Those stewed pinto beans are as silky as a Mexican grandma's, and the jackfruit carnitas are as boldly seasoned as any other carnitas swimming in a pool of tasty grease. Lime juice and caramelized, crispy meat immediately come to mind when you take your first bite of their tacos, along with a subtle but tart burn of their tomatillo salsa. They both credit their authentic Mexican cooking techniques and seasoning with being raised in the barrios of Los Angeles. "I've been to many popular restaurants in the Westside, places like Gracias Madre and Sage Bistro, but people still say our flavor is more bomb than their stuff," says Jeremy.
You can be good in business and make your money, or just be good in flavor and community and get by that way. We choose the latter.
All photos by Javier Cabral
These Carnitas Tacos Might Turn You Vegan
When cooked, green jackfruit has the texture of shredded pork—straight up. So what happens when you treat it like carnitas and put it in a taco?
When cooked, green jackfruit has the texture of shredded pork—straight up.It's widely popular in South Asian curries and Southeast Asian stirfries as a meaty yet vegetarian side dish, but it's also stellar in a taco."I first found out about green jackfruit through reading recipe blogs online a long time ago," Genise Castañeda. "But they all seemed to season it the same way—in a sweet barbecue sauce. So I thought, why not season it like carnitas instead?" This curiosity led Genise, along with her husband Jeremy, to create Plant Food For People, a Northeast Los Angeles-based mobile food cart that they lug around the city with their pickup truck.
The story behind the Castañeda's foray into veganism is a familiar one, though it's tinged with elements of working-class life. Genise got sick (a "gallbladder attack," as she describes it), and decided to change her diet to a more plant-based one to see how that would affect her wellbeing. "Everything got well for me immediately as soon as I switched," Genise swears.Jeremy jokingly chimes in, "Well, the doctor offered her surgery and we didn't have any medical insurance at the time. Also, I was unemployed—so we just did it the cheap way.""We came from the bottom and all of the odds were against us, but by us doing this, I want other people who were also raised in the 'hoods and barrios of Los Angeles to think, I can do this, too,'" says Genise. "You have to cook for yourself."After all, growing up vegetarian in a Latino neighborhood isn't easy. "My family thought I was weird and they would make fun of us," she continues. "Especially since my parents are both staunch republicans."
Neither Genise nor Jeremy has tried a traditional vegetarian preparation of green jackfruit, thanks to the fact that there are no Indian or Southeast Asian restaurants in El Monte and Highland Park, the neighborhoods in which they both grew up. But they haven't let that fact stop them from using jackfruit in their tacos and introducing the meat-like fruit to other generations of Latinos. "There was this one time when an older woman couldn't believe that my beans didn't have any lard in them! She loved them and couldn't stop eating them," Genise beams.
They purposely set up in their home neighborhood of Highland Park at least once a week, sometimes at the community's tiny, swapmeet-like farmer's market or in the parking lot of a 99 Cents Only Store. "You can be good in business and make your money, or just be good in flavor and community and get by that way. We choose the latter," Jeremy proudly says."I don't know what it is about these jackfruit tacos," says Genise. "It's just bigger than us."