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Best Tacos: San Antonio and Surroundings

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Photographs by Jody Horton

Tacos-Avocado-Puffy-taco-Ray's-Drive-Inn-San-AntonioAvocado Puffy Taco, Ray’s Drive Inn
Type: Puffy
Rating: 5
Price: $2.15
Flour or corn? Red or green salsa? Ray’s or Henry’s? It’s questions like these—especially the last one—that define puro San Antonio debates. Taco lovers are divided on the matter of puffy primacy: the late Arturo Lopez, at Ray’s Drive Inn, claimed to have invented the deep-fried, inflated tacos that are so beloved in this city, whereas his TopTacobrother Henry Lopez, at Henry’s Puffy Tacos, contends that he was first—and both sides have their adherents. As for us? In this case, we’re #TeamRay. Currently run by Arturo’s niece Patsy Torres, the West Side institution, with its wood-paneled walls and old-timey photos, hasn’t changed much since it was founded, in 1956, and it now fries up five hundred puffies daily. What to order? The beef gets the nostalgia vote, but connoisseurs go for the simple avocado, which offers a cool, creamy balance to the crisp-soft taco shell. 822 SW Nineteenth, 210-432-7171. Sun & Tue–Thur 11–11, Fri & Sat 11–midnight.


Rolled Chicken Taquitos, Los Robertos Taco Shop
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $4/plate
Taquitos, flautas—call them what you will. Three fried tortilla cylinders encasing soft shredded chicken are topped with a heavy dollop of guacamole and a tall mound of grated white and yellow cheeses. Messy, sure, but who cares? Don’t forget to add some heat via the Arizona salsa with habanero peppers. 6446 NW Loop 410, 210-509-7171 (multiple locations). Daily, 24 hours.


Nopal con Chile, La Bandera Molino
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4
Price: $1.99
Trust this little tangerine-colored masa mill on the northwest side to deliver on sturdy house-made tortillas while also nailing just about every filling on its massive menu. The unusual nopal con chile features cactus-pad strips in a zingy ancho adobo—a lightly smoky sauce with the serious heft of gravy. 2619 N. Zarzamora, 210-434-0631. Tue–Sun 6–3.


Trash Can, Tacos N’ Salsa Mexican Café
Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4
Price: $2.45
This taco’s description (“a little bit of everything”) allows for the contents to change with the kitchen’s fancy, but what makes it stand out every time is the warm homemade flour or corn tortilla that cradles the abundant mix (say, egg, bacon, cheese, refried beans, potato, and carne guisada). 12820 Jones Maltsberger Rd, 210-764-5285. Mon–Wed 6:30–2, Thur–Sat 6:30–9, Sun 8–2.


Enchilaco, Raul’s Enchilacos
Type: Modern American
Rating:
4.75
Price: $3
Yes, it’s a gimmick. But the enchilaco, created in Floresville by Raul Vela IV and his business partner, Saam Miremadi, is worth trying at least once, and maybe repeatedly. It starts with a flour tortilla from La Luz Tortilla Factory; placed inside is a cheese enchilada, topped with more mild cheddar. Pineapple pico de gallo comes next, followed by avocado and a drizzle of sour cream. Voilà! Or, rather, ¡Olé! But wait, there’s more: barbacoa is a popular add-on, as is the avocado-tomatillo salsa. One customer is known for piling on beans, extra cheese, and grilled chicken (he calls it “the Turkey”). Gimmick or not, this taco beastie is worth the drive. 101 Creekwood Dr, Floresville, 210-394-8437. Tue–Fri 11–7, Sat 11–3.


Carnitas Mix, Erick’s Tacos
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $6.50/order of 4
Opened in 2006 by Mexico City native Erick Onosre, this truck has built a cult-like following for its mini-tacos, especially among San Antonio’s night owls. There are the usual fillings (al pastor, carne asada, chicken fajita) as well as less-familiar ones (guisada, chorizo con bistec, cabeza), but the top choice on a recent midnight visit was the carnitas mix, a soul-satisfying blend of tender diced pork and buche, or pork stomach. It comes on small but sturdy corn tortillas that have been lightly fried and doubled up to contain the meat and a shower of cilantro and onions. Seek out the plastic-cup caddy—equipped with lime wedges, red salsa, and green avocado-jalapeño salsa—to customize your order. 12715 Nacogdoches Rd, 210-590-0994. Tue–Sun 11–4 a.m.


