San Antonio’s deep, growing taco culture

SAN ANTONIO – Whether they’re puffy, avenue fashion or for breakfast – San Antonio is aware of tacos.

The delicacies has impressed murals and (not so) pleasant debates with different cities. Even inside metropolis limits, San Antonians argue about authenticity and which spots have the perfect taste.

And there are many spots to select from. This metropolis is saturated with taco vehicles and taquerias, some which were right here for many years.

They come in several kinds, with completely different fillings and kinds of tortillas. And simply if you suppose you already know all the pieces there may be to find out about San Antonio’s taco scene, one thing new emerges.

In this episode of KSAT Explains, we dive into San Antonio’s taco historical past, evolution, future and the significance of all of it to our metropolis’s identification and culture.

(Watch the complete episode on-demand within the video participant above.)

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‘It’s a part of our culture now’: The San Antonio classics

Even although some could argue San Antonio has the perfect, you will discover tacos in just about any metropolis lately. But what units San Antonio aside is its distinct taste and magnificence.

“Make no mistake about it, San Antonio is the culinary and cultural capital of Texas,” mentioned José Ralat, Texas Monthly’s taco editor.

Because San Antonio has so many various taco choices, it was actually exhausting to slender down the place to go for our analysis. But we determined to start out with two taquerias which have turn into staples over the previous few many years.

The Original Donut Shop has been serving up scrumptious breakfast tacos and donuts because the Nineteen Fifties. (KSAT 2021)

A very good morning in San Antonio begins with a breakfast taco. And one among San Antonio’s most infamous breakfast taco spots additionally serves up one other fashionable breakfast delicacies.

The Original Donut Shop has been serving up each breakfast tacos and donuts because the Nineteen Fifties. And in case you go to, there’s an opportunity you’ll be served by somebody who has been on the restaurant for many years.


“We have so many employees that last 30 plus years here,” mentioned Mónica Gómez, the restaurant’s basic supervisor who has been working at The Original Donut Shop for greater than twenty years herself.

Gómez mentioned a part of the restaurant’s attraction is how conventional it’s. They’ve stored the identical recipe for his or her carne guisada tacos since 1954. And together with the papa ranchera, the carne guisada is without doubt one of the hottest. They’re additionally recognized for his or her toasted bean and cheese.

“It’s part of our culture now,” Gómez mentioned. “The bean and the cheese.”

And, in fact, the tortillas are do-it-yourself.

“We start here at 4 a.m. just to have everything fresh by 6 a.m.,” Gómez mentioned.

Ray’s Drive-In holds the trademark for the puffy taco. (KSAT 2021)

Nestled within the metropolis’s interior West Side, about 5 miles away from The Original Donut Shop, is a taqueria that’s recognized for a really completely different sort of tortilla.

Ray’s Drive-In was established in 1965 by Raymond Lopez. It has gained reputation because of its signature puffy taco. The restaurant even holds the trademark for the puffy taco.


“A cloud of crunchy heaven-ness” is how night time supervisor Nathan Morales describes it.

“Everything is made to order,” Morales mentioned. “As soon as you order, the masa is dropped so that taco has that soft crunch.”

That mushy crunch is achieved, partially, because of the instruments they use to make the tacos. The design for these instruments are stored beneath lock and key.

“That’s what’s so great about this place,” Morales mentioned. “They figured out the tips and tricks early on and haven’t changed anything.”

The taco could be stuffed with picadillo, rooster, carne guisada or avocado. But right here, it’s all in regards to the tortilla.

‘A taco is a reflection of its time and place’: Newer kinds rising

Breakfast tacos and puffy tacos are simply a number of the San Antonio favorites locals bear in mind growing up with.

But tacos pre-date our childhoods. In truth, the origin of the taco goes again 1000’s of years.

Watch the video under for a short historical past of tacos and the way they’ve been a vessel for collaborating cultures for generations.


KSAT Explains: History of the taco and the way the meals has developed over generations

We all know a taco. But what defines a taco?

A free definition? A tortilla, filling and possibly salsa. But Ralat advised us that’s simply the primary definition.

“The second one is that a taco is a reflection of its time and place,” Ralat mentioned. “A taco is regional.”

For some time, some kinds of tacos had been simply served up in sure areas of Texas and Mexico. But because of migration and social media developments, the world has reduced in size. That’s mirrored within the expanded choices of our native taco scene.

El Remedio opened in 2019. Since then, the birria increase has exploded in San Antonio. (KSAT 2021)

One instance of one among these newer kinds – birria.

The birria increase remains to be comparatively new in San Antonio, but it surely’s been profitable in California for years. Ralat says Birria made its method to the United States from its birthplace of Jalisco, Mexico.

Traditionally, birria was made with both goat or lamb. But beef birria is the most well-liked within the U.S.

“This is beef birria, which comes out of Tijuana,” Ralat mentioned. “Particularly loaded with cheese.”


No birria taco is full with out the consommé, which is a kind of stew that makes use of dried chiles and different spices.

Joshua Palacios and his spouse Martha are initially from California. After transferring to San Antonio, they noticed a possibility to carry birria right here.

Martha’s household has a historical past within the restaurant business, so that they had recipes relationship again many years. They put their very own spin on a few of these recipes, and opened their meals truck El Remedio in 2019.

Since then, the birria pattern has exploded. El Remedio has expanded to 2 meals vehicles, and the Palacios household has plans for 2 extra, plus a brick and mortar restaurant.

And they aren’t the one ones now serving up birria in San Antonio.

