Black bean tacos aren't just for vegetarians

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Vanicek | Daily Texan Staff

In Austin, “taco culture” is a real thing.

Try going anywhere without finding tacos on the menu. Whether pre-wrapped in tiny foil spaceships of flavor or freshly made-to-order, tacos are like an unspoken requirement for operating a food establishment in this city.

Tacos are desirable for several key reasons. They are diverse and can be custom-created to fit anyone’s palette. They can also be eaten for any meal, although eating a tortilla packaged with beef or chicken for breakfast tends to be frowned upon.

This is where black beans come in. Put black beans in a tortilla and you have the base for a meal that is appropriate for any time of day. Breakfast time? Add some bacon or eggs. Lunch break? Some lettuce or cilantro makes a good addition. Craving tacos for dinner? A hearty scoop of guacamole and some grilled vegetables makes the meal complete. 

At some establishments, black bean tacos are hidden under the vegetarian label on the menu. But that shouldn’t keep carnivores from delving into the world of bean-based meals. Black beans might be lower in protein than chicken and beef, but they are also generally lower in fat and sodium, making them a somewhat healthier taco alternative. 

After navigating the local black bean taco scene, there are a few establishments that reign superior.

For breakfast, combating the usual morning crowd at Tacodeli is well worth the wait. The thing that is so great about the black bean breakfast taco at Tacodeli is that it leaves the usual pile of soggy eggs out of the recipe. 

The Otto, Tacodeli’s black bean breakfast taco, is instead filled with a hearty supply of refried black beans, bacon, avocado and Monterey Jack cheese. 

The only way this taco could be better is if the beans were left un-refried. Starting the day with a mouthful of refried beans does not seem especially appetizing. Vegetarians can alter the recipe by leaving out the bacon, although the bacon is what keeps the breakfast theme in the Otto going strong. 

Although Torchy’s Tacos is not necessarily a local establishment anymore, no list of Austin taco joints is complete without at least one mention of the popular chain. Torchy’s is a particularly convenient stop for a quick lunch because there are plenty of locations and the wait time is usually pretty minimal.  

The Independent, which also happens to be April’s taco of the month, is the best black bean taco Torchy’s has to offer. Although the fried Portobello mushrooms take center stage, the refried black beans are a huge contributor to this taco’s delicacy. 

Torchy’s tacos are usually far from simple, and this one is no exception. Rounded out with roasted corn, carrots escabeche, queso fresco, cilantro, avocado and topped with ancho aioli, the Independent is a mouthful of toppings and flavors. The promise of one of these should be enough to keep you awake and motivated through early morning classes.

Whole Foods is a national chain, but we cannot forget where it got its start. The Whole Foods headquarters, located on North Lamar Boulevard, is more of an experience than it is a grocery store. With proper skills, you could probably live inside the store for years and survive just fine.

The burrito and taco bar at Whole Foods is a good stop for the hunger that strikes during evening grocery store excursions. Before embarking into the beautiful sea of food and soaps, fill up on a black bean burrito or three black bean tacos, which can both be purchased for the same price.

The selection at the build-your-own taco bar at Whole Foods is the most extensive selection of fillings you can find. With options like vegan chorizo and a variety of salsas, cheeses and tortillas, the number of taco combinations is infinite. Grilled vegetables are also usually offered, making the Whole Foods taco bar a good option for a well-balanced black bean dinner.

Eating black bean tacos for every meal probably is not part of any recommended diet, but the idea is tempting. Do not let your love for ground beef keep you from ordering a black bean taco next time you visit your favorite local taco joint. 

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Printed on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 as: Black bean tacos not just for vegetarians