Mexican food, especially Mexican street food, isn't the most vegetarian friendly. Even when items like tacos aren't made with meat or seafood, many masa snacks and flour tortillas are made with lard. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that La Lucha, the luchador-themed restaurant in the East Village, offers vegetarian versions of unique Mexican eats. The friendly wait staff confirmed that their tortillas don't contain contain lard. And though we didn't ask for our food to be made vegan, that was an option as well.
We started our meal with an order of guacamole and chips ($8). Although served in the traditional molcajete, the guacamole is not prepared tableside as has become trendy in many Mexican restaurants. But it did taste very fresh, full of cilantro and large chunks of creamy avocado. It's just barely spicy, and it made a fine match for the warm, salty tortilla chips.
Small tacos like El Martinete ($4; almost all of the dishes are named after Mexican wrestlers or their signature moves) are another way to start. The pair came topped with black beans, pickled onions, queso fresco, and (most intriguingly) a large chunk of plantain. The resultant taco was a wonderful mix of salt, sweetness, and acidity.
The other vegetarian tacos (four in all; we sampled three) are $3.50. The only miss among them was the Cuervo, filled with a surprisingly bland mixture of zucchini, grilled corn, and potatoes; it demanded a splash of La Lucha's freshly made chipotle or tomatillo salsa. The Matemático was far more flavorful, featuring strips of roasted poblano pepper and more queso fresco. An interesting variation was the Alushe, made with hibiscus flowers and more of those pickled onions. This taco had a pleasing sweetness to it, and its unique flavor made it a winner.
Enchiladas ($12.50, pictured at top) are another good choice; the mushroom filling came recommended by the staff. As soon as the dish hit the table the pleasing aroma of the mushrooms hit my nose. Unlike other mushroom fillings I've eaten, this one was quite light thanks to a healthy dose of lime juice. The mushrooms have some good heat, which is nicely offset by the tomatillo salsa and crema topping.
La Lucha is a gimmicky place: luchador masks peer down at diners and the check comes in a miniature wrestling ring. But the food is delicious, and the vegetarian options are plentiful. Such a success is almost enough to make me want to pull on a máscara, climb to the top rope, and beat my chest in triumph. I'll refrain for now, but another trip to La Lucha may change my mind.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.