that. I knew what was out there at the time, and it wasn’t predominantly Hispanic, but throughout the years and the course of time, even up today, man, it’s just all people of color. And yeah, it’s celebration. And I just it really feels good.

Mando Rayo Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And so give me a rundown of like, say, your breakfast tacos. What does that look like?

Chris Rios Our breakfast tacos look like traditional tacos. So we’ve got instead of scrambled eggs, we have tofu scramble. And I’ve created my tofu scramble where it resembles eggs. So it’s not too like vegan or granola or. Yeah, yeah. It’s just it resembles eggs. And we have everything from migas to country breakfast sausage to chorizo, bacon, potatoes. Come on, papas, potato.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. Anyway. Right, right, right.

Chris Rios Man, that’s the go to. It’s fun to make all those things because it’s like, man, we’re actually doing it. You know, frijoles? Yeah, we got all the cool, We got all the good stuff, man. We got, like, all the salsas, you know? And to me, I remember when before I opened up Vegan Nom, I created the vegan chorizo. And we still use that to this day. And I, I would have taco parties on the weekend and I’ll be like, Come on over, let’s do this.

Mando Rayo Yeah, Yeah. Do you get that chorizo drip still?

Chris Rios Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You still got that chorizo.

Mando Rayo You got to have that, right.

Chris Rios You have that chorizo drip, man. Exactly. And so, you know, to me, it’s like being able to create something like that and just remind you there was no other vegan substitutes back then, so we had to really make this, you know, so, you know, the the chorizo, you know, when I first made that, I was like, I did it. Oh, God, It’s like this is like real chorio guys. And we were just like, all eating it up and it was just amazing. And I remember that day when I discovered that.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah.

Chris Rios And then decoded it and I’m like, okay, we did it.

Mando Rayo [laughs] Big accomplishment, eh?

Chris Rios Oh it was a big accomplishment.

Mando Rayo So you were thinking, Here’s a flavors that I like. I’m going introduce him to folks or I’m going to try to resemble some some of those flavors growing up.

Chris Rios Yes.

Mando Rayo What do you think people are looking for in vegan food?

Chris Rios I think that vegan or not, people just want to eat tasty food. They want to enjoy their food. They would enjoy their tacos. So I think maybe, you know, because there’s some people out there like, oh, it’s vegan, I ain’t going there or, you know, or there’s people like, Hey, if it’s not vegan, I’m I’m not going there, you know? So to me, I think food brings people together. It’s always been that way and it’s delicious. I think you’re just looking for something to celebrate, that’s why they eat it like, Oh my God, this is like, the most tastiest thing I’ve ever had, vegan or not.

Mando Rayo Right, right.

Chris Rios I think that’s what they’re looking for.

Mando Rayo If it has that sazón  and, you know, you’re there.

Chris Rios Exactly, for sure.

Mando Rayo Nice and I hear you’re transitioning now from a truck to brick and mortar.

Chris Rios Yeah, we are. And that’s a really cool story. And I’m glad you asked because we’re going to be opening up a restaurant space in North Loop Boulevard, which is right down the street off, you know, north of here.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. I’m very familiar.

Chris Rios North campus. It was formerly occupied by Ferris Mediterranean. I’m not sure if anybody’s familiar with Ferris.

Mando Rayo Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Rios So we have both buildings on site and yeah, it’s a homecoming for us because back in 2012, when I first opened up Vegan Nom in May, had a little taqueria trailer, 7 by 12 we’d stuff four people in there. And we were there for like four years and now we just celebrated our eleven year anniversary.

Mando Rayo So what are the new things that you’re going to be able to do in this bigger space?

Chris Rios Oh, we’re going to have a ton of space. Our goal is to upgrade a lot of the things that we’re doing with our taqueria. So we want to have some handmade corn and flour tortillas and we’re going to come out. We’re going to I do a vegan brisket taco, which is really delicious and spot on, and we do really, really well.

Mando Rayo What’s the protein?

Chris Rios I use seitan and throughout the years it’s changed because before it was like, okay, you seitan can do this now, but as you get older in the game and you get introduced to the stuff, you’re able to do more techniques and add more ingredients to make it more lifelike. And we’ve got that crust we’ve got the burnt ends. And it’s just it’s amazing. So we’re going to put that on the menu. So I’m excited about that. And so we’re going to introduce some of that on a menu that we can just, you know, play around with and just have fun.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Yeah. Well, Chris, thanks so much. I’m excited to come by. Yeah.

Chris Rios Yeah, Mando, anytime.

Mando Rayo And I appreciate you coming on to the studio and having a little chat with me.

Chris Rios Yeah. Pleasure, Mando. It was good meeting you, man.

Mando Rayo Yeah, man.

Chris Rios Appreciate you, brother.

