Don Taco, Brunswick East

Where: Don Taco, Shop 1/457-459 Lygon Street Brunswick East

What: Brunswick East’s answer to Trippy Taco

Who: Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian, Oxford Brosé and Indo Food Bud

Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach

‘Twas the night before lockdown, when all through the house

Not a creature was cooking, not even my spouse

OK so my rhyming skills leave much to be desired, but the point remains – the night before the start of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown was as merry as the city would be for the next seven days. People were going on their last unmasked walks to enjoy the feeling of the cool breeze on their face, and restaurants were full of diners unwilling to face the thought of subsisting on their own food for the next week.

Which is how I found myself with Resident Photographer, Conflicted Pescatarian, Oxford Brosé and Indo Food Bud at vegan Mexican restaurant Don Taco. Coincidentally, we’d been together the night before Melbourne’s third lockdown at Resident Photographer’s birthday dinner at Lagoon Dining, so it only felt fitting to be entering yet another lockdown with the same crew.

What started out as a pop-up is now a cheery, brightly lit permanent storefront on Lygon Street in Brunswick East. The menu consists of tacos, ceviches, a few main meals including mole verde and tlacoyos (thick corn dough tortillas in an oval or rhomboid shape), and some desserts. The $5 margaritas (you read that right, but only available on Margarita Thursdays) weren’t too shabby either, and while they’re not as polished as my favourite margaritas at Los Hermanos, they were decent and certainly assisted in stemming the pain of having to go into lockdown for a week. Don Taco also do a $15 all-you-can-eat Taco Tuesdays.

We ordered a couple of starters to share – one serve of the Mexican papas (hot chips topped with vegan sausage, fried beans, jalapeños, pickled onion and house-made guacamole) ($13.50) as well as two serves of the frijoles negros (black beans with onions and guajillo oil topped with crunchy totopos) ($6.00).

According to Hispanic Kitchen, papas a la Mexicana (Mexican-style potatoes) is a classic dish traditionally served for breakfast with a fried egg or as a filling for tacos, burritos or gorditas, a thick corn tortilla pocket made with masa (maize dough) and stuffed with cheese and meat. The crispy pan-fried potatoes typically feature the colours of the Mexican flag – green for the chillies, white for the onions and red for the tomatoes. A common accompaniment to them is chorizo.

Don Taco’s Mexican papas swapped the pan-fried potatoes with hot chips and the chorizo with vegan sausage for a winning combination – in hindsight, I wish we’d ordered two of these and one of the frijoles negros. The highlight of this for me – besides the hot chips because nothing is better than good hot chips – were the small spirals of vegan sausage. I kid you not when I say I liked them far more than any meat sausage I’ve tried – they were umami, slightly spicy, and well-crisped on the edges. At the time, my only wish was that there were more of them peppered in amongst the hot chips.

Frijoles negros, which literally translates to black beans, is a Latin American dish where black beans are seasoned with salt, onions, garlic, capsicum, cumin, oregano, vinegar and, in non-vegetarian versions, ham hock. It’s prepared in Cuba (the dish is often known as Cuban black beans), Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and several other Latin American countries.

Some versions are left thicker, with the beans still intact, and others are blended and slightly soup-like, which is what Don Taco’s version resembled. The frijoles negros came topped with what appeared like and had the consistency of crumbled hard-boiled egg, but due to Don Taco’s vegan standing, must’ve been a vegan crumbly cheese. I enjoyed using my totopos (tortilla chips) as a spoon to scoop the creamy frijoles negros with, but my gut never reacts well to tortilla chips, so I attribute my eventual three-bloat outcome to this dish.

Resident Photographer and I also ordered a prawn ceviche ($6.00) each, which featured a fried tostada topped with vegan prawns, fresh vegetables and chipotle mayonnaise. It’s hard to recreate the piquant freshness of lime-spiked fresh prawns, but these vegan prawns, ever so slightly bouncy without being rubbery, performed an admirable job, with the crisp tostada providing the perfect textural counterpoint to the diced vegan prawns.

