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This story was originally published in November 2020 and has been updated.
The River City is the cradle of Tex-Mex, and its tacos reflect that fact. First and foremost, there are the city’s breakfast tacos. Or as San Antonians call them, tacos. There are also puffy tacos—the taco’s full name is the San Antonio–style puffy taco. The minor league San Antonio Missions baseball team even has a puffy taco mascot. Tacos are everywhere, including delectable barbacoa tacos. So beloved is the dish that there is an annual Barbacoa & Big Red Festival in non-pandemic years.
In June 2021, Jaime Hernandez closed his La Fonda de Jaime 2.0 food truck to rebrand and rethink his mission. The result is an incredible contribution to San Antonio’s taco truck scene. Parked at the El Camino outdoor bar and food truck park, Hernandez’s Aroma builds on the creativity of his previous operation with even more imaginative and mouthwatering dishes. The carne asada comes topped with salty, citrus-infused chapulines and is joined by fruit moles applied as al pastor marinades (see “Trompo” in the Tacopedia). Hernandez is also experimenting with Japanese-Mexican mashups, such as ramen pozole, and has his sights set on finding out how far he can push Mexican food and redefine the cuisine in the process. instagram.com/aromasatx, 1009 Avenue B, no phone.
Carnitas Don Raúl
Before being featured on Netflix’s Taco Chronicles, longtime carnitas purveyor Carnitas Don Raúl, of Morelia, Mexico, was already planning a San Antonio outpost. Martin Muñoz and Michelle Muñoz, the daughter of Don Raúl, decided to start small with a trailer. They have replicated the flavors and cozy experience of the Mexican original in the state famous for the namesake food (see “Carnitas” in the Tacopedia): Michoacán. Peek inside in the trailer at the Broadway News food truck park and get a glimpse of the wide copper cazos (the traditional pots used to cook carnitas) made by hand and imported from the Mexican town renowned for them, Santa Clara del Cobre, also in Michoacán. Cobre is Spanish for copper. There are several cuts of pork carnitas available on the menu as well as several preparations in which to enjoy them. We’re fans of the surtida, which offers a mix of all the cuts and their textures, as a taco or a quesadilla Moreliana. carnitasdonraul.com, 2202 Broadway, 210-427-3202.
The original San Antonio carnitas specialist, Carnitas Lonja was opened in 2017 by chef Alejandro Paredes, a native of Morelia, Mexico. I first ate at the South Side spot in spring 2018. The plate of silky pork carnitas (see “Carnitas” in the Tacopedia) with a side of wide, thick handmade tortillas, hiccup-inducing salsas, guacamole (also spicy), pickled chiles, and more was my best meal of the year. Carnitas Lonja is among the best taquerias in the state, even garnering the chef-owner a James Beard Award semifinalist nod this year. Salsas and tortillas are available for retail. carnitaslonja.com, 1107 Roosevelt Avenue, 210-455-2105.
Casa Tarasca Carnitas Estilo Michoacán
Owner José Luis Chavez opened the Acapulco barbershop on the deep West Side twenty years ago. In April 2017, as a way to sate his culinary nostalgia and bring a taste of home to fellow immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico, he opened Casa Tarasca Carnitas Estilo Michoacán to serve traditional carnitas. He did so from a shoddy-looking trailer adjacent to the barbershop. His luscious, weekends-only, lard-confit pork tacos have been such a hit that in summer 2021 he was able to open a modern trailer to replace his original setup on the same property. While he’s busy serving from the shiny new rig, Chavez is also renovating the building behind the truck to house a brick-and-mortar Casa Tarasca. instagram.com/casa_tarasca, 1805 Guadalupe, 210-810-9869.
El Pastor Es Mi Señor
Like most great taquerias, this nearly two-year-old restaurant specializes in one thing and one thing only: tacos al pastor. And El Pastor Es Mi Señor just might be the home of San Antonio’s best tacos al pastor. Choose from traditional pork al pastor or the rare sirloin al pastor prepared on a trompo. Both meat options come shaved thinly and abundantly on corn tortillas and splashed with zippy salsa roja and tart salsa verde. The proteins are also available on fries, burgers, tortas, and even crispy tacos. elpastoresmisenor.com, 8727 Wurzbach Road, Suite 102, 210-479-3474.
An early adopter of the buzziest, line-worthy taco of the year, the trailer specializes in birria de res (see “Birria” in the Tacopedia) based on a family recipe from the small town of Sahuayo, Michoacán. El Remedio’s cheesy quesitacos are stuffed with knots of succulent, stewed beef, and a side of consommé. 2924 Culebra Road, 210-847-8064.
Garcia’s Mexican Food
Before I officially began my job at the magazine, I knew the first taco I was going to write about: the pork chop at Garcia’s Mexican Food. The puzzling breakfast option (see “Breakfast” in the Tacopedia) is a thin, bone-in pork chop that is seared and grilled and served with a steak knife. A lot of customers use the knife to cut off the bone. However, I recommend eating around it. Add a spoonful of the jalapeño relish for a helping of acidic heat. facebook.com/Garcias-Mexican-Food, 842 Fredericksburg Road, 210-735-4525.
Henry’s Puffy Tacos Express
Brothers Arturo, Ray, and Henry Lopez opened several restaurants specializing in the iconic San Antonio–style puffy taco (see “Puffy” in the Tacopedia), an alchemical creation divined from a raw corn masa tortilla that’s deep-fried until it inflates. As that occurs, the tortilla is crimped into the familiar taco-shell U shape. Henry, the youngest brother, opened his first namesake spot as a counter-service eatery on West Woodlawn, in 1978. A second location on Bandera followed and, in 1989, Henry’s son Jaime signed an agreement with the minor league baseball team San Antonio Missions to create the Henry the Puffy Taco mascot. Henry’s produces a tortilla with a crispy, just shy of flaky, exterior and a chewy center. Filled with ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheese, the taco brings crunch, salt, and a touch of sweetness to the palate. henryspuffytacos.com, 3202 W. Woodlawn Avenue, 210-433-7833.
