Owner Steven Sysum is on a mission to bring healthy, affordable, traditional Mexican flavors to Santa Barbara.
Caitlin Fitch

Taco Tuyo, a vegan Mexican food takeout restaurant, opened its doors just last month. Located on East Haley Street, tucked behind a palm-tree lined parking area, lies the little hole in the wall where you’ll likely be greeted with samples of house-made salsa and unique chocolate treats near the register when you walk inside.

Owner Steven Sysum’s mission is to provide Santa Barbara with healthy, tasty, affordable food using traditional Mexican flavors that we all know and love. Sysum aims to introduce a different style of Mexican food to Santa Barbara rather than the meat-heavy Mexicali food that most of us are used to. “In Mexico proper, a lot of food is vegetarian and vegan,” he explained.

Jackfruit Nachos
Caitlin Fitch

Having grown up with his grandpa’s homemade albondigas soup and grandma’s tamales, Sysum has always found Mexican food to be a source of comfort and familiarity. After graduating from the School of Natural Cookery in Colorado, he began to experiment with new ways to take traditional recipes from his childhood and make plant-based alternatives that even his abuelita approves of. Being vegan has forced Sysum to be much more creative with cooking. “I’ve explored other foods that I never would have as an omnivore,” he said.

Instead of using Nestlé chocolate in his mole, Steven uses organic cacao powder; in place of lard in his tamales, he uses organic coconut oil. His chickpea-flour tortillas are getting a lot of attention for their fluffy texture and rich flavor, so much so that he plans to start selling them wholesale. That’s just another part of Sysum’s three-pronged business plan, which also includes meal delivery for the YMCA and athletic clubs.

Sysum is making Taco Tuyo a green business by using all compostable and recyclable materials and buying locally and seasonally whenever possible. In addition to his health and environmental values, Sysum is also an advocate for social justice. Partnering with the Department of Rehabilitation, Steven offers jobs to people in transition who are often neglected by the community. “Part of the cycle of recidivism is that when people get out, they end up right back in,” explained Steven. “We need a shock to the system.”

Open for take-out Tuesday-Thursday, 5-8:30 p.m., at 724 E. Haley St.; (805) 319-3627; tacotuyo.com

Menu Highlights

Jackfruit Nachos: I highly recommend trying the nachos. The “cheese,” consisting of a delicate blend of carrots, potatoes, and nutritional yeast, is close enough to the real thing to satisfy vegans and omnivores alike. The nachos are topped with slow-cooked jackfruit that looks, feels, and tastes almost exactly like al pastor.

Portobello Tamal: Taco Tuyo’s delicious tamales with homemade organic blue corn masa are stuffed with meaty Portobello mushrooms, sunflower seeds, kale, and salsa verde and topped with a creamy, spicy sauce. Sysum is likely kicking himself in the foot for creating such a yummy and labor-intensive recipe that he had to sell hundreds of over Christmas simply due to word of mouth.

Ceviche consisting of oyster mushrooms, heart of palm, and sweet potato.
Caitlin Fitch

Ceviche: If you’re a textural eater, the citrusy and refreshing ceviche is the way to go. Finely diced oyster mushrooms, heart of palm, and sweet potato make you take a second look at the menu to make sure there isn’t actually fish in the dish. The portion is quite healthy — but like most ceviches, it’s even better after sitting in the fridge for a few days.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.