On some Mexican food menus, vegetarian options are qualified more by absence than addition: A carnitas or carne asada burrito, just without the main and most-flavorful component, is the best a meat-avoider can hope for. But a fully loaded and meat-free Mexican meal is just one — maybe surprising, definitely prickly— ingredient away.
Los Tacos No. 1, the taco stand in New York City’s Chelsea Market (the best food court in all of New York, according to Eater NY editor Robert Sietsema), offers nopales as a vegetarian option for both tacos and quesadillas. The Mexican-Spanish word for the pads of the opuntia, or prickly pear, cactus, nopales can be eaten raw or cooked, and they are a good source of vitamin C and calcium. The pads are crisp in texture and taste a bit like green beans. Watch the video above for a look into the process of transforming the bright, spiky pads into the ideal taco filling.