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
“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
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.
My family likes to hike, even the cantankerous three-year-old who pretends to lead a platoon (his mother and I) through Texas’ hilly wilds. Whenever and wherever we can, the three of us take to trails in search of animal tracks and “clues”—to what, the boy won’t tell us—in step behind our son who periodically commands us to “keep your eyes peeled, soldiers” or stop so he can take a picture with his toy Vtech digital camera.
After an easy hike at Cedar Hill State Park, we stopped for lunch at Plato Loco Mexican Cafe. The boy’s reward for behaving well was a crunchy taco—“no lettuce or cheese or chocolate”—while the missus and I grubbed on a trio of Tex-Mex standards. Aluminum piñata lamps and strands of Mexican folk art cut-out paper, papel picado, hanged from the ceiling. Continue reading
“One Shot” is an occasional series reviewing non-taquerías’ tacos.
The Design District is coming up in the world—the restaurant world. It began with the 2010 opening of the Meddlesome Moth, a highfalutin gastropub from the team behind the Flying Saucer beer-bar chain (Shannon Wynn, Keith Schlabs, Larry Richardson and co.). When Oak opened in December 2011 near the Moth, critics were floored by the fine-dining destination. Taco Stop served its first eponymous offerings in February 2012. The anticipated October opening of Matt McCallister’s restaurant, FT33, will probably top foodies’ Best Of 2012 lists. Also destined for year-end accolades is Nick Badovinus’ Off-Site Kitchen, a casual luncheonette evoking an Alpine beer hall-fast food joint hybrid. Among the menu items is the much ballyhooed Crispy Sloppy Taco. Continue reading
Last weekend, I traveled to San Antonio for some taco research, predominately of the puffy kind. While I was in the Alamo City, I had the opportunity to meet Diana Barrios-Treviño of Los Barrios Mexican Restaurant & La Hacienda de Los Barrios, San Antonio institutions. She was kind enough to show me how puffy tacos are fried at La Hacienda, which I recorded. The video makes for the perfect introduction to a new series on The Taco Trail: Tacolab. Each Tacolab installment will go inside home and restaurant kitchens for demonstrations, hijinks, disasters, etc. There might or might not be lab coats from time to time.
So, without further ado: Continue reading
My quest for taco knowledge and great tacos is a multifaceted one. There are just so many types of tacos developed during millennia of history to maintain an unwavering focus. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by tacos of the fish and puffy variety, and during a trip to Austin for the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, a friend and I got to indulge in some of the latter at Vivo.
A restaurant surrounded by a dusty lot along Manor Road—one of two locations—near standard-bearer El Chilito, Vivo is difficult to enter. Don’t go around the front. Turn to the rear of the eatery in a converted bungalow. Then, find a business easy to enjoy your first time.
The interior dining room is dominated by warm burgundy, contemporary art and a labyrinth to the graffiti bombed bathroom. It’s a lounge space for delectable Tex-Mex: cheese enchiladas, fajitas or chile con queso. Outside, where my lunch companion and I sat, was a verdant space filled with mosaic tile-topped cafe tables, wobbly metal chairs, plotted ferns, evergreens, vines and succulents concealed from the street, all the better for us to enjoy our puffy tacos. Continue reading