WINNER: Ray's Drive Inn
822 SW 19th St. • (210) 432-7171
It's been an emotional six months for everyone at Ray's Drive Inn. Last October, patriarch Arturo H. Lopez, the man behind the puffy taco, passed away. Since then, his daughter Maria "Lali" Rambo, and son, John Louis Lopez have been running things at the West Side eatery. Rambo says they're doing it to honor their father. "We want to keep it going because it's part of the culture and is my father's legacy," she said. "There is also a lot of nostalgia here. I always hear people saying, 'I used to come here when I was little.'" This year, the restaurant celebrates its 60th anniversary in San Antonio. While Ray's features a nice assortment of menu items, it's definitely the puffy tacos that keep patrons coming back for more. These stuffed pockets of deep-fried tortilla heaven can be packed with beef, chicken, carne guisada, fajita, beans, avocado or fish, not to mention all the fixings like lettuce, tomato and jalapeños. It's safe to say Austin won't be trying to steal this taco from San Antonio anytime soon. Just as the restaurant's neon sign proclaims, Ray's is the "home of the original puffy taco." And what better way to eat some Tex-Mex comfort food than listening to a little Sunny and the Sunliners on the jukebox and drinking some freshly squeezed lemonade? Call us old fashioned, but we even love the fact that Ray's doesn't accept debt/credit cards. You don't got cash? You ain't eating!
WINNER: Bakery Lorraine
306 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 110 • (210) 862-5582
> Bakery Lorraine introduced SA to a new age of classy baking at their previous cottage location on Grayson Street. With the move to Pearl, the options have only increased — without any of the potential slip in quality that such a shift might imply. Multi-colored macarons still beguile, especially in unexpected flavors like Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate cassis. If you get there early enough (and who says you can't have full-on dessert at 9 a.m.), there are exotic muffins, classic pains au chocolat and not-your-toaster's-normal pop tarts to fall in love with. Cookies (sorry, we can't resist) are good at all hours. And bread pudding can be had in both sweet and savory versions. Get there early for desserts such as the raspberry lemon cake and a carrot cake with both lighter body and frosting that's not merely cloying cream cheese. Tarts will be gone early on, too, but order ahead for your next swell soirée. Your guests will swoon in appreciation.
207 Broadway • (210) 639-3165
3. La Popular Bakery
2. Bird Bakery
5912 Broadway • (210) 804-2473
3. Cake Crumbs
1218 W. Bitters Road • (210) 906-3783
WINNER: Local Coffee
> They might have a little competition with the Smoothie King right next door but things are hopping at Local Coffee's newest location in the Medical Center at 7338 Louis Pasteur Drive, Suite 204, after opening only two months ago (there are also stores at the Pearl, Alamo Heights and Stone Oak Parkway). And when we say hopping, we mean it in a lactose-free macchiato kind of way. Minimal in style with a hip ambiance that finds most patrons plugged into their laptops, Local Coffee has become the go-to place for those anti-Starbucks drinkers who aren't impressed with caramel drizzle. Instead, Local prides itself on serving coffee from Merit Roasting Co. and tasty treats via Bakery Lorraine. Their drink menu is simple and easy to maneuver: cortados, cappuccinos, lattes, macchiatos, espressos, Americanos and affogatos are a few of the choices. Not a morning person? The organic chai with Mill-King milk will change that forever.
2. The Fairview
3428 N. St. Mary's St.• (210) 731-8009
3. TIE: Barrio Barista
3735 Culebra Road • (210) 519-5403
203 E. Jones Ave., Suite 101 • (210) 277-8574
WINNER: The Station Café
108 King William St. • (210) 444-2200
> Work 16-hour days, five days a week, for a year or two. Spend decades in kitchens and the front of house, picking up exactly what and what not to do. Pour your heart, soul and family's future into a 300-square-foot sandwich shop, wherein everything from the bread to the salad dressing, exquisite, signature sauces and desserts are all made from scratch by employees who you work right alongside, invite into your home and call your friends. Do all of this and you, too, may find yourself the owner of a perpetually successful restaurant. Not coincidentally, that's the business model of Jon and Stacie Rowe, owners of the Station Café and Filling Station Taproom. Building up from the tiny space that now houses their taproom to the 10-times-as-big building next door that serves as the single location of the open-Monday-through-Friday-only restaurant, the couple bucks the typical marketing trends. Seems to be working.
