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It's safe to say that most (if not all) people thoroughly enjoy a great taco, but it can be difficult for those who eat a plant-based diet to find options for what is typically a meat-heavy cuisine. Luckily, Toronto's first all-vegan taco shop just opened up, and it's giving regular taco joints a run for their money.
This past Saturday, La Bartola opened up for takeout and patio service with an inventive menu of authentic Mexican fare. The concept began last summer as a pop-up during a few of Toronto's summer food festivals, including Vegandale Food & Drink, and was sufficiently proven in popularity. Their taco stand attracted crowds of people from across the city and drew in long lineups of hungry patrons, eager to get in on the plant-based magic happening behind the grill. While testing the idea via a pop-up is an excellent way to ease opening a full-service restaurant, chef Ivan Castro still had to carefully consider moving forward with La Bartola as planned once the pandemic hit. There's no doubt that launching a new eatery amid uncertainty and lockdowns comes with a host of difficulties, but Castro felt the pull to continue with the concept he had been dreaming of, so their team worked hard to get the restaurant up and running.
Chef Ivan Castro pictured above.
Though operations at La Bartola may not look quite as they were originally envisioned, the pivot to takeout and patio service allows them to serve their community safely and efficiently. They also strive for responsibility and inclusivity in every area as an LGBT-owned business, from hiring staff and creating a positive work environment to selecting their packaging, furniture and artisan pieces.
As for the food, plant-based and meat-eaters alike will find something to pique their curiosity with La Bartola's menu of Mexican cuisine with a vegan twist. Their corn tortillas are made using the traditional nixtamalization process, which begins with whole kernels of corn that are used to prepare the base of their meals (rather than corn ground into a flour). To start, they change things up slightly from conventional offerings with a smokey toasted pumpkin seed and peanut dip, herb-flecked guacamole and ceviche made from green apple, serrano pepper and king oyster mushrooms. For main courses, tacos are filled with braised hibiscus flowers, a flavourful jackfruit and wild mushroom mixture or plant-based green chorizo, and other dishes include bean-filled corn masa, broccoli tamal and a pink vegan mole. They also serve a selection of cocktails infused with Mexican flavours and ingredients, in addition to beers and Mexican coke. La Bartola makes wildly creative use of vegetables with their innovative menu, fusing the best of traditional Mexican cuisine with new incorporations, styles and preparations. This may be one of Toronto's most unique plant-based concepts in recent years and is worth a visit.
La Bartola is located at 588 College Street. They are currently open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner service (takeout and patio only). To make a reservation, visit their website and grab a spot!