"Vegan or not vegan?"
That really wasn't the question I thought I'd overhear as one of the few patrons inside Amaya's Tacos & Bakery, which opened early this year at the corner of Hackberry and Commerce.
The day was dreary with imminent rain, and an elote soup did sound enticing, but so did the rest of the menu at the family-run joint that fits no more th an 20 people at a time, and even that's a stretch.
Amaya's was opened by a small army of brothers and a close family friend, with the intent of giving back to the community that raised them. The culinary team is made up of David Arciniega and Joel "Tatu" Herrera, both with an extensive history of cookery in San Antonio. Teamed up with big brother Ruben, and twin brothers Daniel and Samuel, the Amaya's guys are trying to add a few more options to the East Side.
Though I had previouisly visited the eatery when they first opened, the menu vacillated between traditional taqueria offerings and the occasional Cubano-esque sandwich. That all settled with the launch of their latest menu, an extremely casual ode that features favorites with a heavy emphasis on highlighting local produce. Though the menu is teensy (even for my standards), the curated items are purposeful — there's something for everyone.
The space, which housed a corner store for several decades, is painted a bold off-purple hue, but inside the eatery could mirror the interior of your abuela's home. It's cozy and efficient, if a bit tight. Thankfully, the patio does offer another handful of tables and is pleasant enough to fit in a quick lunch.
The breakfast tacos, available in the usual combinations (and roasted pork or lechon and brisket) are loaded with fresh cracked eggs on homemade tortillas. Often times, I'm taking a restaurant's word for their proclamation of homemade, but in this case it's hard to doubt the tortillas when they're made right in front of you. Somehow the recipe was tweaked to make the flour-y vessels even better than when Amaya's first opened. It helps to have connections within the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio, where chef Alain Dubernard helped perfect their recipe.
But the real reason to get down to Amaya's immediately is their lunch and their ridiculous prices, which should likely be raised. During my first visit, the fish tacos commanded my attention. Every restaurant worth their salt has an iteration of said dish these days, but it's hard to find tilapia worth writing home about. Their version delivers three tacos served open-faced inside modest diner baskets, playing down what's inside. Three sturdy corn tortillas serve as the receptacle for two perfectly blackened fish filets, a massive dose of tangy red cabbage slaw, thinly sliced radishes and smoked poblano crema. The finishing touch — a smattering of fresh microgreens — reveals both chefs intensive upscale training. Yes, microgreens on the East Side presented in the most unassuming way.
The East Commerce plate with choice of lecho, or carne guisada, beans and rice with the magical (they're that good) flour tortillas was on par with what you'd find at your local taco joint, but had less salt and lard and more flavor.
My lunching pal (side note: make sure to take in an early lunch. Amaya's closes at 1 p.m.) ordered the elote soup of velvety roasted corn, red pepper oil and a dollop of greens and cotija cheese. Available with or without cream (the aforementioned vegan option), the sopa is a subtle, but cheeky take on corn in a cup. Make this your go-to when you don't want to tackle an order of tacos.
Another open-faced number eaten during my second visit, the Hackberry Tacofication, might be the best vegetarian dish I've had this year, if not certainly the most boundary pushing. Squash, zucchini, radishes and onions were roasted and tender, paired with a spring pea salsa I need more of in my life. Made with habanero, onion, garlic, spring peas and heavy whipping cream, as inspired by chef Elizabeth Johnson, the salsa is nuanced and a delight. Tie it all together with cotija and you've got a seriously tasty, almost guilt-free meal.
Were I pressed to find fault at this tiny eatery, I would point out two things. The chicken tacos of braised pollo in pinapple and chipotle could use some tweaking, perhaps a good chop. Otherwise, longer hours would be my only other quibble. That will soon change with the addition of Sunday and Monday dinners starting the first weekend of June. I hear it's going to be a BYOB affair.
1502 E. Commerce, (210) 265-5449, facebook.com/AmayasTacos
Skinny: Family-run and efficient, this tiny corner eatery offers breakfast and lunch with healthy and often vegan options.
Best Bets: Hackberry Tacofication, fish tacos, elote soup
Hours: 7am-1pm Mon-Sat
Price: $1.50-$3 for breakfast tacos; $6-$9.50 for lunch
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