With more than 50 restaurants from every corner of the world, Somerville knows international eats.
But the borough’s world has expanded again with an all-vegetarian Mexican and Indian fusion taqueria.
Tacowala, located at the former home of Don’s Famous Hoagie Shoppe at 133. E Main St., opened April 2 with a menu highlighted by vegetarian and vegan street tacos.
Amish Shah, a vegetarian who was born in India, opened the restaurant after starting it as a catering company in March 2021. Before that, he worked part-time as a vegetarian private chef.
“In Mexico, they use a lot of pork lard for cooking, so it’s hard for vegetarians,” Shah said. “And there are a lot of similarities in ingredients in Mexico and India due to historic trading.”
Those ingredients include chilis, tamarind, and other strong spices and flavors. Rice and beans are staples in many dishes. Salsa and chutney are similar, as are tortillas and rotis, and mole and curry.
The two cultures are reflected in the design of Tacowala. A mural with a Mexican mariachi band on one side and an Indian band on the other lines one wall. A mural with both Mexican and Indian flowers connected by arches lines the other.
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“Both countries are very lively and colorful, so that’s how I wanted the murals to look,” Shah said.
About 40 seats are available at the casual eatery, which Shah bought in August when he realized he would need his own kitchen to ensure there would be no cross-contamination of meat and vegetarian items for his catering business.
At the time, he had planned to continue to run Don’s Famous Hoagie Shoppe in the space, which had been open since 1972 but had previously been sold by the founder.
Just one month later, Hurricane Ida struck, leaving Shah with months of repairs and cleanup — and the time to reconsider.
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“I thought, ‘Why not do a storefront?’ “ Shah said. “We had a good following on Instagram, people appreciated our food, and it’s a gluten-free and nut-free kitchen. So I thought, ‘Let me start retail and see how it goes.’ And in my research, I didn’t find any other vegan and vegetarian taquerias in New Jersey.”
Go: 133 E. Main St., Somerville; 908-300-8690, tacowala.com
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member at the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, after becoming a blogger-turned-reporter following the creation of her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her stories about food, drink and fun, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: [email protected] or @JIntersimone.