By Betsy DiJulio
In a landscape dotted with mostly fungible Mexican restaurants, Taqueria La Patrona is a welcome respite for the hungry traveler, even if you just traveled from down the street, even if you crave far more than tacos, and even if you subscribe to an entirely plant-based diet.
Located on Lynnhaven Road in a former drive-through restaurant with ample parking and directional arrows still visible on the asphalt, the unremarkable gray building belies what lies in store. And, evidently, the word is out because this humble taqueria was humming on a recent Tuesday evening.
With standard neutral tile floors and both booth and table seating in turquoise and navy, a note of charm is injected by the abundant use of highly patterned tile in soft blue and sage green floral motifs. Absent any of the standard Mexican market décor, this establishment is all about the food.
Sure, there are tasty but typical renditions of chips and salsa upon arrival and guacamole on the side. But where else can you score Soy Ceviche ($12.99), not to mention an entire 10-item vegan menu plus vegetarian? For any omnivores in your party, there are plentiful versions of birria, huarache (also vegetarian), pupusas, and tortas in addition to a long list of other dishes, both familiar and refreshingly unconventional.
Sharon Clohessy, my omnivorous but mostly vegetarian foodie friend, and I both ordered from the vegan menu so that we could sample more of the dishes, sharing all selections. I was so tempted to order the Soy Ceviche, but the menu notes described the soy as marinated in avocado—to which I am allergic—in addition to citrus, jalapeño, and pico de gallo with a side of saltines and tostadas.
Sharon ordered the Quesadilla ($9)—a real test of plant-based prowess because it’s all about the cheese—and I ordered the Esquite ($6.50) and enchiladas ($11.50) Our favorite dish was probably the simplest: the quesadilla, served with a side salad, guac, and Mexican Rice. Filled with Daiya brand mozzarella cheese, it was perfectly toasty and melty, the crunch and caramelization addicting. We also loved La Patrona’s version of rice: deep in red-orange color and flavor, it was a hint thick and almost creamy, plumply residing somewhere between rice and risotto.
Our second favorite was the ample serving of Esquite. This cousin of the more widely known Elote (4.99) is essentially the same dish with the corn served in a cute aqua ceramic mug rather than on a cob. Both are topped with vegan mayo, sour cream, parmesan cheese, chili-lime powder, and a fresh lime wedge for squeezing. Next time, I would probably order the Elote, which is a little more tricky to eat, only because I think the greater ratio of toppings to corn would be a bit more pleasing.
The enchiladas were tasty, with each vegetable in the filling bursting with color and flavor: sautéed spinach, grilled pepper, and corn, but I would have enjoyed something a little decadent binding them together. The trio was topped with a perfectly fine and fresh-tasting tomato-based sauce and a sprinkle of Daiya mozz. Here, though, I would have preferred a sauce with more depth and richness and cheese that was more melty.
Would I go back? Certainly. And when I do, I look forward to sampling the Burrito ($10.99), Burrito Deluxe ($12.50), Torta made with Angie’s Bakery telera bread ($10), and Shroom Tacos ($7.99). Sharon and I were too sated for dessert—and we took leftovers to go—but Sopapillas with agave syrup, cinnamon-sugar, and vegan vanilla ice cream ($5.99) are such a treat for the plant-based patron.
And speaking of, I am uncertain as to what patron saint La Patrona refers, but she should be the Patron Saint of Plants.
More at https://taquerialapatrona.mobilebytes.com/menu, 1153 Lynnhaven Parkway Virginia Beach, 757.301.4527