Tacos are a quintessential summer food, perfect for a quick bite on a beautiful day. This year, Toronto finds itself in the midst of a full-blown taco trend, with several purveyors stuffing their tortillas with ingredients far more unique than the usual chicken or beef. Torontoist‘s multi-part series Tacos of Summer is your guide to some of the best.
You could pass Hot Beans without even knowing it was there, were it not for the smell of tacos wafting out onto the street from inside the small, basement-level restaurant at 160 Baldwin Street. Follow your nose and you’ll find yourself in what is almost certainly Toronto’s only vegan taco joint.
Chef and owner Ross Corder cooks up a wide variety of meat-free taco and burrito fillings, using vegan-friendly ingredients like textured vegetable protein (a meatlike substance derived from soy beans) and seitan (also meatlike, but made of wheat gluten).
But the most curious item on this most curious of menus is the barbequed jackfruit taco. Yes, it’s a taco made of fruit. It’s a little unorthodox, at least as far as the average Mexican-food consumer is concerned. But Corder says he has no trouble selling them.
“There are a lot of people who just kind of wander in, who don’t see the vegan sign,” he says. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, burritos. Okay.’ And then they see that there’s no meat, and they get really hesitant and they start to walk away. I can usually bring them back.
“I just tell them, ‘Try it. If you don’t like it, then I’ll pay for it.'” He says he’s never had to pay.
Corder, who previously worked as a cook at a number of vegan-oriented Toronto restaurants (including Live Organic Food Bar) opened Hot Beans last year with a partner, with whom he has since parted ways.
The jackfruit: A jackfruit is a melon-sized thing that grows on a tree, for the most part in Southeast Asia. Corder gets his in cans, in a light brine, from Thailand. He deliberately buys it unripe so that its sweetness doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of his sauces. The unripe jackfruit is also a little chewier then the fully ripened stuff. Corder compares its texture to that of an artichoke heart. He shreds it for use in his tacos.
The jackfruit sauce: Hot Beans makes this chipotle-molasses-barbeque sauce in-house. Corder simmers the jackfruit in it. “On its own, the jackfruit doesn’t have a whole lot of flavour,” he explains. “It’s just kind of a textural thing.” Covered in this sauce, the fruit looks almost like pulled pork, if you don’t inspect it too closely.
Mild hot sauce: Made in-house, it’s a sauce of adobo from canned chipotles, sugar, vinegar, and lime juice, among other things.
Sunflower-seed sour cream: Sunflower seeds, lemon juice, and salt.
The tortillas: Each taco is built on not one but two six-inch corn tortillas. “We used to do one [tortilla] when we first opened, and it was just falling apart,” said Corder.
The Bottom Line:
Price: $8.50 for two, plus your choice of rice and beans, chips and salsa, or coleslaw.
Tasting notes: The jackfruit is pretty clearly supposed to be reminiscent of shredded pork or chicken. It doesn’t taste like either of those things. That isn’t to say the taco is bad—just that it needs to be approached on its own terms. Anyone expecting a meaty flavour will be disappointed.
The texture is a little bit like pineapple, but the jackfruit has a welcome toughness. At no point do you forget you’re eating fruit. Even so, the mild spiciness of the chipotle sauces makes this into a satisfying taco experience. Portions are generous, so two of these should be a fine meal for most people.
Oh, but be prepared to get messy. Even with two shells to hold it in, the sauce-covered jackfruit doesn’t stay put for long.
Spiciness: Medium (It’s not overwhelming.)
Cheesiness: Low (Sunflower-seed sour cream is almost cheese, right?)
Veggieness: High (It’s nothing but vegetable matter.)
The Sauce Factor: High (The entire taco is doused in the stuff.)
Eat It When: You are a vegan. Or when you want something unusual.