For nearly forty years, Maria’s Cafe, owned by Maria Beza, has been serving hearty South Texas Mexican favorites as well as barbecue. It has a regular and extensive menu for traditional dishes, but the gems are scribbled on decorated poster boards, chalkboard, and printer paper hung from windows and the walls, all competing for space with Coca-Cola advertisements and knickknacks collected over the decades. These extra-menu tacos are an assemblage of customized orders and creative specials that have gained larger appeal. For example, the Minion taco—migas with brisket smoked by Beza’s husband, Tom, and a salsa ranchera—is listed on a page from a waiter’s notepad attached to a flattened snack box featuring the yellow Minions from the Despicable Me franchise. The Puff-chilada, invented by Beza’s daughter Leslie, is 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. 1105 Nogalitos, 210-227-7005.
Mariscos del Puerto
This San Antonio Mexican seafood joint (see “Seafood” in the Tacopedia) goes all out with the nautical theme. The menu is extensive, listing everything from raw oysters and shrimp cocktails to all manner of tacos. That’s where Mariscos del Puerto shines. There are straightforward seafood tacos, and there are quirky, creative tacos. One favorite is the Chilaca, Tierra y Mar taco, a dark green chilaca chile packed with shrimp and skirt steak in a net of melted white cheese that’s finished with a swoosh of cream. temp.mariscosdelpuertosanantonio.com, 10430 Culebra Road, 210-637-9404.
Chef and co-owner Jesse “Kirk” Kuykendall channels her mother’s northern Mexican roots into the menu at Milpa. She also draws on her experience learning to cook border food as a kid in Laredo, then training at the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio campus and the Seasons of My Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca. The result is served from within a freight car that opened in April 2021, and it’s an outstanding collection of pan-Mexican dishes. Their presentations have the pizzazz you’d expect from a highly trained chef. Lattices of crema are the finishing touches on flautas filled with soft mashed potatoes. The sweetbread (thymus gland) confit is silky on the outside with a cotton-soft interior. The sweetbread taco, presented on an earthy, yellow-corn tortilla, is garnished with lovely pickled onions, microgreens, and a sprinkle of queso fresco. Kirk and partners also serve up a Pueblan specialty and progenitor of tacos al pastor: tacos árabes. The ribbons of charred-around-the-edges meat are freshened up with slices of cucumbers, then amped up with a spicy chile de árbol salsa. There are also vegetarian options, including dark red hibiscus tacos. All of them can be enjoyed on the deck or patio. instagram.com/milpaattheyard, 5253 McCullough Avenue, 210-990-2349.
Ray’s Drive Inn
This River City institution was opened in 1956 by Ray Lopez (older brother of Henry—see the aforementioned Henry’s Puffy Tacos) as a no-frills drive-in. It’s here that Henry learned the skills he would apply at his own restaurants. Now the space is chock-full of decades of amassed memorabilia, including a 1926 Ford Model T truck. There’s also a makeshift altar packed with prayer candles and religious objects. The latter is fitting. Eating at Ray’s Drive Inn is tantamount to going to church. The restaurant is hallowed taco ground. History and tradition and community intertwine to create an uplifting experience in which to enjoy wonderful puffy tacos (see “Puffy” in the Tacopedia). Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and impossibly light, they are pure joy. Go traditional and order the ground beef. raysdriveinn.net, 822 SW Nineteenth, 210-432-7171.
Ro-Ho Pork & Bread
Guadalajara-style tacos ahogados (literally “drowned tacos”) are a rare treat in Texas. But the Mexican import—carnitas-filled, folded fried tacos bathed in a tomato-based salsa roja—are a must-have wherever they are served, including at Ro-Ho Pork & Bread. At this San Antonio restaurant they are served in a plastic-lined wicker basket and topped with a flurry of cabbage, sliced radish, and red onion. A salted lime wedge is on the side. The chef and owner alluded to in the eatery’s name is Jorge Rojo, who established his restaurant in 2015. Its first location was in the Sanitary Tortilla Factory storefront. Several years later, after Rojo made a name for himself with his from-scratch regional dishes, the operation moved into a freestanding building, where papel picado hangs from the ceiling of the covered patio. ro-ho-pork-bread-tortas-ahogadas.business.site, 8617 N. New Braunfels Avenue, 210-800-3487.
Taquitos West Ave.
The epitome of mini tacos (see “Mini” in the Tacopedia)—what are often mistakenly called street tacos; those are served only at street stands—are doled out long into the night at Taquitos West Ave. There are classic suadero, bistec, tripas, cabeza, and lengua tacos served on oil-slicked nixtamalized corn tortillas from San Antonio Colonial Tortilla Factory. These are small, quick noshes perfect for lunch, pre-gaming, or the last stop of the night. The red and green salsas are fiery palate cleansers. Tacos al pastor straight from the trompo are often available. facebook.com/TaquitosWestAvenue1, 2818 West Avenue, 210-525-9888.
The words “Big Red and Barbacoa,” painted on the yellow side wall of the Wurzbach Road outpost, says all you need to know about what to drink and eat at Tommy’s Restaurant, mytommys.com, multiple locations,
Named in honor of the founder and cook of Los Barrios Restaurant, Viola Barrios, this Barrios family restaurant specializes in spiffed-up, time-honored home-style Mexican recipes, including puffy tacos. Go for the juicy chicken. violasventanas.com, 9660 Westover Hills Boulevard, 210-684-9660.