These tacos in San Antonio reign supreme – mySA

As I pedaled my BCycle south on the River Walk trail, the seat kept slipping and the clock kept ticking away against my free hour of ride time. Following my morning of walking and taco sampling, I hoped to give my belly a break by riding to Mission San Jose. While no locals I asked could agree on their favorite taco in town — hence my need to try so many — nearly all of them agreed that I should visit Mission San Jose.

After a lifetime of explaining to people that the view from the Space Needle sucks because Seattle doesn’t look like itself without the iconic tower sticking up from the skyline, I listened when everyone — from my cheeseball riverboat tour guide to the chefs I interviewed during my visit — told me to forget the Alamo. Avoiding the tourist trap is a staple of food travel: The obvious choices, the ones that other travelers mention and that top the standard “best-of” lists, often proffer a watered-down version of the city’s culinary culture. My job, as a food writer, is to dig below that level.

BEST OF MYSA


Arriving in San Antonio on a Sunday evening and leaving on a Wednesday afternoon turned this always-challenging task into a Herculean feat. Restaurant schedules meant I needed to squeeze almost my entire itinerary into Tuesday and half of Wednesday.

Chorizo and potato taco on a handmade corn tortilla (left) and a bacon and egg taco on handmade flour from San Antonio's The Original Donut Shop.

Chorizo and potato taco on a handmade corn tortilla (left) and a bacon and egg taco on handmade flour from San Antonio’s The Original Donut Shop.

Mike Sutter /San Antonio Express-News

Tuesday morning, I started with a cab out to The Original Donut Shop. I’m a sucker for a place that does two things well, but took stock of the taco line being much longer line than the one for doughnuts and ordered exactly what the practiced regulars around me did: a bean and cheese taco with bacon and one with chorizo and potato.

The famous brisket taco with guacamole at Garcia’s Mexican Food in San Antonio.

The famous brisket taco with guacamole at Garcia’s Mexican Food in San Antonio.

Dennis S. via Yelp

I walked down Fredericksburg Road to Garcia’s Mexican Food, another place that excelled at the task. A World Cup game played in Spanish on the television as I sipped a Big Red and dug into two inherently San Antonio tacos: one brisket and one carne guisada. Both showed off the value of a properly made flour tortilla, absorbing the rich, meaty flavor of the brisket and standing up to the texture of the stew.

Like with all the best breakfast tacos, it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes them great: the sum of the soft, warm tortillas and boldly flavored, fresh fillings simply add up to the kind of meal that creates a halo of calm around the morning. “Just do everything exactly right,” takes far more work than it seems. Not every breakfast taco — even in recommended places in San Antonio — met that standard, but these two did.

The next day, Naco 210 served chilaquiles in a breakfast taco that lived up to those, too — a nice San Antonio twist on the classic Mexico City streetside breakfast of chilaquiles in a torta.

Puffy tacos and a gordita at Lala’s Gorditas in San Antonio.

Puffy tacos and a gordita at Lala’s Gorditas in San Antonio.

Katie B. via Yelp

To this point, I had avoided the puffy taco, which caused San Antonians I spoke with to roll their eyes in the same way Philadelphians do at the mention of cheesesteak and Chicagoans do at that of deep-dish pizza. But MySA’s own list of 13 restaurants tourists should actually try noted that Lala’s Gorditas “keeps San Antonio’s puro cuisine alive,” so I felt compelled to stop.

One bite in, I composed an apology in my head, addressed to the entire city of San Antonio, for having previously ignored this famous dish. Crispy, hot, cool, crunchy: The puffy taco blew me away. If I weren’t already on tacos number seven and eight of the day (with two more to go) I would have ordered more.

Big Red barbacoa tacos are shown at Stixs and Stone in San Antonio, Texas.

Big Red barbacoa tacos are shown at Stixs and Stone in San Antonio, Texas.

Ruthie W. via Yelp

When I left San Antonio on Wednesday, I had eaten 16 tacos in 30 hours. I didn’t go inside the Alamo, but I did squeeze in a visit to Stixs and Stone for the Big Red and barbacoa taco flight, now at least as symbolic of the city and state in my mind as that historic battleground.

The Big Red corn tortilla, strawberry and Big Red jam, pecan pesto, salsa, queso fresco, and pickled watermelon rind came together better than anyone reading that confusing, deeply South Texan, series of words could possibly imagine. Sweet, spicy and sharp, it stood out in the land of so many tacos perfect in their simplicity, punching with complexity, and showing off yet another dimension to San Antonio’s Tex-Mex scene.

On the way to the airport, I made one final stop: at the H-E-B for two big bags of fresh tortillas to keep the tacos rolling at home.

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