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.
There are two locations in San Antonio, one is off San Pedro just inside Loop 410 and the other is on Rittiman and Harry Wurzbach just outside of Fort Sam Houston. While the San Pedro restaurant has more of an old-school Mexican restaurant feel, the one on Rittiman is completely modern with architectural elements that are more cosmopolitan. Regardless, both serve some amazing grub with daily specials that include a drink and a pan dulce for about six dollars. Unfortunately, the puffy taco plate is never included as one of these specials.
The puffy taco plate, which includes two tacos, rice, beans and additional corn tortillas wrapped in foil, will set you back $7.49. After ordering, you are given a basket of chips, and I highly recommend you scoop up some of the green salsa—it goes nicely on your tacos.
For my two choices, I ordered a picadillo and guacamole puffy taco. The plate was quickly brought to the table, the tortillas having just emerged from their bath in hot oil. I usually have a 30 second rule for puffy tacos: at most places you have only a half a minute before the bottom rips out of the shell. Some of the better restaurants, including Teka Molino, defy this logic. Our tortillas lasted the entire meal without disintegrating in our hands.
The texture of a puffy taco’s tortilla is light and crispy, delivering an airy crunch in your mouth. But the shell still manages to retain many of the chewy qualities of a good tortilla. The picadillo was cooked to perfection, with the right balance of flavor without being overly greasy. The guacamole taco was impressive from the standpoint of how much dang guacamole they were able to cram into the shell. While other restaurants see to be miserly with their guac, I felt like I was eating in the house of a close friend who is liberal with the avocados. The touch of green salsa wakes up the dish and gives you that nice burn on the palate.
Of course, the Alamo and the River Walk are necessary for you to see when you come to San Antonio. And I certainly wouldn’t stop a visitor from ordering a more familiar taco or Tex-Mex plate, or even trying one of our many up-and-coming restaurants from outside of the Mexican food genre. However, before you leave town, make sure to get a San Antonio staple and order a puffy taco.Teka Molino
7231 San Pedro Ave.San Antonio, TX 78216
210-639-1985 1007 Rittiman Road
San Antonio, TX 78218