Sometimes, Battle of the Dishes don’t go as planned. Especially when food trucks with unpredictable hours and pre-recorded phone messages are involved. The original mission: Compare the relative virtues of seitan tacos from the Endless Summer Taco Truck and Papacitos. But while the latter was doing brisk lunchtime business on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue, the former was absent from its usual spot on Bedford Avenue and North 6th Street.
Fortunately, Williamsburg isn’t exactly lacking in vegan interpretations of Mexican food — or at least Mexican food as viewed through the prism of health-conscious and/or politicized gringos. Up the block from where Endless Summer should have been sits Bliss Café, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant that serves not one but two kinds of vegan burritos. Papacitos also serves a vegan burrito. And so the battle was on.
First on the itinerary was Bliss, a reassuringly homey establishment known for serving the kind of grub synonymous with the Whole Earth Catalog and the dusty aisles of natural food stores: It is straightforward, is wholesome, and promotes good digestive health. The vegan breakfast burrito came with the kind of animal-product substitutes we were looking for: Its whole-wheat tortilla was filled with scrambled tofu, sliced mushrooms, grated carrots, chunks of potatoes, and shreds of parsley, and striated by bright yellow soy cheese. It was served with generous portions of vegan sour cream, diced tomatoes, and kidney beans. The whole thing costs $7.50 before tax.
Altogether, the tortilla and its accompaniments made an extremely satisfying meal. The mustard-colored scrambled tofu was creamy, light, and well-seasoned, and uncompromised by the mercifully scant threads of squidgy soy cheese. The vegetables, though somewhat unorthodox (do shredded carrots really have any business in a burrito, breakfast or otherwise?), were cooked well and made a nice complement to the tofu.
While burrito purists may prefer their beans and sour cream folded into the tortilla, they worked plenty well outside of it, either eaten on their own or forked up with pieces of burrito. The tomatoes were fresh, the kidney beans tender and savory, and the vegan sour cream surprisingly inoffensive. That said, this is not a burrito to eat on the run; it demands a fork, knife, and tabletop.
Papacitos’ burrito, on the other hand, is made to be eaten in transit — though trying to consume something so hefty while in motion is a recipe for a catastrophic gastric event. This thing is the size of a forearm, and its white flour tortilla struggles to contain about a pound of rice, black beans, vegan cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, sautéed seitan, vegan sour cream, and diced white onions. It is, in other words, a monster, and could sate the appetite of a Teamster. At $8.75, it qualifies as an Extra-Value Meal, mainly because you won’t have to eat again for 24 hours.
The burrito boasted good ingredient distribution: The rice and beans formed a protective sheath around the other ingredients, kind of like a steroidal sushi roll. Tender little chunks of seitan pebbled its length, and the sour cream and cheese moistened the rice. Everything was seasoned well, and goosed up by the onions and cilantro. Like Bliss’s burrito, it had a little bit of heat, and could benefit from a bit of salsa.
So who wins? These are both damn fine vegan burritos, and in all honesty, it’s difficult to claim allegiance to either one. If you don’t have time to sit down and eat, and are the first-world equivalent of starving, then go for Papacitos. If you want a more leisurely, less gut-busting affair in an atmosphere that recalls a consciousness-raising group in Berkeley in the early 1970s, then go for Bliss. Either way, you can’t really go wrong, and certainly won’t go hungry.
191 Bedford Avenue
999 Manhattan Avenue