Maria’s Café is a badly kept secret. Owned by Maria Beza, the South Texas Mexican diner has been slinging plates of carne guisada, brisket, combo platters, and breakfast tacos for almost forty years. Inside, you’ll find Coca-Cola advertisements, knickknacks collected over time, and, most importantly, a menu of super tacos that spills onto poster boards, a chalk board, and printed paper pasted or hung on whatever available space there is, including over a window. The Minion taco–migas with brisket smoked by Beza’s husband, Tom, and a salsa ranchera–is advertised on a page from a restaurant server’s note pad attached to a flattened snack box featuring the yellow capsule-shaped Minions from the Despicable Me franchise. Maria’s Café is a special place that caters to Alamo City locals and those trusted by locals. It’s the kind of place where an article like this might elicit chastisements about “ruining it for us.” I don’t go there enough, but I fantasize about eating my way through the super tacos (sometimes called tacos locos). Among them is the puff-chilada, a baked red tortilla enchilada squishy with cheese and draped with chunky, mouth-coating chile con carne. It’s brought to the table resting in a slick, thin puffy taco shell.
What are super tacos? First, they are a category of taco that is especially popular in South Texas. Consider them the souped-up hot rods of tacos. They’re modded versions of stock tacos dreamed up by restless cooks and comfortable regulars. “We have a lot of creations from people who come and like different stuff. They create whatever they want to eat,” Beza says. “We have a regular menu, but my customers can be crazy.” At Maria’s Café, super tacos include behemoths like the aforementioned Minion taco; the Taco Ondo (papas rancheros with beans, chorizo, cheese, and bacon topped with a fried egg); and the El Where’s Wallace (a picadillo-filled puffy taco wrapped in a flour tortilla with gooey cheese that gets a heavy hand of carne guisada).
But back to the puff-chilada. The peculiarity resembles the enchilaco, which Texas Monthly named as one of the best tacos in Texas in its November 2015 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die feature. Served at Raul’s Enchilacos in Floresville, the eponymous taco cradled an unnaturally red tortilla cheese-brimming enchilada wrapped in a flour tortilla. The enchilada was shot with more cheese and a sharp pineapple pico. It was finished with an avocado wedge or guacamole and a squiggle of sour cream to offset the salt and heat. Barbacoa could be added to the taco because why not? Floresville is in South Texas and South Texas is barbacoa country. The lily that was the enchilaco could not be sufficiently gilded.
Raul Vela IV, co-owner of the now shuttered restaurant, told me back in 2015 that his enchilaco was based on a snack he made as a kid. It was a marvel of a taco. The components were simple enough. The enchilada tortillas were shuttled from the other side of the border by elderly family members. The flour tortillas were sourced from La Luz Tortilla Factory in San Antonio. The crimson corn wrap bore little of its original grain base. Raul’s Enchilacos closed in February 2016 because, as Flores told me, he had recently become a father. Stability and health insurance for his family were more important than Tex-Mex culinary innovation. Fair enough.
Beza says the puff-chilada was concocted by her daughter Leslie. When you try the puff-chilada, if you haven’t already, you won’t want to share it—especially if you were fortunate enough to enjoy a meal at Raul’s Enchilacos. Unlike most of the other super tacos at Maria’s Café, the puff-chilada isn’t gargantuan. Nevertheless, maybe, just maybe, the enchilaco, in some form or another, is here to stay.
1105 Nogalitos St., San Antonio, TX 78204
Phone: (210) 227-7005
Hours: Mon-Sat 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.