For the past two months, a new vegan bistro with a Latin flair has been quietly popping up inside of The Bite, chef Carlos R. Mortera’s popular sandwich shop located inside the City Market.

At Taqueria Vegana, diners will find Mortera and fellow chef Drew Clark cooking up Mexican favorites on Wednesdays from 5 to 9pm. The limited menu of six to eight dishes includes Chorizo Super Nachos, a Beef Crunchwrap, mushroom pozole, elote, chicken enfrijoladas and cóctel de camarón, all priced between $5 and $12.

“We thought this would be an interesting experiment – maybe we would have a few people show up – but we have had lines out the door almost from the beginning,” says Mortera. “We are selling our vegan nachos like crazy, and it is bringing in people on what has been a typically slow night for us at The Bite.”

It's easy to see why those chorizo nachos are so popular. Taqueria Vegana offers a generous portion that delivers the same satisfying experience as the protein-packed version. The vegan nachos start with fresh corn tortillas made without lard that are quickly chopped into quarters and fried in vegetable oil until crispy. The chips are then topped with a delicious hot mess mixture of spicy soy chorizo, beans, vegan nacho cheese, cilantro, pickled onions, radish, candied jalapeños, salsa roja and avocado crema.

The Beef Crunchwrap has also been a breakout hit since it was introduced a few weeks ago. It is built with a flour tortilla on the bottom topped with spiced vegan beef (textured vegetable protein), beans, vegan cheese, vegan crema, red cabbage and pico de gallo. To make it crunchy, they place a crispy round tostada on top of all of that. The flour tortilla is then wrapped in a circle around the ingredients and griddled closed. It is cut in two, and served with a hot and spicy fuego sauce for dipping. 

Although each dish on the menu features a protein listed in its name, Taqueria Vegana uses a meat substitute in place of each protein. Tofu is used in place in of chicken, textured vegetable protein subs for ground beef and hearts of palm stand in for shrimp. As the founder of Taqueria Vegana and a vegan himself, Clark says he was inspired to open the pop up after struggling to find the decadent cuisine he yearned for as a plant-based eater in Kansas City.

Clark was looking for some seriously delicious plant-based “junk food;” not the same old salads and mixed vegetable plates he could make for himself at home. That’s when the idea for Taqueria Vegana was born, with a goal of bringing craveable vegan dishes to Kansas City.

“We want to make dishes full of so much flavor it wouldn’t matter if they had meat in them or not; people would love them and want to come and eat them because they taste good,” explains Clark.

With support and encouragement from his wife, Clark approached Mortera about his idea for Taqueria Vegana, and they both got busy with menu ideas. They landed on a Latin theme because it offers so much versatility and variety, and it didn't hurt that these ingredients were already on hand at The Bite.

The two knew they worked well together, as Clark works side by side on the line with Mortera at The Bite. They also found out they complemented each other’s palates. “I eat a vegan diet, and Carlos eats meat, so he can tell me what something is really supposed to taste like to make sure we nail the flavor profiles we are going for on every vegan dish,” says Clark. “It is a skill we have found helpful more than once when creating new menu items for Taqueria Vegana.”

Although Mortera is a meat-eater, he is still well-versed on what makes a great plant-based dish, and provides much of the restaurant know-how and expertise to get Taqueria Vegana’s dishes where they need to be for quick execution on the line. He also grew up with a mother who was vegan and vegetarian, and was once the co-owner and chef of FooDoo, a vegan restaurant that operated briefly on Broadway Blvd. before closing in 2015.

Some might say Mortera was ahead of his time with FooDoo, but it seems that he and Clark are right on time to ride the current wave of interest in plant-based eating. And if Taqueria Vegana continues to grow at this rate, the partners say they would definitely consider a more permanent location.

Taqueria Vegana (located inside The Bite), 23 E. Third St., River Market, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.503.6059, facebook.com/thebitekc

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Jenny is Feast's contributing editor for Kansas City. She brakes for chef's coats.

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