Monday felt like one of the coldest days thus far, so I admittedly drove over to Ball Square after TDC practice in search of comfort food in the form of beans and cheese. It’s so easy to assume that Davis is the only place to satisfy your cravings in Somerville. Walk a couple blocks in any direction off campus, and you’ll realize the dire consequences of this mistake. Ball Square in particular is home to a few gems, from Kelly’s Diner to The Pub. I won’t touch the latter’s food, but let’s not deny the value of a sturdy pitcher minus the younger crowd of a Tuesday night.
I was skeptical about Taco Party. This may be a hot take, but vegetarian restaurants are often either overpriced or lacking in flavor. There are undoubtedly exceptions, like the biscuits and mushroom gravy I get at The Grange in my hometown of Providence, R.I., but for the most part I’m too shocked by the price tag to enjoy the dish with much gusto. The possibility that I might praise a $5 taco without the loveliness of slow-cooked meat seemed far-fetched.
Without sugar coating my experience to please the veggie crowd, Taco Party was pretty awesome. It quickly became clear that thought and time was put into the components of each of these tacos. I do have a moral rule to never pay over $4 for a taco, which the $5 price tag sadly breaks. Yet, I enjoyed my order enough to only slightly resent this fact.
I ordered three tacos and a side of chips and pinto dip. The first had crispy tofu, mango salsa and garlic crema, served on double corn tortillas. This was probably my favorite of the three. The mango salsa gave moisture and a sweetness to the tofu’s savory panko breading, and the garlic crema was a welcome substitute for sour cream. The tofu was even surprisingly well spiced, and held its own among the other components. The cheesy potato taco with fried potatoes, nacho cheese and cashew crema was (and I say this in the best possible way) as decadent as a late night Taco Bell run. Although perhaps the least complex of the three, it single-handedly satisfied my craving for food that at least tasted unhealthy. Finally, I found the “Lentils al Pastor” taco to be such a creative solution to the vegetarian taco conundrum. Somehow, they managed to conjure up the hearty flavor of spicy stewed sauce and tender protein with black lentils. The grilled pineapple, onions and cotija on top took it to another level entirely. And the bean dip and chips were pretty damn good too.
I think what Taco Party provides is a truly well-rounded bite, and that’s undoubtedly what you’re paying for: the balanced, well thought out combination of spices, textures, acid and sweetness that careful construction provides. At the same time, it was satisfying enough to take on hormone-fueled cravings and, dare I say, the title of comfort food. Next time, I’ll order just two tacos and a side, which comes to about $13. That’s not unreasonable — and it’s certainly worth it.
At the risk of being too heavy-handed with my post-food elation, Taco Party kind of gives me hope for the normalization of vegetarian cuisine. I have yet to give up meat. Frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. But institutions like this make it that much easier to take some days each week to steer clear of meat and not feel like you’re missing out. It’s not about finding “substitutions” or creating “imitations” of the cuisine that already is, it’s about adapting to bring sustainable and delicious ingredients into new lights and new cultures. Lentils al Pastor is only a start, but it feels, and tastes, like a solid one.