Food & Drink The pretty-real deal

El Taco Tote looks like an average fast-food franchise, but its flavors are more authentic

At a friend's wedding a couple of weeks ago, a visiting member of the party remarked that he'd just been on a barbecue spree in Austin where a local told him, Don't bother with brisket in San Antone. You can imagine the apoplexy this induced in the born 'n' raised guests, so it is with great caution that I say, Watch out Taco Cabana, El Taco Tote is hot on your comida-rapida heels.

Customers fill up on a variety of salsas and other condiments at Taco Tote's fresh salsa bar. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

El Taco Tote, like its Alamo-City primo, is a family-built franchise bedecked in assaultingly bright colors (green, yellow, and fuschia for Tote). In the past decade, Taco Tote has opened more than a dozen locations, including four south of the border, but it was born 'n' raised in Nuevo Laredo, a pedigree that shows in the San Antonio location's tacos and clientele. Well-dressed Mexican chilangos, children in tow, are usually among the lunchtime crowd (jeans and sweatsuits "patched" with contrasting fabric seem to be all the rage at the moment) and the spice in Taco Tote's food comes primarily from the salsas, all of which are plenty picante except for the Salsa Suavecita, tagged as "Our mildest salsa yet."

"We don't build a better taco, you do," is Taco Tote's slogan, and it does offer a better condiment bar than the competition, with hot chiles toreados, pickled onions, a cerrano-heavy pico de gallo, and five salsas ranging from the gritty, smoky, and rich Salsa Tatemada to the creamy, tangy guacamole salsa. If you can't decide which one to try, sample them all on the complimentary self-serve chips.

El Taco Tote Real Mexican Grill
9502 I-10 W
6am-midnight weekdays,
24 hours weekends
Credit cards
Handicapped accessible
The guacamole salsa is excellent with the pico on a shrimp taco (although the shrimp are a third the size of their photographed representatives on the menu). Eaten on a corn tortilla - Tote's tortillas are better than passable; you can see them warming on the griddle in the open kitchen - it makes a quick facsimile of a Mexican seaside vacation taco. The pork adobado taco is also flavorful and goes well with the Salsa Cambray, and fans of tacos al pastor won't mind the bits of fat and gristle - all the more authentic, right? The barbacoa, available everyday, is tender but a little too homogenized; it tastes a lot like pot roast. This is fast food, after all, even if Taco Tote's interior, with its limestone walls, sconces, and attractively upholstered benches is a step up from Micky D's and TC. It's not as authentic as, say, that little torta shop in Matehuala, but Taco Tote is definitely Mex.

By Elaine Wolff

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