This Vegan Carnicería Wants to Be the Latinx Answer to Impossible Foods

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Overhead view of a vegan carne asada taco garnished with onion, cilantro and salsa.
Taqueria La Venganza's downtown Oakland storefront aims be a "regular-ass" taqueria—and, eventually, to bring its vegan meats to the national stage. (Raul Medina)


n the future that Raul Medina imagines, not only will America have a taco truck on every corner, but all of those trucks will also offer a full slate of vegan meats. Carnitas, carne asada, chicharrón—each taco a delicious miracle crafted out of tofu skins and dehydrated soy chips. And the supplier of these stellar faux meats? Naturally that would be Medina himself, whose vegan carnicería, Taqueria La Venganza, opened in Oakland earlier this year.

“I want to be the Impossible Foods—the Beyond Meat—of the Mexican meat world,” Medina says.  

That’s a bold ambition for a chef whose entire operation, at the moment, is based inside a small downtown Oakland bodega. Just a couple of months in, La Venganza has already garnered a reputation for serving the best vegan tacos in town. But Medina has his sights set much higher: He doesn’t want to be known as just a taquero. He wants to be the guy up the supply chain who makes your favorite taquero want to offer a vegan option—who makes meats that are delicious enough, and profitable enough, that every taqueria in the country will want to use them.

In short, Medina wants his vegan carne asada—not Impossible’s or Beyond’s—to be the one that goes national. And in the process, he hopes to strike a blow for smaller, less corporatized and more Latinx-centric businesses. “I don’t want them to do ‘Beyond Asada’ or ‘Impossible Asada,’ and then suddenly we’re eating some other corporate shit.”

Chef Raul Medina presses a tortilla by hand.
After launching his pop-up in Berkeley six years ago, Medina made a name for himself when La Venganza won the title for best taco in all of Los Angeles. (Raul Medina)

Ten or 20 years ago, vegans like Medina could scarcely have imagined a time when “plant-based meat” would be seen as the trendiest, most lucrative sector in food—the subject of dozens of breathless reviews and earnest thinkpieces. These days, you can buy an Impossible Burger at Burger King. You can find the patties in the freezer aisle of your local Walmart or Target.


“For me, veganism was always punk rock,” Raul Medina says of his early days of meat abstention. “You were looked upon as a weirdo. Like, what the fuck are you doing?” 

Now, he says, companies like Beyond and Impossible have helped take veganism to the masses. But their proliferation has also led to a certain homogeneity in the vegan food scene. The national fast food chains sell the same faux meat patties that customers might shell out $20 for at their favorite boutique pop-up. For the most part, vegan chefs aren’t even bothering to experiment with their own personalized take on an old-school black bean burger anymore. “I don’t care how much you say, ‘Oh, I make it taste different. I season it differently,’” Medina says. “It tastes the same to me everywhere I go.” 

Medina doesn’t deny that the Impossible Burger tastes good, and he acknowledges that any reduction in meat consumption that comes as these companies become more mainstream is a net positive. But for him, veganism was always about more than just protecting animals. It was also about all of the other systemic abuses that were endemic to the industrial meat complex—the way the workers in the slaughterhouses were treated, for instance. In his past career, Medina worked at an immigration law firm, and he says he saw firsthand how the big poultry plants would bus in workers from Mexico and “literally deport them after the season’s done.”

Medina questions whether the big plant-based meat companies are set up so differently, even if they’re applying a “green bandage” to the food system.  

“Is that the same situation that’s going to go on with soy and wheat and coconut oil? I’m not blind to consumerism and capitalism,” he says. “I know what happens when something becomes popular. There are ways that they’re going to try to cut down costs. Who are we getting to work the fields? Are we paying them more, or are just paying them what the fuck we need to pay them?”

A styrofoam container with three tacos, rice, and beans.
A plate from La Venganza's collaboration with L.A.'s Taco Vega. (Raul Medina)

Indeed, part of what motivated Medina to really push the Taqueria La Venganza brand and extend its reach was hearing the news that Beyond Meat was working on a (thus far unsuccessful) vegan carne asada for Taco Bell. La Venganza’s attempts at global expansion have seen more modest success thus far: In addition to his own taqueria, Medina also supplies vegan meats for Oakland’s Taqueria El Cruzero, and he recently ran a collaboration with Taco Vega, a vegan taqueria in Los Angeles, with an eye toward opening his second location down in L.A. Toward that end, he’s actively looking for investors.

In comparison to the food tech giants, Medina says his supply chain is relatively straightforward and analog. For his carne asada, for instance, he imports dehydrated soy chips from Taiwan and seasons them with various spices (including Vietnamese rice powder) to emulate the smoky, slightly burnt effect you get when a nice piece of skirt steak hits the grill.

“Who’s getting rich off of that? Me, a Taiwanese company and whatever Mexican just sold you the taco,” Medina says. “I want Mexican people making money off of my products. At the end of the day, that’s the vision—to have a vegan carnicería in every major city and have it supply the meats to every taco truck on every corner.” 

Of course, none of these plans would have much hope for success if the tacos themselves didn’t taste good. For Medina, basing his first carnicería in the East Bay marks something of a homecoming: La Venganza first burst onto the vegan food scene six years ago as a popular Berkeley pop-up. The chef went on to make a name for himself in Los Angeles, where in short order La Venganza was tapped to sell tacos at Coachella and then—its biggest break—won L.A. Taco’s “Taco Madness” competition for the coveted title of best taco in all of Los Angeles in 2018.

“It’s L.A. It’s Mexicans,” Medina says of the street cred that the victory gave his business. In many ways, it also set off a whole new wave of vegan taquerias in Los Angeles and beyond. What set La Venganza apart from much of the previous generation of vegan tacos was that, apart from whatever textural magic Medina was able to work out of yuba and other soy and wheat gluten products, the chef’s approach was fundamentally nostalgic, meant to capture everything that people loved about getting tacos at an old-school taqueria—just without the meat. 

Vegan carne asada with all the fixings on a flour tortilla, ready to get rolled into a burrito.
The burritos at Taqueria La Venganza weigh two pounds. (Raul Medina)

“It opened people’s eyes to be like, ‘This guy is making Mexican food vegan, but it tastes like my mom made it.’ Before that it was, ‘This person is putting kale and roasted potato in my taco, what the fuck is this?’” Medina says. “Finally you saw something that was asada. You didn’t have to ask for something with a stupid name. What you were used to is what you got.”  

At La Venganza’s downtown Oakland storefront, Medina makes the tortillas by hand. The taqueria offers a streamlined menu of greatest hits: carnitas, chicharrón, carne asada fries and cauliflower al pastor. It sometimes offers, as a special, vegan versions of less mainstream cuts, like beef cheek or lengua, but it also sells giant burritos that weigh two pounds. 

And though Medina is dubious of the prospect of companies like Impossible and Beyond bringing vegan food to the masses, that is what he aspires to do, too, at the end of the day—to be, as he puts it, a “regular-ass taqueria,” and to bring his vegan meats to other regular-ass taquerias. 

“It’s not like I’m using Calabrian chilies, or adding amaranth or ancestral ingredients,” Medina says. “Fuck all that shit. I’m putting in what your mom used to put in. There isn’t meat in it, but it tastes just like you remember.”


Taqueria La Venganza is open Thursday through Saturday, 1–7pm at 597 15th St. in Oakland.