Mando Rayo [music] Our final guest is Belen Hernandez, owner of the vegan Mexican restaurant Belenty’s Love in Fort Worth, Texas. Belen is from a small town in Tamaulipas, Mexico, San Fernando. She’s been in the U.S. for over 21 years and has three beautiful kids, Sammy, Mia, and DeMarcus Jr. She’s a vegan woman who loves to cook and always cooks with love. Hello, Belen. How are you?

Belen Hernandez I’m good. How are you?

Mando Rayo I’m. I’m doing great. I’m thinking about all the different styles of tacos I’ve eaten all my life. And now I feel like I need a new one coming up to Fort Worth.

Belen Hernandez Yes. You need to try Belenty’s Love for sure. [Mando laughs] You’re going to be surprised.

Mando Rayo Yeah? You opened up your restaurant about five years ago. You used to serve meat, but now you don’t. What got you to change?

Belen Hernandez Well, it was our son, the one who start first. He was only ten years. So he come to me and tell me. Hey, Mama, I don’t want to eat meat no more. He saw this video about how they killed the little chickens and all that. And I say, okay, maybe he’s not going to do this just, like, temporary thing or something. But no, it’s been 13 years. Now he’s 23.

Mando Rayo Oh, wow. Wow, wow. And then. So then you started like, okay, so now I’m going to do a Mexican restaurant, but go full vegetarian. Vegan?

Belen Hernandez Yes. We owned restaurants before, but of course it was regular Mexican, meat food. We owned the restaurant. I mean, we was vegan at the same time. You know, you don’t feel right because I can’t even try my own food on my own restaurant. I mean, being vegan you’re supposed to, like, change everything because it’s not just diet is a lifestyle. So we choose to go for a Belenty’s Love and which is the name, because that’s my nickname.

Mando Rayo Yeah. Okay.

Belen Hernandez And love because everything that we cook is with love. It’s been five years already and it’s been has been amazing. It’s been really good.

Mando Rayo So what kind of dishes are you introducing to your customers?

Belen Hernandez Well, Belenty’s menu is super, super big, but we have a lot of the issues. No one can explain people how this works because they’re always like, okay, vegan and Mexican, that don’t go together. I’m like, of course we go together is like in Mexico, we’re vegan, We don’t even know. But yeah, many times all of the dishes that we have right now that people love, we have the birria tacos, you know, has been popular.

Mando Rayo Oh, yeah.

Belen Hernandez Everybody’s selling birria tacos.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Belen Hernandez Well, we got birria tacos and it’s been super successful. People love it. And it’s exactly the same recipe. We just change the meat and we use the vegan mozzarella cheese on it. The only these right now is no animal products on it. But the flavor is is the same, is the same.

Mando Rayo Looking at vegan options, you know definitely in Mexican restaurants, you’re always trying to figure out like, okay, well, what works? Well, it’s not just adding tofu, but you got to play with the recipes that you take time to kind of do that?

Belen Hernandez I’m very creative when it’s about cooking and I love it. I’m the one who come up with new recipes all the time. You know, we have pastor too, vegan pastor that is homemade too. I come out with the recipes are playing with ingredients and everything. And it’s been super, super good and successful too. People love it. If you come to the Belenty’s and I give you birria tacos and pastor tacos and I don’t tell you that it’s vegan you’re going to eat it like and you think all this is meat but it’s not. [Mando laughs] So that’s how good it is.

Mando Rayo That’s how good it is, right? Oh, and what kind of proteins are you kind of thinking about for some of the dishes?

Belen Hernandez One of the dishes we use for the discada that is a homemade. We use soy. We use the tofu, of course, too. We make the chicken. We use a lot of the mushrooms. We have ceviche made of mushrooms, too. We have the oyster mushroom. You know, the texture is very like meaty. So it really is. We’ve been coming out now with a new recipe for tacos that we’re going to make, like steak tacos.

Mando Rayo Mm hmm.

Belen Hernandez And everything is made of mushrooms. We had barbacoa tacos that is made with mushrooms too, but it tastes so good. It is really, really good. Of course, people, they love meat. Maybe they can tell the different about barbacoa because, you know, barbacoa is barbacoa.

Mando Rayo There’s no there’s no there’s no ojos [laughs].

Belen Hernandez It is mushrooms. And it’s it’s really, really good.

Mando Rayo Why was it important for you to do a vegan Mexican restaurant?

Belen Hernandez Okay. Of course, because I’m Mexican, I’m from Tamaulipas. So it was very important to me because at the moment that we open and start our franchise, Belenty’s Love, it was nothing like really Mexican in our area.

Oh, okay.

We started in Granbury. It was a small town. It was like nothing but meat eater people there. But the response they gave us, it was so amazing. And then when we moved to Fort Worth, we are the only Mexican vegan restaurant, 100% vegan, in Fort Worth.

Mando Rayo And so going back to you personally, when you opened up the restaurant, too, what was the response maybe from Mexicanos that were like looking for their tradition?

Belen Hernandez I’m still trying to bring more of my people to Belenty’s. More Mexicans.

Mando Rayo Yeah.