Chicken Puffy Taco, La Hacienda de los Barrios
Type: Puffy
Rating: 4.25
Price: $3.79
A delicate salsa de tomate is simmered with shredded poached chicken breast, then spooned into its puffy home and topped with lettuce and tomato. It’s a vanishing classic done well. 18747 Redland Rd, 210-497-8000. Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri 11–11, Sat 9–11, Sun 9–10.

 

 


Cilantro-Tacos-Chicken-Chela's-Tacos-San-Antonio

Chicken Cilantro, Chela’s Tacos
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 5
Price: $3.50
You can barely count on consistency in anything these days—gas prices, the weather, Cowboys wins—but you’ll certainly find it in the fire engine–red taco truck that’s usually stationed at the food-trailer park and beer garden known as the Block. This little outpost has legions of fans thanks to the TopTacogenius of Celia “Chela” Davis, a Mexico City native, and her tight crew of cooks. Together they crank out a chicken cilantro taco that features wonderfully spiced shredded chicken breast, sour cream, and cilantro inside a billowy homemade flour tortilla; bring friends so you can also try the shrimp or carne deshebrada. Oh, and the costra de Chela, a frankentaco with pork al pastor, pineapple, and an inner shell of crisp-fried mozzarella. All these tacos have also found a happy home in a recently opened brick-and-mortar location at 5231 Broadway—the better to satisfy Chela’s many devotees. 14530 Roadrunner Way, 210-218-5466. Tue–Thur 4:30 p.m.–2 a.m., Fri–Sun 11–2 a.m.


Brisket, Garcia’s Mexican Food
Type: Modern American
Rating: 4.75
Price: $3.19
Julio and Yolanda Garcia opened their eatery in 1962, and 53 years and one move later, it lures locals, foodies, and even comedian Gabriel Iglesias with its signature brisket taco. Sons John and Andrew smoke about three dozen briskets a week so that hungry San Antonians, including chefs Johnny Hernandez, of La Gloria, and Steve McHugh, of Cured, can get their fix. The heavenly scent that arises from the place comes from the oak coals that Andrew tends overnight. The taco comes with one or two slices of meat, each with a handsome smoke ring, in a soft flour tortilla. There’s pico available, but opt for a dollop of no-fuss guacamole instead. 842 Fredericksburg Rd, 210-735-5686. Mon–Sat 7–2:30.


Barbacoa, Tommy’s Restaurant
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4
Price: $5.49
A visit to Tommy’s at Gardendale (or any of the chain’s locations, really) means ordering the house special: the “Big Red and Barbacoa.” The massive meaty taco combines umami, sweet, and salty all in one fell swoop, and a swig of our state’s time-honored bubbly, sugary elixir serves as the perfect finish. 8823 Wurzbach Rd, 210-558-9777 (multiple locations). Mon–Sat 7–3, Sun 8–3.


Carne Asada, Fajita Taco Place
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $8.99/plate
Topped with fresh diced onions and enough cilantro to stock a produce market, these six mini-tacos feature marinated flank steak (heavy on the citrus) grilled a touch past medium-rare. Your tío’s backyard carne asada just might have met its match. 4503 De Zavala Rd, 210-493-8878 (multiple locations). Mon–Sat 7–9, Sun 8–3.


TacosTacos-Dorados-Verdes-La-Gloria-San-AntonioTacos Dorados Verdes, La Gloria
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $5.89/plate
Since their debut five years ago at La Gloria, an art-filled spot in the Pearl retail complex, Johnny Hernandez’s tacos dorados verdes have had a strong homey appeal. Expertly seasoned poached chicken is shredded and mounded onto corn tortillas; the disks are then folded over, sealed with toothpicks, and pan-fried until golden (“dorado”). A thick tomatillo salsa is ladled onto a group of three before they’re lavishly garnished with Mexican crema and queso fresco. What could be a soggy mess is instead a glorious balance of textures: crisp, tender, chunky, smooth. We thank our lucky stars that the tacos have already made their way onto the menu at La Gloria’s second location, at the Dominion. 100 E. Grayson, 210-267-9040. Sun–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–midnight.


Potato and Egg, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q #20
Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4
Price: $1.79
Its barbecue may not be the trendiest, but this outlet of the local chain wins over fans with, of all things, breakfast tacos. Taste the combo of fluffy eggs with salty cubes of spud and believe. 1004 San Pedro Ave, 210-226-8422 (multiple locations). Breakfast Mon–Fri 6–11, Sat 7:30–noon, Sun 8–noon (open later for other food).