When it came to choosing our tacos, I opted for the two mock meat ones – the Baja phish taco 2.0 ($6.00) with fried vegan phish made from banana blossom served with cabbage, lime, chipotle mayonnaise and pico de gallo as well as the vegan chorizo taco ($6.00) served with diced potato, fresh onion, coriander and salsa roja.

Baja fish tacos, hailing from the northernmost westernmost Mexican state of Baja California, are soft tortilla shells stuffed with deep-fried, white-fleshed fish (such as cod, halibut, snapper, flounder or tilapia) topped with a pinch of fresh cabbage, plenty of lime and a creamy white sauce.

Don Taco’s Baja phish tacos were true to their name. Banana blossoms, also known as a banana heart, is a fleshy, purple-skinned southeast Asian flower which grows at the end of a banana cluster. Like jackfruit which can be shredded to resemble pulled pork, banana blossom’s chunky and flaky texture makes it an ideal substitute for fish. I couldn’t fault the texture – Don Taco’s banana blossom phish crisped up in the same way as regular fish, with the same light crunchiness that one would associate with a fish taco. While I greatly enjoyed my phish taco, Indo Food Bud and Conflicted Pescatarian thought it was a touch under-seasoned and ultimately inferior to a regular fish taco.

My slight disappointment lay with the vegan chorizo taco. After being so impressed by the vegan sausage in the Mexican papas, I expected the chorizo to be similarly flavourful, only to find the crumbled chorizo in the taco lacking in seasoning. The diced potato was similarly lost in the melange of minced vegan chorizo, and there wasn’t enough of a textural contrast.

Conflicted Pescatarian’s favourite taco was the pibil taco ($6.00), where slow-cooked and shredded mushroom marinated in achiote sauce was served with pickled onion, coriander and salsa roja. Anchiote is a food colouring extracted from the seeds of the achiote shrub, native to tropical regions spanning from Mexico to Brazil.

The pibil taco looked remarkably similar in appearance to my vegan chorizo taco and that was ultimately Oxford Brosé’s biggest bugbear with all the tacos – he couldn’t tell what he was eating.

Resident Photographer was the only one to have tried the deep-fried chipotle cauliflower with cauliflower, coleslaw and avocado, and found it delicious albeit earthy. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly where the earthiness came from, but guessed it was the spice mix blanketing the cauliflower.

I’d only ordered two tacos, expecting the prawn ceviche and entrees to fill me up, but my tummy wasn’t yet as bloated as it would become and wanted more. I ordered the passionfruit flan ($8.00), where creamy coconut panna cotta was topped with passion fruit coulis, praline and oat cookie crumble.

Although Don Taco had conflated flan and panna cotta, they are two separate things. Flan is mostly found in Spanish-speaking countries and is made from whole eggs, milk, sugar, and cream. Originating from Italy, panna cotta is a gelatine-based custard. Although both custards stand up on their own, the reasons for this are vastly different – flan uses whole eggs, which gives it structural integrity, whereas panna cotta doesn’t use eggs at all. Because Don Taco is vegan, it didn’t use eggs or gelatine, so I’m entirely unsure what I ate! All I know is I enjoyed it – I’m a sucker for anything passionfruit-based, and the fact that it was vegan meant I didn’t have to chug a Lacteeze or three beforehand.

Conflicted Pescatarian and Info Food Bud ordered the cinnamon-sugar coated churros with vanilla bean ice-cream and house-made chocolate ganache ($8). I’m guessing regular churros have eggs because these vegan ones were slightly denser and less springy, but still crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

There were some hits and misses but I maintain that the vegan sausage in the Mexican papas is the best vegan sausage I’ve ever had – I’ll be back for it and perhaps a $5 margarita.  

Don Taco is open on from Tuesday to Saturday from 12pm to 9pm.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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