The urgency on my Facebook Messenger chat box was palpable.
"Seriously. You have to try La Bandera Molino. Breakfast tacos on point! I dropped $30 on breakfast ... but had like so many tacos, Mexican sodas and coffee and menudo."
The only thing that exchange needed was the still nonexistent taco emoji.
I was clearly intrigued. A quick search later, I had found a haphazard and unclaimed Facebook page and several comment threads that continued to sing the praises of the eatery.
I made my first visit bright and early on a weekday morning. For the uninitiated, La Bandera Molino is located in a small shopping strip along Zarzamora Street in a bright tangerine building that proclaims their goods loudly in hand-painted lettering. There's plenty of parking in the front, but come weekends, you'll want to make use of the extra parking lot available in the rear.
To be completely honest, the space is a lot to take in. Once you step inside, taking stock of the operation is almost overwhelming in its magnitude. The cavernous space holds a masa mill, an open kitchen and smoker, two large display cases and a wall-length fridge replete with every variety of Jarritos, Mexican sodas, Topo Chico and various staple items. A 24-count of brown eggs will cost you $6.50, while you can also pick up Serrano peppers and tomatoes ripe for making salsa and ready-to-mash avocados. And this is just half the store.
Orders are taken and paid at the counter, so try to have some idea of what you'll be ordering. I stared at the large menus above the counter for a good minute before committing to bacon and egg (naturally), barbacoa and nopal tacos. Nopal and egg was an option, but I chose the more enticing nopal y chile, with a good dose of ancho peppers.
The order was up in a matter of minutes and I was on my way (after grabbing an apple Lift, the likes of which I haven't found since living in the Rio Grande Valley). At $2-ish dollars apiece, the tacos were massive — I could see the appeal of chowing down on the barbacoa after a night of heavy drinking (for those wondering, yes, they have Big Red by the caseload).
The bacon and egg was decent, though I should have asked for crisp tocino. The nopal, also large in size, was savory and smoky without a hint of sliminess usually associated with the cactus blend. Sturdy tortillas kept the fillings intact — commendable considering the barbacoa (available in regular or less mysterious "all-meat") was oily and rich. Again, perfect for soaking up weekend boozin'.
A Thursday lunchtime visit was up next, as La Bandera Molino is only open 'til 3 p.m. Armed with slightly more confidence and my tipster, we ordered just a fraction of the menu. I can't emphasize it enough — the offerings are plentiful. You'll find lunch plates served with rice and beans and à la carte items along with daily barbacoa specials. With calabacita not being an option during this particular visit, I opted for lengua guisada, because ... why not? And while at it, a crispy order of fried tripas on a corn tortilla. Any fan of charcuterie, salami or the like that turns their nose at this crunchy delicatessen is no friend of mine.
We made our way past the thick clear vinyl curtains that separated the dining room from the cafeteria-style counter and picked up a basket of fresh-fried tortilla chips. Salted just right and with a delicate crisp, the tortillas could have benefited from a little more draining. Our orders trickled out at a fine pace, as members of the family-run restaurant staff dropped off our lunch in separate batches.
Should I sing the praises of the tripas some more or move on to the tender lengua that included finely diced and stewed peppers and onions? Had the slices of tongue not been clearly visible, I would have confused this for regular lean beef. Paired with the standard Spanish rice and pureed refried beans, the lengua could have been enjoyed as is or in taco form using those same flour tortillas.
My lunch partner's mini tacos were loaded with thick chunks of carne asada and a third companion's barbacoa was just as filling; a basic avocado-only guac helped tie the tacos together. We'll forgive the slightly excessive frying this time.
There's not much to knock at a place where you can drop off prepared briskets for overnight smoking ($5), whole or quartered cabritos are found and where you know the tortillas are always ground and made fresh.
2619 N. Zarzamora, (210) 434-0631
Skinny: Grocery store meets molino de masa meets sizable eatery. The stick-to-your-ribs tacos and plates from this Zarzamora joint will have driving over to battle the crowds on weekends.
Best Bets: barbacoa specials, nopales con chile, mini tacos
Hour: 6am-3pm Tue-Sun Price $2.95-7.99
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