Tlahco Brings New Ingredients to San Antonio’s Mexican Food Scene — Just Don’t Obsess Over What They’re Called

click to enlarge RON BECHTOL
Ron Bechtol
Tlahco Mexican Kitchen is a bright and clean-looking place in grey and white with wood tables and metal bistro chairs in a punchy shade of rosa Mexicano. Service is efficient and friendly. And the menu offers some ingredients not often seen in Mexican restaurants hereabouts.

But be prepared for some nitpicks about the terminology the restaurant uses on its menu. I’ll identify those as they come.

First, let’s talk about one of those seldom-seen ingredients: tuétano, a form of bone marrow. At Tlahco’s, it appears as two cross-cut pieces of bone — marrow in the middle — flanking mini tacos of sliced steak with grilled onion, crushed potato and a chile toreado. Push the gelatinous marrow onto the tacos and get ready for a sensory experience. The silkily sexy accessory makes the steak and potatoes positively posh.

In contrast, a double-wrapped taco featuring barbacoa, normally a bold and assertive filling, came up short and needed perking up with a squeeze of lime.

And now we get to nit No. 1: my understanding of a sope is that it’s a thick masa “puck” with turned-up edges — kind of like a gordita with a crater to cradle ingredients. Tlahco omits the crater, which seems like a shortcut, but this influences only expectations and texture, not the taste. By whatever name, their sope de chorizo, served with refried beans and spicy papas adobadas, is a flavor bomb. It warrants an order, nit notwithstanding. The same masa base serves as a foundation for the sope de rajas, a combination of robust refrieds with strips of poblano and a wedge of grilled panela cheese. The rajas get a little lost in the jumble of other ingredients, but this creation is also worth your attention.

A schoolyard brawl of colorful components characterizes the tacos dorados de chicharron prensado, and this leads to nit No. 2: the presumed marquee ingredient that is the prensado. It could be that this terminology is changing, sort of in the way that beef fajitas, originally named after a specific cut of meat, morphed into almost any platter with sizzle: chicken, shrimp, whatever. In Mexico City markets, I’ve seen chicharron prensado (literally “pressed”) in the form of a layered trompo, that vertical spit from which al pastor tacos are shaved. Seriously compacted, in other words. But at Tlahco, as management admitted, it’s really just pork belly. No pressing.

Should we care? Maybe not; in the long run, this term too could be changing, and the pork belly was really only a team player in the mix of fried taquito shells filled with potato and piled with pickled onion, cabbage, carrot, crema and the bits of belly. The construction is supremely messy to eat, but it’s also extremely good.

The parillada al carbon, available only in the evenings, exceeds expectations by being served to you over a brazier fired up with a couple chunks of glowing charcoal. The $36 price tag may seem steep for a platter with no really outstanding single ingredient — except maybe the accompanying guacamole. But this is about the whole, not the parts. Take your pick of flour or corn tortillas and start loading up with sliced arrachera (just a tad dry but tasty), chicken, better-than-expected shrimp, grilled onions and sausage, which I wanted more of. Slather on the guac, and it’s all good. On the side, share a quesadilla, a portion of a grilled Anaheim chile, some sabroso charro beans. To make it even more of a celebration, you can bring your own wine with no corkage charge.

A sample of lunchtime dishes revealed some as good but not outstanding — the green enchiladas and huevos divorciados, for example. But breakfast brings the possibility of café de olla, another relative rarity locally. Served in a clay pot, it’s seriously cinnamon-y and sweet — but a welcome option regardless. And it’s a great companion to colorful conchas con nata, served four to an order with spiced hot chocolate.

And this leads us to nit No. 3: nata. This term traditionally varies from meaning cream that’s risen to the top of a container, forming a skin, to something more akin to English clotted cream. San Antonians may not be ready for nata as it’s known in Mexico, but I couldn’t help but feel a flicker of disappointment at being served crema batida, or ordinary whipped cream, instead.

I got over it after dipping the first concha in the semi-spicy hot chocolate — it’s served in a bowl, which seems to invite dipping — then in the whipped cream.

Indulgence is indulgence, no matter the precise terminology.

Tlahco Mexican Kitchen
6702 San Pedro Ave. | (210) 455-0135
7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Thu. and Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Price range: $1.95-$65.00
Best bets: tacos de asada y tuétano, sope de chorizo, tacos dorados, conchas con nata
The skinny: Tlahco Mexican Kitchen is a fresh new face in the local Mex/Tex-Mex pantheon. It offers ingredients and dishes rarely seen around these parts: tuétano (bone marrow) tacos, for example, and a breakfast plate of colorful conchas with whipped cream and hot chocolate. Tacos dorados with chicharron y mucho mas are also worth a try, as are its take on sopes, topped with chorizo and spicy potatoes. A parrillada platter presented over a charcoal brazier offers evening splurge opportunities.

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