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.
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.
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.
The Jerk Shack
It takes a lot of guts to open a Jamaican jerk joint (see “West Indian” in the Tacopedia) on San Antonio’s Mexican American West Side, but that’s exactly what Jamaica native Nicola Blaque and her husband, Cornelius Massey, did in 2018. Lines formed from day one, and it wasn’t just for the crispy jerk-seasoned wings. It was for the well-balanced tacos, featuring proteins coated in the jerk seasoning and topped with a bright pineapple pico de gallo. facebook.com/thejerkshacksatx, 117 Matyear, 210-776-7780.
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.
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.
Tapatio Vegan Tacos
The small white taco trailer in Southtown offers a wide range of plant- and tofu-based meat substitute fillings for its tacos and other menu options. The tacos are served alongside quesadillas, tortas, gorditas, and more. Go for the charred faux asada or orangey-red, citrus-forward al pastor. tapatiovegantacos.com, 623 Urban Loop, 956-999-0170.
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.