San Antonio is the cultural and culinary capital of Texas. Its treasures, edible and otherwise, inspire me and teach me something new every time I visit. It’s also home to Garrett Heath, the scribe behind SA Flavor, a thorough, entertaining and knowledgeable blog covering the city’s food and culture, including this site. Aside from the breakfast taco, there is no other taco more associated with San Antonio than the puffy taco, a cumulus-light fried Lone Star gem. Garrett drops a guest post about one of San Antone’s classic puffy taco joints, just in time for Fiesta San Antonio.
San Antonio has contributed so much to the world in terms of Tex-Mex. But while you might be familiar with some of the big names (chili, Fritos or Rico’s Nacho Cheese anyone?), one item that has remained a regional staple, más o menos, is the puffy taco. While you may not be familiar with this dish, it adorns many Tex-Mex plates, is the unofficial mascot of our minor league baseball team and the locals judge you by which restaurant you favor.
The characteristic that distinguishes the puffy taco is the shell. After a corn tortilla is pressed, it is lightly fried in oil, causing it to puff up like a blowfish. The cook then presses down in the middle of the tortilla with a spatula, making an indention that can be filled with picadillo, shredded chicken, guacamole, beans and cheese, almost anything you can put in a taco.
While Ray’s might be the first to claim the puffy taco and Henry may have one of the largest establishments, I particularly enjoy those served up at Teka Molino. A restaurant that has roots in the Alamo City since 1937, Teka Molino serves some of the finest food in town. What sets them apart is that they make all of their masa fresh, in-house. Continue reading
I have scads of gripes about long lines. Mainly due to their cultish aspects. The way I see it, if I’m going to wait in a long line hours before a restaurant opens it will be at a place where a specific food was invented, like La Fogoncito, birthplace of the gringa taco (a taco al pastor with cheese in a flour tortilla). However, lines are a rarity at a good taqueria.
Breakfast tacos weren’t invented at Stripes gas stations with Laredo Taco Company outposts and there are long lines, but the lines move quickly. When I visited a Stripes/Laredo Taco Company in the Rio Grande Valley, I waited maybe a couple of minutes between getting in line and receiving my tacos. With large flour tortillas that are fresher than that. Your tortillas are made after you order. And don’t be surprised if the woman taking your order breaks some bad news: they’re out of what you want but will be have another batch in 10 to 15 minutes if you’re willing to wait. This kind of freshness can be difficult to find in quiet hole-in-the-wall taquerias in Dallas. Continue reading
“Yeow! That’s hot,” screamed the young man working the fryer at Taco Wagon, which opened in June after a more than a year of renovation and taunting fans of the original Taco Wagon with its coming soon sign, the $5 pony rides in the old drive-in’s parking lot adding a new twist to the anticipation. His pain was a good sign. It meant the crispy taco I ordered would come with a freshly fried shell.
That taco dorado is the anchor of the Tex-Mex menu that includes breakfast tacos and guisos to be eaten under the corrugated metal roof patio with wrought-iron outdoor furniture adjacent to the 1950s building in a shape reminiscent of an old covered wagon, a reminder of the original occupant, the Chuck Wagon. A car under the drive-in shelter in the gravel parking and to-go are the other dining options. Continue reading
A group of wait staff broke out into a ranchera when they learned it was a customer’s birthday. There was clapping. The clapping spread. As did the singing. To my left was a photo of Vicente Fernandez, the king of ranchera music. In front of me, at Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop in East Austin, was a platter of incredible breakfast tacos, flawless homemade flour tortillas—thick without being dense, fluffy without being mistaken for an old pillow—and all. Within one envelope was snappy dredged in flour bacon, firm eggs that bore a sheen, the heavy-handed spread of captivating refried beans. The pictured round breakfast sausage patties are one of only a couple of items not made in-house, but they have to be on the menu. Reportedly, sausage patties are among the first ingredients placed in a tortilla in Texas to create a breakfast taco.
There are myriad theories on the origins and appropriate composition of breakfast tacos. Some believe that Austin can rightfully claim Texas’ favorite day starter. This declaration is justified, they insist, because Austin is where the breakfast taco was perfected and popularized. Support is found in food writers in cities like New York who slap the qualifier “Austin-style” before mentioning our homegrown staple, tourists who return to their hometowns oohing and ahhing about them, and Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop. Continue reading
Breakfast in Texas means tacos, and breakfast has been on my mind a lot lately. So, I’d thought I’d offer my current top 10 places for the proper way to begin a day—anywhere, not just in the Lone Star State.
