So, I didn't order the cabecita.
"You'd have to tie me down and force feed me," claimed one particularly reluctant companion — usually quite game when it comes to these outings. The other guest, a State Department veteran with several postings in Mexico under her belt, was trying to be diplomatic regarding the goat's head — but I could see that it was a lost cause.
"OK, fine," I relented. "Nobody will have to deal with eyeballs, but I am going to order the fritada and the machitos." I wasn't going down without at least attempting a semblance of machismo.
San Antonians may sniff at Mexican-food carpetbaggers arriving from other parts of our fair state, but we tend to embrace the real thing when it comes from points south. Los Cabriteros is straight out of Monterrey, and it shows in almost every aspect of the operation — from its not-exactly-intimate interior to the shrine-like spits on which carcasses are splayed at the entry.
When the restaurant first opened, most of the personnel seemed to have come from the base operation. Today, you may get a clueless waiter with little appreciation of the menu — but putting on a brave face regardless. It's all good, especially after a large and well-executed margarita from the bar that flanks one side of the tall space. The entry-level "Cabrito Blanco" is tart and traditional; the more lujoso "El Cabron" with 1800 and Grand Marnier stops just short of excessive sweetness.
Bring on la carne.
And a meaty menu it is. If you want something green (apart from the totally unremarkable "salad" that accompanies many orders), you are advised to order the excellent chopped version of guacamole labeled "a la Mexicana." It's served in a molcajete and will come in handy as a kind of palate cleanser throughout the meal.
Ours began with those machitos, served sizzling on a cast-iron platter a la fajita. If you're trying to pull one over on unsuspecting guests, the menu is your friend here: it doesn't define the dish. So, just between us, it consists of the goat's internal organs wrapped in intestine and grilled. You can have them crispy or less so. Go with crispy. It's a better disguise — but in truth, there's little to betray origins but a slight, livery taste, and a lashing of LC's unashamedly picante green sauce (likely blended tomatillos, green chilies and perhaps a touch of avocado) will tame that as it cuts through the also unabashed — but not unwelcome — greasiness.
More guac to the rescue.
Fritada, folks, involves added sangre. This stew-like dish is a tradition in northern cities such as Monterrey and Sabinas Hidalgo. It consists of nice meaty cuts of goat cooked with blood, onion, bay, cumin, mint and more. A little fresh mint would be welcome, but we all agreed that we'd come back for this alone.
Los Cabriteros offers numerous non-goat parillada combos in addition to kid-based paquetes priced from about $43 to $180, the last of which includes a whole goat and accoutrements that would feed at least six with leftovers. Lots of leftovers. Not being a package person, on this and other visits I went with individual cuts.
The riñonada, which comes complete with its namesake kidney, is taken from the lower back. It consists of dozens of tiny riblets, along with a heap of meat pulled from the bone. It comes across as a little more emphatically flavored. Accordingly, newbies might want to open with the surprisingly moist and mild paleta, or shoulder section — frankly, it's a coin toss. Both come with grilled onions, exceptionally good frijoles a la charra, and some passable tortillas (corn and flour). Some of the robust red sauce will come in handy here.
Bowing to pressure to order something representing northern Mexico's beefy side, we also managed to squeeze in a plate of costillas cargadas (cross-cut Angus ribs). I knew better than to suggest the mollejas de res (beef sweetbreads) but they are well worth your attention. The ribs could have been boring, but such was not the case; we suspected a brushing of soy or Maggi only added to their deep flavor. Still, goat has long been a part of San Antonio's culinary DNA, and that's what you're here for. Now that there's a "direct from northern Mexico" source as a baseline, it's time to do a local goat rodeo (Los Barrios, El Machito and others) — just for comparison's sake. Los Cabriteros won't emerge sin premio.
17660 Henderson Pass, 468-2904, loscabriteros.net
The Skinny: Straight from Monterrey, Los Cabriteros offers cabrito al pastor in multiple forms (some even a little challenging), along with several beef options, a lone chicken and an array of well-executed margaritas.
Best Bets: Guacamole a la Mexicana, fritada (goat stew), goat cuts such as riñonada and paleta, beef costillas cargadas
Hours: 11am-10pm Sun-Thu; 11am-11pm Fri-Sat