Whether its for improving personal health, reducing a carbon footprint or caring for the welfare of animals, across the globe, vegetarian, vegan and plant-based eating is on the rise. A May 2022 report from Statista shows that in 2021, sales of plant-based foods in the United States were valued at about $7.4 billion dollars – up from $4.8 billion in 2018.
In San Diego, the number of vegan restaurants has grown exponentially over the decades – from about three in the 1980s to more than three dozen now.
To meet the growing appetite for plant-based dining options, a pair of husband-and-wife restaurateurs out of Nevada are expanding their brand into the San Diego area market.
Carlos and Kristen Corral with Dan and Regina Simmons in July together opened San Diego’s latest vegan restaurant, Tacotarian Plant-Based Mexican Eatery.
Located on 30th Street in San Diego, with one of its entrances a garage-door that opens to reveal a black-and-white motif bar with wood chairs and other accents, the restaurant offers a variety of authentic Mexican fare. Much of the menu is inspired by Regina Simmons’ most beloved dishes out of her hometown Mexico City and based on Carlos Corral’s favorites from his younger days in Sinaloa.
Tacotarian’s carne asada tacos are made with in-house created seitan (wheat gluten), its Barbacoa uses jackfruit and its Dorado is a creation that includes mashed potatoes and mushrooms. There is even a cauliflower ceviche and the restaurant also has other south-of-the-border favorites like a birria platter made with Beyond Meat, tortilla soup with avocado and takis elote with street corn.
“We have a blended menu that reflects so many regions,” Dan Simmons said. “We have such a variety of options, ones that you won’t see at other restaurants.”
New to California
The first location opened in 2018 in the Arts District of downtown Las Vegas. Since then, Tacotarian has expanded to three more spots in Nevada where its fan base includes celebrities like Vice President Kamala Harris, Foo Fighters keyboard player Rami Jaffee, actor Brad Garrett and comedian Chelsea Handler.
“We are very excited about opening in San Diego,” Kristen Corral said. “There are a lot of vegan restaurants, but our biggest thing is to make food that is so amazing that it doesn’t matter if you’re vegan.”
“The bulk of our clientele is not vegan, and that’s been part of our success,” Corral added. “We show people that this is good food, period. People are always amazed by how flavorful it is.”
Simmons said the couples were inspired to open the first Tacotarian in Las Vegas after returning from a February 2018 trip to Mexico City. He said back home, he noticed there was a missing piece of the plant-based puzzle in his neighborhood – good Mexican food – and the four got to work securing financing and finding an open space.
The couples’ contracted broker told them about the perfect spot: a 3,200-square foot spot centrally located in North Park.
Interestingly, the location was also home to two other vegan restaurants in the past five years: The Modern Vegan and Chicago Not Dogs. The Modern Vegan, also out of Las Vegas, shuttered its San Diego location after two years while Chicago Not Dogs was there for less than a year, and is seeking another spot for its faux frankfurters.
In addition to the unique Mexican vegan fare, Tacotarian is also doing something a little different, offering an employee profit-sharing model.
Tacotarian managers Tom McGowan and Andres Castillo who worked in the Henderson, Nev., location, moved to San Diego to run the business and are receiving part ownership in the location as part of the company’s employee equity model.
“We really believe in taking care of our employees and want to give our staff the opportunity to grow with us,” Simmons said.
The four co-founders say they are concentrating on the San Diego site for the time being but have not ruled out expansion. “We are putting our blood, sweat and tears into these places,” Corral said. “We do have target areas that we want to be in for long-term expansion. I personally would love to see 50 or 100 Tacotarians across the U.S. but we are working to keep the rhythm strong and keep the flow going where we are now.”
Tacotarian Plant-Based Mexican Eatery
FOUNDERS: Dan Simmons, Regina Simmons, Carlos Corral, Kristen Corral
HEADQUARTERS: Las Vegas — and in San Diego at 4332 30th St.
EMPLOYEES: 100 (including 22 in San Diego)
SOCIAL IMPACT: One of Tacotarian’s mottos is “Changing the world one taco at a time.” The company partners on fundraisers with LGBTQ+ groups, women-centered groups and animal rescue groups.
NOTABLE: Restaurant’s motto is “Largest selection of vegan tacos in the universe.”