Suadero, Taquitos West Ave.
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.75
Price: $1.25
This joint, with its gleaming grill and lightning-fast cooks, opened eight years ago, and fans have been seeking it out ever since. The staff prepares your order with military discipline—usually in less than two minutes—and the variety of offerings is impressive: there’s al pastor (note the massive amount of pork on the trompo, available Thursday through Sunday) and tripitas (crisp-fried small intestines, which take a little longer to cook but are worth the wait) and suadero, a house specialty that’s not to be missed. Savory and tender, this cut of beef—taken from between the belly and the leg of the cow—is braised and shredded and, better yet, served with grilled onions. We can see why devotees of all stripes begged us to leave Taquitos West Ave. off this list. Yes, we suppose an influx of outsiders could ruin the place. But the world deserves to know. Sorry, guys! 2818 West Ave, 210-525-9888. Sun–Thur 10–11, Fri & Sat 10–3 a.m.


Tacos-Paquetes-de-jicama-camaron-Rosario's-San-AntonioPaquetes de Jícama y Camarón, Rosario’s
Type: Specialty
Rating: 4.75
Price: $9.95/plate
Who doesn’t love a good crunch? No tortillas were harmed in the making of these deliciously peculiar tacos, because Rosario’s uses super-thin slices of jícama instead. Inside is panko-fried shrimp, cabbage-and-cilantro slaw spritzed with Mexican lime, and fried shallots. Jalapeño salsa and tamarind sauce add heat and sweetness. 910 S. Alamo, 210-223-1806 (multiple locations). Mon–Thur 11–10, Fri & Sat 11–11, Sun 11–9.


Surtidos, Guajillo’s
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $7.25/plate
Famous for preparing interior-of-Mexico dishes before interior was cool, Guajillo’s wins a spot on our list for its massive and unruly “more is more” plate of tacos surtidos. It’s almost impossible to decipher the order when it lands on your table—that round of margaritas doesn’t help—but on top of a generous foundation of six yellow-corn tortillas sits easily half a pound of delicious-smelling assorted meat: sirloin steak, tender pork loin, and carne al pastor. Request a layer of melted white cheese as the crowning glory. 1001 NW Loop 410, 210-344-4119. Mon–Thur 11–9:45, Fri & Sat 11–10:45, Sun noon–8:45.

 


Tacos-Squash-taco-Toro-Taco-Bar-San-Antonio

Squash, Toro Taco Bar
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $6/plate
Now here’s a nice break from San Antonio’s carnivorous taco scene: rounds of yellow squash and zucchini sautéed al dente with roasted garlic, corn, and fresh-grilled nopales, served up on three mini-tortillas. A mushroom-chipotle sauce adds smoke and (dare we say it?) meatiness, while a sprinkling of queso fresco rounds out the flavors. 114 Brooklyn Ave, no phone. Wed–Mon 5 p.m.–1 a.m.


Barbacoa, Mimi’s Barbacoa, Tacos, Tamales y Mas
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $3
At their little counter-service and takeout place, Mimi Alvarado and sons do barbacoa six days a week. Available in “regular” (shredded) and “all meat” (leaner, chunkier) variations, this barbacoa tastes fine and dandy on either a corn or flour tortilla. 10918 Wurzbach Rd, 210-558-6008. Tue–Sun 6:30–2.


Cabrito, La Barca de Jalisco
Type: Classic Mexican
Rating: 4.5
Price: $2.85
Finely shredded shoulder meat is stewed in tomatoes, onions, and guajillo chiles, then spooned into a soft flour tortilla and doused with chopped white onion and cilantro. Eat fast. Once the juices soak through that tortilla, things get messy. 606 Steves Ave, 210-534-3111. Mon–Sat 6–3, Sun 7–3.


Tacos-Fajita-and-egg-Apetitos-San-AntonioFajita and Egg, Apetitos
Type: Breakfast
Rating: 4.75
Price: $3.49
The homemade flour tortillas at this airy hacienda-style restaurant on the far West Side are worthy of any filling, but a special highlight is the take on an American classic: steak and eggs. Peppery strips of skirt steak mingle with soft scrambled eggs inside an exceptionally soft and thin tortilla. Arrive early or risk an hour-long wait. 1615 Meadow Way Dr, 210-675-8020. Mon–Sat 6:30–3, Sun 7:30–3.

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