Birria Barrio sells their birria in tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches and in ramen. (KSAT 2021)

Another husband and spouse duo, Martin Bargas and Sabrina Perez, opened Birria Barrio as a meals truck on South Presa in 2020.

Bargas traces his love for birria to journeys to Mexico as a child. His business’s title is a nod to birria’s Mexican roots.


“People come in in groups and they eat,” Bargas mentioned. “It’s like a neighborhood, you know, and in Spanish, barrio.”

Birria Barrio sells their birria in tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches and in ramen. Their concoctions are each scrumptious and extremely Instagram-able.

Bargas attributes a part of birria’s success in San Antonio to its trendiness. “Once people try it they say, ‘hey, you know what, I really like birria’,” Bargas mentioned. “They might not have tried it if it wasn’t a trend.”

Birria Barrio shortly outgrew the truck, and now have a restaurant on South Presa.

The trompo at Taquitos West Avenue. (KSAT 2021)

Birria isn’t the one custom Mexican fashion of taco that’s made its method to South Texas. Taquitos West Avenue serves up Jalisco-style avenue tacos seven days per week.

But you may solely get their al pastor tacos – one of many extra conventional choices – Thursday by way of Sunday. This taco’s magic is within the adobo sauce with a secret ingredient used to marinate the pork.


It takes 4 to 5 hours to organize the meat. The final step is to build the meat right into a vertical mound utilizing a trompo. The meat is sliced straight from the mound onto the tortilla, and garnished with onions, cilantro and pineapple.

A keto taco at Naco Mexican Eatery. Instead of a tortilla, this taco is offered in a cheese crust. (KSAT 2021)

At a meals truck a couple of ten minute drive east from Taquitos West Avenue, you’ll discover tacos served that carry the flavors of Mexico City and Laredo to San Antonio.

Wife and husband Lizzeth Martinez and Francisco Estrada personal Naco Mexican Eatery. She’s from Laredo. He’s from Mexico City. They name their meals fashion a household reunion – bringing flavors from each of their native areas to San Antonio by way of their meals truck.

“It’s like binding both of our family recipes and traditions in one truck,” Martinez mentioned. “So you’ll find the blue corn, but you’ll find the flour tortilllas. And you’ll find asada, but you’ll find huitlacoche.”

The couple lived in Mexico City earlier than relocating to San Antonio just a few years in the past seeking a safer life for his or her kids. But Francisco’s credentials as a lawyer in Mexico didn’t carry over.


So they determined to get within the taco business. And like Bargas and Palacios, they’ve been profitable sufficient to develop. They plan to open a brick and mortar restaurant quickly.

“We are very happy and proud that the people in San Antonio have accepted us,” Martinez mentioned. “We are part of a community now.”

‘Via the taco’: The taco as a vessel to introduce different cuisines

It’s not simply the kinds which have modified. How individuals view the taco has modified as effectively.

Today, tacos could be discovered at high-end eating places and fancy taquerias. They are acknowledged as a worthy culinary expertise. But individuals who grew up in San Antonio, kids within the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, know that wasn’t all the time the case.

“When I was a kid, I would take tacos to school in the 1960s, but I would sort of furtively eat my taco,” mentioned John Phillip Santos, professor of mestizo research on the Honors College on the University of Texas at San Antonio. “It was still an object of ridicule.

Santos says that began to change in the mid-1970s.


“It was more likely that somebody might want to trade something for my taco,” he mentioned.

This broad acceptance of the taco has allowed the meals to remodel. And as we speak, you will discover the taco being adopted by different cultures to introduce their cuisines to South Texas.

“The metaphor of the taco has begun to emerge as a kind of a food practice that will literally hug any cultural tradition between its covers,” Santos mentioned.

The Korean avenue tacos at Bull Gogi Boys meals truck helps to introduce San Antonians to Korean delicacies. (KSAT 2021)

Ever heard of Korean avenue tacos?

Stephen Scarantino, the proprietor of Bull Gogi Boys, put the merchandise on his menu as a method to introduce San Antonians to Korean bulgogi, a kind of marinated, thinly-sliced beef.

Scarantino credit the road tacos for serving to his meals truck keep in business.

“If we didn’t have the Korean street taco, we probably wouldn’t have lasted this long,” Scarantino mentioned. “That’s how instrumental it has been to getting people to try our menu.”

According to Scarantino, as soon as prospects strive his delicacies in a avenue taco, a vessel they’re aware of, it’s a gateway to different menu gadgets.


Jerk tacos at The Jerk Shack. (KSAT 2021)

Scarantino isn’t alone on this strategy. The Jerk Shack, an area Jamaican restaurant, has additionally gotten into the fusion taco sport.

Jerk is only a spice mix – it consists of garlic, thyme, scallion, and it’s spicy. And now, Jerk Shack proprietor and chef Nicola Blaque is utilizing it to make tacos.

“We put pineapple pico on there,” Blaque mentioned. “We have an avocado cream. So our flavors are Carribean, but with a Hispanic influence.”

For each Blaque and Scarantino, making a taco that fuses two cultures and cuisines was born out of a love for the cultures and cuisines of their childhoods.

“What is the easiest way for Texans to gain access to cuisine? Via the taco,” Ralat mentioned.

Scarantino advised us the meals he makes is predicated off of his mom’s cooking. And Blaque, who’s initially from Jamaica, mentioned Carribean delicacies has all the time been part of her.

“So many people are migrating to San Antonio and we all have some great things to share,” Blaque mentioned. “I think that’s the best way to do it – is through food and obviously tacos.”

Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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