There’s something about the south side of almost any city. Most may not have the notoriety of Boston’s Southie—despite Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, it’s still “too fucked up even for a reality show,” in the words of one Beantown journalist. But where diversity reigns, so does authentic food. As exemplified by the following four taquerias, from small and slathered with signs and shrines to sprawling and tricked out with hand-painted murals, San Antonio is no exception.
Taqueria Guadalajara #1
TG holds out on Roosevelt between the newly rehabbed river and Mission San Jose, and can be considered as much a part of the landscape as both—despite its Puro San Anto interior being less mis-matched than many. The authentic carne al pastor is blissful with a squirt of the scary orange squeeze-bottle salsa. Often equally scary, barbacoa, the dauntingly dark pile derived from a slow-cooked cow’s head, is more flavorful and less lubricated than at many sources around town; fold it into a tender flour tortilla and you’d never suspect the source. The peppery table salsa is addictive; spoon some onto a carne asada torta with crema and aguacate to complete the package.
A favorite of the Blue Star set and back-door locals alike, Maria’s turns out a soul-satisfying bowl of fideo loco loaded with picadillo, bacon, tomato and onion—all in addition to the obligatory fried skinny noodles in broth. The picadillo with potato holds its own in a blistered flour tortilla, too. (The corn tortillas are good, but some tacos just want flour.) The menus are posted on the walls along with a jumble of vintage-ish decor from Goodyear to Guadalupe, but if you don’t see what you want, just ask. Breakfast tortas, BTW, are basically taco fillings between bread. And, FYI, Maria prefers cash.
Taqueria La Tapatia
The drive through at this TLT location gets a lot of evening action—in both English and Spanish, but service inside is equally efficient and just as bilingual. Terminology comes into question only with the likes of the #13 Jaliscience Plate: Its “fajitas” are actually the original arrachera (grilled skirt steak), served in a single piece and a relatively rare commodity hereabouts. Less unique but equally good are the frijoles a la charra. The serviceable salsa adds a little extra spunk to the well-stuffed taco de pierna de puerco. “Todo bien?” asked the cashier. “Todo bien” is the appropriate response.
TM has the look of a place that has morphed over time into a sprawling space adorned with atmospheric murals and presided over by an actual hostess. Uptown trappings don’t disguise what is basically a mom ‘n’ pop menu, though: Lunch specials still include a $5.99 puffy taco plate that can hold its own with any of the city’s best. To get more in tune with the tony surroundings, consider a piled-high carne al pastor plate ($9.99) served with “wild” nopalitos. TM’s chips salsa is served warm, but the red and green squeeze salsas are mas macho; the chips themselves are way too good with any and all.
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