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
Wherever there are taquerias, there is art that distinguishes each shop from its competition, attracts clientele and marks the origins of business. This folk art takes the form of menus painted onto facades, anthropomorphic tacos and chiles, women hard at work at a metate, Monterrey landmark Cerro de la Silla, whatever the owners or workers can imagine. There need not be any association between what the taqueria serves and what adorns its edifice, as is the case of El Si Hay in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood famed for its tacos. The freestanding joint does not serve tacos al pastor from a trompo; yet, there on an exterior wall is a painting of a taquero at a trompo. Dallas Observer photographer Catherine Downes was kind enough to take shots of some of Oak Cliff’s remarkable taqueria art, including of El Si Hay. A collection of those wonderful photos, and the next installment in our Tacos Illustrated series is below.
Taco Rico is one of the few Dallas taqueria serving tacos al vapor (steamed tacos).
A few blocks beyond establishments like Ellerbe Fine Foods, the Usual, Spiral Diner and the Bearded Lady in Fort Worth’s Near Southside neighborhood, is a counter-ordering taqueria. The business, Tina’s Cocina, which opened in September 2013, offers no-nonsense tacos. They won’t knock your socks off but they’ll do you right.
The deshebrada—spelled without the “h” at Tina’s, probably to help non-Spanish speakers with the pronunciation—is brisket stewed in tomatoes and pepper until it shreds delicately. While there isn’t much in the way of heat, the taco is a homey, warm job in sweet yellow corn tortillas. Barbacoa is another pleasing nosh. Whereas most taquerias and Mexican restaurants employ beef cheek for their barbacoa, the kitchen at Tina’s uses ribs cooked covered in yucca. 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
This is a hole in a wall. Really. Wedged between a laundromat, a hair salon and a convenience store, Taco-Mex is an orange color-framed walk-up taco window. From the menu at the right are available $1.75 vinegar-spiked cactus strips embroiled in scrambled eggs, refried beans speckled with whole pintos and a network of melted cheese, peppy chorizo and egg as well as migas minus the Scoville slap of jalapeños. The $2 barbaoca is a greasy cowhead-lovers dream and would make admirable hangover salve.
The bacon and egg and ham and egg breakfast tacos by comparison are standard fare for the varied clientele of university students, young adults who have pioneered gentrification of surrounding East Austin, locals tapping their feet to the rhythm of the washers and dryers next door, and the fashionable lot who prefer not to shop at in.gredients, the hip grocer across the street. Ratchet up their satisfaction with the creamy salsa verde, a lung-puncher of a condiment. Continue reading
This is an update of sorts. The first time I visited Chichen Itza, I found the lowest Greenville taqueria/panaderia to be an awful place serving terrible tacos. That was 2011, and Greenville Avenue was just beginning its slow creep to revitalization. Now the neighborhood is on the upswing: Coffee shops, beer bars, restaurants, a bike shop, heck, even a trendy grocery store and food truck park. It was the latter, the Truck Yard, that drew me one weekday afternoon. Unfortunately, the taco truck I had traveled to see was a no-show. Chichen Itza was the only other taco option nearby. So Chichen Itza, it was. Continue reading
It’s not difficult to find handmade or housemade tortillas in Dallas-Fort Worth. Tortillerias are plentiful, and any business offering them will make sure you know it. Taqueria Laredo along U.S. Highway 67 in south Oak Cliff is one such establishment. The words are painted large across a retaining wall on one side of a parking lot usually full of cars, pickup trucks mostly. The same wall bears a menu in the form of painted signposts. It’s a fanciful touch that has Taco Trail written all over it.
As its name suggests Laredo Restaurant serves Rio Grande Valley-style eats, namely barbacoa and flour tortillas with the radius of the wheel from a child’s bike. Those items, and by the looks of the food on tables, pozole,are the hits of the house, available only on specific days at a taqueria whose days of operations are Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. Laredo is a special place. Continue reading
I got the call a couple hours before opening time. Luis Villalva, who had previously worked at Revolver Taco Lounge in Fort Worth and most recently worked with Taco Party (he was the guy in the soccer jersey manning the trompo at TacoCon), was finally ready to serve tacos at his own place, El Come [Koh-meh] Taco on Fitzhugh Avenue. “José, it’s Luis. We open El Come Taco at 5 p.m. Come eat some tacos,” was the voicemail message. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it for first service. But I made it for lunch the next day—the day I had waited for since Villalva clued me into his plan at TacoCon. And it was worth it.
El Come Taco translates to He Eats Taco, and, for the time being, tacos are all you can eat when you visit the taqueria. Villalva did tell me huaraches, quesadillas and other antojitos would join the slate eventually. Nevertheless, the tacos are enough. They’re also surprising. Not just because there are off-menu options but because Villalva and staff have brought a little of their former Mexico City operation, Transito, to East Dallas. Continue reading
The populist nature of tacos lends itself to lightheartedness and (sometimes bawdy) humor—just think of the latest taco meme or anthropomorphic tacos, L.A. Taco’s Taco Man. The editors and author of La Tacopedia understand this. That book is jammed with clever cartoons and art. Taqueria walls and facades are just as illustrated. Here is a selection of photos showcasing some of the taco art in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Continue reading
Come National Taco Day, Friday, you’ll be required to eat a plethora of tacos. You’ll be overwhelmed with choices. So, we thought we’d offer a few choices. The following selections were compiled with the help of fellow taco enthusiasts across the United States. If your city is mentioned below, these joints are where you grab a taco or nine, especially if you haven’t visited it. Adventure is an integral component of the enjoyment of tacos.
Colonia Taco Lounge, 13030 E. Valley Blvd., La Puente, CA 91746, 626-363-4691, Facebook. Coliflor with a caper salsa on tortillas molded by ex-Bouchon head baker’s hands (te la puedes imaginar), taco de chayote with calabacita succotash, pork and kabocha squash pumpkin carnitas with a salsa seca
Diablo Taco, 3129 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026, 323-666-4666, Facebook, Twitter, www.diablotaco.com. Coca-Cola asada, caramelized onions and white bacon beans (pictured) or the maple-fried chicken and kale.
El Faisan y El Venado, 231 N. Ave. 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042, 323-257-1770. Escabeche Oriental Continue reading