Belen Hernandez Because they not to all being the try vegan sometimes. But we need it, we need it because our community is getting sick. And when I start with this concept, people call me crazy. Plenty times they tell me, are you crazy? Are you insane? How are you going to do these Mexican and vegan? You know, we have fideo, lentils. We have a lot of things that we combine all the Mexican ingredients, you know, we use all the black beans. I mean, it’s really good. You know, in my personal life, you really have a big, big, huge impact. Different. It changed my life, my health. I lose weight. I’m super healthy. I’m about to be 44 year old and I feel like I’m 25. I mean, it’s amazing. [Mando laughs] It is amazing.

Mando Rayo Yeah. No, that’s great. Hey, I’ll order, you know, una [indistinguishable] para mi, por favor. [both laugh] Well, definitely next time I’m up in the Fort Worth area, I’m going to stop by at Belenty’s Love.

Belen Hernandez Belenty’s love, please. Okay, I’ll see you soon. Okay?

Mando Rayo Okay. Thank you so much. Take care. [music] Well, I’m feeling the love from these vegan taqueros today. I think it’s true that at the end of the day, people are just looking for food that tastes good. And I’m sure that for Mexican vegans, once you’ve had a taste of our cultura’s food, it’s hard not to miss that flavor and want to recreate it. Special thanks to our guests, Edgar Delfin and Fernando Corona of Lick It Up Tacos in El Paso, in Austin. Chris Rios, of Vegan Nom Austin. And Belen Hernandez of Belenty’s Love in Fort Worth. Shout outs to more Mexican-run plant based and meat free or meat minimal institutions throughout Texas. Mr. Natural of Austin, Texas, Cafe Mayapan in El Paso and La Botanica in San Antonio. This has been Tacos of Texas podcast developed and produced by Identity Productions. If you enjoyed today’s episode and are craving for more taco content, go to our website at www dot identity dot productions or follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube at Identity Productions and United Tacos of America. This is your host. Mando “Ya La Comes” Rayo. [music] On the next proximo Tacos of Texas, James Beard Awards. In this episode, we’ll talk with Latino James Beard nominees, finalists, and winners as they open up about their experiences with receiving their honor. [music]

Outro The Tacos of Texas podcast is presented by Identity Productions in partnership with KUT and KUTX Studios. Our host and producer is Mando Rayo. Our audio is mixed by Nicholas Worthen and Ever Calderon. On our story producer is me, Sharon Arteaga, and our creative producer is Dennis Burnett. Music was created by Pelegrosa in Austin, Texas, and King Benny Productions, located in the Quinto barrio of Houston.

This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.


December 19, 2023

Bonus Episode: The intersectionalities of Black Mexicans with Chef Adrian Lipscombe. 

Chef Adrian Lipscombe grew up in San Antonio and we’ll discuss Texas foodways from her Black heritage to growing up in the gateway to South Texas, San Antonio. Chef Lipscombe is the founder of the 40 Acres Project, a city planner and Culinary Diplomat with the U.S. Department of State.


December 12, 2023

Bonus Episode: Regional Taco Flavors of Texas

From border to border, El Paso to Brownsville and a little in between, we’re gonna talk tacos regionales and just like the musica itself, there’s many elements and things that go into them. Our guests include Miguel Cobos from Vaquero Taquero and Paola Gabriela from Visit El Paso.


November 7, 2023

Taco Pop Culture: A Taco Talk on All Things Tacos on the Interwebs

Stephanie Guerra, of Puro Pinche, hangs with us in the studio to talk taco pop culture.


October 31, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 2: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 24, 2023

Black Mexicans, Part 1: Tracing the foodways of Black Seminoles and Mexicans in Texas and Mexico

There is so much untold and uncovered history of the African diaspora, especially that within the lineages of slavery. Food can signal a variety of possibilities within history, and in this episode, we examine the melding and the migration of Black Seminoles across Texas and into Mexico. We join Windy Goodloe and Corina Torralba Harrington, […]


October 17, 2023

Archiving Our Food History: What Goes Into Researching and Saving Oral Recipes and Histories.

In this episode, we talk to Dr. Meredith E. Abarca about putting together her online archive El Paso Food Voices. Author and blogger Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack shares how she has used her cookbooks as a way to archive her family’s recipes.


October 10, 2023

Inside Houston’s Encuentro: The Native American Roots of Texas Mexican Food

The complex cuisine of Texas goes back before the land was known as either Texas or Mexico. In this episode, we visit Houston’s two-day, anthropologic culinary event Encuentro. We learn about the Native American roots of Texas Mexican food from both scholars and chefs present at the event.


October 3, 2023

Salsa Magic

This episode includes a breakdown of the salsas that complete our favorite tacos, from taqueria style, to hot sauces. It includes the science of peppers to a local hot sauce brand’s origins. Then we’ll go into my home kitchen to make one of my favorite salsas and how to pair them up with your favorite tacos.