2. W. D. Deli
3123 Broadway • (210) 828-2322
3. Zito's Deli
WINNER: Lick Honest Ice Creams
312 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 2101 • (210) 314-8166
255 E. Basse Road • (210) 832-8886
3. The House, Boozy Ice Cream and Brews
732 S. Alamo St. • (210) 919-3553
WINNER: The Fridge-SA
609 S. Alamo St. • (210) 473-0916
> Owners Eva and Gabriel Cardenas celebrated their food truck's third anniversary this month. Located at the Alamo Street Eat Bar on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (and "bouncing around" the Downtown area all week, too), The Fridge features grilled paninis, corndogs and a host of sandwiches, a menu item Gabriel considers "universal." The Monty Burns contains smoked ham, Gouda cheese, mayo, Dijon mustard and jalapeño raspberry jam. It's dipped in egg, fried, dusted with powdered sugar and served on ciabatta bread. Their signature sandwich is The Hottie, a Hot Cheetos fried chicken sandwich. Recently, they started serving burgers, which include 80/20 ground chuck, caramelized red onions, Gouda cheese and arugula on a Central Market bun. "It's a damn good burger," Gabriel told the Current. "I think our customers like us because we hustle and put our heart into it. It doesn't hurt that we put out a good product."
2. Taquitos El Guero
3016 W. Commerce St. • (210) 431-5468
2347 Nacogdoches Road • (512) 507-3025
WINNER: Candlelight Coffee House
3011 N. St. Mary's St. • (210) 738-0099
5562 Fredericksburg Road • (210) 340-4577
3. Cobalt Club
2022 McCullough Ave.
WINNER: Chamoy City Limits
Locations vary • (210) 744-0000
> Raspas are as much a part of San Antonio as the Alamo and the Spurs. They're what we do. And right now, nobody is doing them better than the rock stars behind the innovative Chamoy City Limits food truck. The talented raspa artists handcraft chili pepper syrups, pickled fruits and candied peppers and pile them atop mountainous, pillowy clouds of shaved ice. Oh, and yes, they make their own chamoy: the delicious sweet, sour, spicy, salty ambrosia made up of pickled fruits, sugared chili peppers — both pureed and as whole fruit. Their rotating menu of flavors includes the Grape Invader, the Shark Bite, the Picadilly Circus and the Anaconda. If Willy Wonka made raspas and drove a food truck, this is what it would be like. You can typically find these concoctions made by hand and made with love at Lion's Field on Broadway or at O.P. Schnabel Park. Follow them on Facebook for daily whereabouts.
2. Big Daddy's Eats and Treats
3. Las Nieves Fruit Cups & More
WINNER: Rosario's Mexican Café y Cantina
> Yes, we could inhale Rosario's roasty salsa with a straw, no chips required. Fortunately, this is a flexible condiment, useful as an essential accompaniment to fajita nachos, as a mantle over the trio of gorditas with picadillo, chicken and refried beans and cheese, drizzled into an already flavorful sopa de tortilla and slathered all over any of the parrillas, from tripe to carnitas de puerco. OK, we probably wouldn't add it to the rajas de chile poblano. Maybe not to chicken in an already emphatic chipotle sauce, or to the enchiladas de mole — there have to be some limits. We also tend to take our fried shishito peppers straight and like to savor the delicacy of the paquetes de jicama y camaron without additional adulteration. Ditto with the chile relleno stuffed with quinoa and veggies, topped with pan-seared cauliflower and tomato-chipotle sauce. But after a few of the house's better-than-your-average-oso margaritas, who knows where that salsa might end up.
2. La Gloria
5800 Broadway • (210) 822-6151
3. Las Palapas
WINNER: Mi Tierra Café & Bakery
218 Produce Row • (210) 225-1262
> Menudo is many things to many people — including both scary to the newbie and essential after an evening of hard drinkin'. This brick-red and brothy norteño stew is also good at any time, day or night, which makes always-open Mi Tierra the perfect place to either dispel demons or convert a non-believer into the personhood of honeycomb tripe and calf's foot. Add as many of the traditional condiments (chopped onion, chile, lemon wedges ... ) as the bowl will stand, roll up a tortilla (we'd take corn, but flour's fine, too), take a deep breath to appreciate the aroma, and have at it. This may not be a pretty bowl, so forget the 'gramming, but it's the essence of earthy and elemental.
There are perfectly justifiable reasons that Mi Tierra perennially wins best pan dulce: The selection is huge, the offerings are classic, the empanadas de camote are addictive and the inevitable line seems to move swiftly. First-timers should just let their eyes be their guide and order at least one of anything that appeals — including pan de huevo in all of its topping colors (nevermind that the taste doesn't change that much). Cuernos, the Mexican version of croissants, are a must, with or without sugar; semita de anis is delicately perfumed with the namesake seed; we can't resist the crumbly, shortbread polvorones; and, somehow, despite their tooth-aching potential, a few pecan pralines, wedges of candied pumpkin and even the tri-color banderilla de coco manage to make it into the bag. If you're lucky, some second-hand mariachi music will accompany the purchase totally gratis.
2. Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa
3. Las Palapas
2. La Popular Bakery
3. La Panaderia
8305 Broadway • (210) 375-6746
WINNER: Chris Madrid's
1900 Blanco Road • (210) 735-3552
3. Chester's Hamburger Co.