Taqueria La Salsa Verde
Although its appearance shows otherwise, the taquera working this Richardson gas-station counter claims the taco de cabeza (above) is prepared al vapor. Whatever its preparation, the taco is still excellent. Which is really all that matters to me first thing in the morning. The choriqueso is the cabeza’s equal. 14225 Coit Road, 972-330-0403
The chorizo and cheese at this South Congress shack offers buckshot heat in a large tortilla, giving any road trip a fiery start. 4406 S. Congress Ave., Austin, 512-443-9308 Continue reading
Filed under Austin, Best of, breakfast tacos, DFW, East Dallas, North Texas, Oak Cliff, Plano, Richardson, San Antonio, Tex-Mex, Texas
Courtesy Señor Locos
I’m fascinated by puffy tacos. So fascinated I went to San Antonio to eat my way through their history and plates of them. So, when I learned that a “San Antonio-style Tex-Mex icehouse” was open in Plano, I had to ask the owner if he/she plans to offer the iconic Alamo City dish at the establishment. The restaurant in question is Señor Locos and the owner, David Brian, whom I reached out to via Facebook and email yesterday says. In response to my wall post, he said, “Wow! Yes look for them to hit our Menu in April.”
And I see a lot of promise in the puffy tacos to come. First, Brian, who’s been in the Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant world since he was 13 years old, has enlisted David Woodward as chef. Woodward resume includes working for Stephan Pyles in Las Vegas. But back to the puffy tacos. Brian says they’ve been tricky, a statement echoed by Tex-Mex masters. “The obstacle has been recreating the recipe, but we’re close to figuring it out.” Guests will have the ability to choose any protein as a puffy taco filling. Of course, there will be salsa options, too. “[Guests] can finish them off with our “Signature” Six Shooter salsas. These are six homemade salsas to dress any taco. In Mexico, a good taco is only great if topped with a good salsa.”
You can be sure as soon as puffy tacos earn a place on Señor Locos’ menu, I’ll be one of the first customers in line, primed not only for the airy, crunchy treats brimming with lettuce, tomato and cheese, but also for the carnitas, the Baja-style fish, the shrimp and what’s being advertised as a ceviche taco.
Señor Locos Tex-Mex Icehouse
701 W. Parker Road, Plano
Within seconds of being seated, our waitress at E Bar Tex Mex boasted, “our taco de carnitas is an award winner.” It won best taco at the Great Taco Run, a Luke’s Locker-hosted race with a parking lot full of taco vendors at the finish line, I was invited to judge.
The taco that day in September had the characteristic roasted flavors and seared edges of standard carnitas: non-traditonally prepared (read: not fried in fat). It was an approximate facsimile to the real thing, much like modern barbacoa (read: not pit smoked). The carnitas was given a shot of cheese, providing a pleasing pungency.
I was at the restaurant, which opened in August from Eddie Cervantes (Primo’s Bar & Grille), to determine if it held up to the honor my fellow judges and I unanimously gave it.
Amid construction, industrial workshops and medical office buildings sits the Taco Pronto Café, a greasy spoon with house-made flour tortillas and specialties like spam and beans. A wood-carved portly, bearded man, tattooed with the years of greetings and messages from customers and adorned with religious paraphernalia stands just inside the entrance. It’s the kind of eating establishment that even when frantically busy is a place where one can take a load off, sip coffee and decompress with comforting tacos, maybe menudo.
Although we didn’t request the stomach soup, my family did order the fresh flour tortillas the waitress recommended. “The corn tortillas are store-bought. Go with the flour.” They transformed what could have been mediocre tacos into meritorious ones packed with stick-to-your-ribs goods, particularly the long list of breakfast tacos served all day.
“Meet and Eat” is an occasional—rare, really—series about adventures and discussions with food writers, chefs, restaurateurs and others orbiting the food world.
The Park Cities/Upper Greenville area has a new breakfast tacos destination: Digg’s Taco Shop. The Hillcrest Avenue restaurant opened across from Southern Methodist University in February 2011. But only recently did the good, comfortable joint that bills itself as influenced by the Austin music and taco scenes begin serving breakfast tacos.
So, why did Digg’s chef Richard Rivera and business partners wait until Sept. 24 to offer breakfast tacos?
San Antonio offers a few culinary amenities in the vicinity of the Stone Oak neighborhood. There’s Hacienda de los Barrios, a gastronomic playground for classic Tex-Mex, for example. Or, in the case of those jonesing for specialty breakfast tacos, there’s Guero’s Taco Diner, a small, corner store in one of the myriad, practically identical adobe-colored shopping centers.
On the way out of town, my friend and driver, Matt, and I stopped into this sleepy restaurant to fill up before the long drive to Dallas.
What we discovered was an operation that could compete with the best of the upmarket breakfast taco joints, including Tacodeli, Good 2 Go Taco and Taco Garage. (I should’ve known something was up when the owner greeted us in front of the restaurant with an honorable, trustworthy handshake.) Continue reading