Every January healthy resolutions and organized efforts drive up the demand for vegan food and someone will proclaimed it the “Year of the Vegan.” Then February rolls around and the food world returns to the status quo. This February is different.
Towards the end of 2018, partnerships between thriving plant-based protein brands and the fast food industry were taking root. One of the biggest pairings here in Southern California was the union of Beyond Meat and Del Taco.
While vegan options at fast food outlets may seem absurd—as an insider in the vegan community I can tell you that this has been the goal of many all along.
See, I often hear omnivores deflect vegan ideas, lamenting "...if only the food tasted good...". But we all know that in reality, most Americans will eat plastic garbage if it's cheap enough. And for new vegans, what many miss more than eggs and cheese are cheap convenient foods.
So, the plant-based industry has been scaling up to snuff out the presumption that vegan food is expensive (and exclusively healthy) by harnessing the existing infrastructure of the mega giants of fast food. These chains serving “great American food” have access to the wilds of our country, places commonly void of vegan options and ideas. Partnerships like these could help change America’s perceptions of veganism.
And now, Beyond Meat’s ancho chili, cumin, and lime seasoned, pea-based “ground beef” is available at all San Diego locations.
But, is it actually good?
Marketers like to promote the idea that vegan products taste just like meat—setting up unrealistic expectations.
Beyond Meat is not ground beef. The Beyond Meat is a loose pack of protein in a slurry of oil, salt, and spices—all the notable qualities of fast food ground beef. However, the Del Taco items containing it will not taste just like the ones featuring ground beef.
To find out if any of the menu items are viable (or even edible) options, an unbiased vegan and non-vegan had to go try them all. So, I subjected my time, body, and husband to find out for you.
It is worth noting that there are only two vegan as-is options: the Beyond Avocado Taco and the Avocado Veggie Bowl. However, Beyond Meat also can be substituted into any menu item for an upcharge. These charges are wildly inconsistent and seem random. All dishes here are described with the “veganized” order option and include relevant upcharges.
Beyond Avocado Taco (soft and hard shell)
Vegan as-is ($2.49)
This taco comes stuffed with Beyond Meat, chopped iceberg lettuce, minor amounts of pico, and sliced avocado.
The soft taco seemed like the correct choice to make when I was ordering, but the limp flour tortilla acted more like an edible napkin then experience enhancer. It was the hardshell that proved it place on the plate.
The crisp corn shell—the bain of authenticy purists—adds a nutty base to offset the the sodium bomb of not-meat.
The BM textures contrast with the burst of lettuce and creamy avocado, which thankful, is not mushed into wet guacamole. That would be way too much against the impossible-to-dry-out Beyond Meat mush.
The Verdict: It is edible, but I wouldn’t willingly order the soft taco again. The hard shell and I can still be friends.
Avocado Veggie Bowl
Vegan as-is ($4.99 ADD Beyond Meat for $2 = $6.99)
The only other vegan as-is entree on the menu, the Avocado Veggie Bowl comes layered with broken “fresca lime” white rice, rough chops of romaine and iceberg, tomatoes, black beans, and two wedges of avocado, topped with a 52-pickup game of diced white onion.
Here, we encounter the first hints of what makes the Del Taco x Beyond Meat union shine: carbs.
Though lacking a tortilla (we’ll get to that) the generous portion of rice is just the blank canvas needed to explore the nuance of Beyond Meat. Here, the faint hints of chili and cumin move forward under a splash of salsa and bite of onion.
The Verdict: Not that bad. Not great either.
Signature Taco Salad
Veganized Order: SUB Beyond Meat, HOLD Sour Cream and Cheese ($5.89 + $1.40 BM = $7.29)
I find it hard to believe that this salad could be good under any circumstances. This dish, basically the Avocado Veggie Bowl without rice, lacks the much needed grounding of carbs.
The tap water complexity of iceberg is not terrible. I mean, as every wedge-salad-loving person knows, the crisp leaves hold up well under bold and heavy topping, but here it seems like a dish that exists purely for the keto crowd or for those in who order fast food out of spite rather than pleasure.
The Verdict: Hard Pass.
Del Combo Burrito
Veganized Order: SUB Beyond Meat, HOLD Cheese ($3.49 + $1.40 BM = $4.89)
The thinness of the Del Combo Burrito seems a detriment at first, but stuffed only with a muddy mix of refried beans, Beyond Meat, and red sauce—which ensures water and oil will dribble out the burrito butt—any more would be too much.
The Verdict: Meh. Could be a guilty pleasure when a classic, oily, fast food burrito is what you’re after.
Veganized Order: SUB Beyond Meat, HOLD Sour Cream and Cheese ($5.19 + $1.40 BM = $6.59)
More is exactly what the Macho Combo is about. This burrito—a slow flow of more Beyond Meat, beans, red and green sauce, with meek amounts of tomatoes, lettuce, and onion—is a sloppy mess that cheese and sour cream would only exacerbate.
The Verdict: Meh, if you want to amp-up the guilty pleasure factor a notch.
Epic Grilled Chicken Avocado Burrito
Veganized Order: SUB Beyond Meat ($5.49 + $1.00 BM = $6.49)
This where things get good. The veganized version of the Epic Grilled Chicken Avocado Burrito is essentially the Avocado Veggie Bowl with an added layer of carb in the form of a flour tortilla.
Here the taut tortilla compresses the bulk of rice into the whole black beans, pico, and sliced avocado,all seeped in the chili-seasoned juice dripping out of the Beyond Meat.
The Verdict: Truly not bad. Kinda good, even.
Epic Cali Steak & Guac Burrito
Veganized Order: SUB Beyond Meat, HOLD Cheese and Sour Cream ($5.59 + $.60 BM = $6.19)
Deep fried starch bombs suck up the seasoning of the Beyond Meat in what turned out to be my favorite iteration of the Del Taco x Beyond Meat partnership.
Modeled after the San Diego staple, “The California Burrito”, crinkle cut fries make up the bulk of the Epic Cali Steak & Guac Burrito, with the oily grounds of pea protein mimicking the supple bulk of meat.
Along with refried pinto beans, guacamole, tomatoes, and onions, the dry nature of potatoes pulls in all the flavors within the body of the burrito, delivering the complexity of the ingredients in every single bite.
The Verdict: While the Beyond Meat tacos are the catalyst of the Del Taco x Beyond Meat campaign, these epic modified burritos are what I’ll be ordering on return visits.
Beyond Meat is currently available at all Del Tacos in San Diego, as well as some Los Angeles and Oklahoma locations. A full list of locations can be found online.