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Thursday, February 27, 2014

City Guide Ambassadors: West

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 2:38 PM

San Antonio's West Side is full of charm and attracts residents in touch with both their Latino and artistic roots. Just ask these guys ...

First up: Jim Mendiola

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Occupation: Filmmaker/Artist in Residence University of Texas at Austin

Neighborhood: West Side

Years lived there: 1 year 1 month

Why did you choose that neighborhood?:

I was moving back to San Antonio after 10 plus years in LA. The West Side was affordable, close to downtown and Southtown, and the it's old and historical, which is important to my current work.

Say your close friend or family was visiting your neighborhood for the first time, where would you be sure to take them and why?:

1) Don Pablo's on 2162 S. Laredo Street for the best breakfast tacos in the city.

2) Guadalupe Lumber, where the weirdest things are put out for sale before you get to the hardware aisles: things like leather biker vests with a large Virgen the Guadalupe embroidered on the back, size XXL, accordions and/or cheap electric guitars made in China, or giant wrought iron park benches decorated with A&M logos

3) the large scale Mexican American '30s, '40s, and '50s era family photos affixed to buildings, fences and parking lot signs by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center all over the neighborhood—this is the best public art in town

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4) Sunday barbacoa at  Carnita Uruapan on Ruiz and 24th where conjunto legend Santiago Jimenez Jr. plays a three-hour set for the morning breakfast crowd.

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The incomparable Franco Mondini-Ruiz chimes in on the next page >>>>

Name: Franco Mondini-Ruiz

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Neighborhood: West Side

Years lived there:

I was born on the Westside street Leal (means Loyal) 46 years ago, but I grew up in Germanic Boerne.

Why did you choose that neighborhood?:

I was a young 'o9 lawyer, then a King William wannabe Boheme, then a South Flores pioneer, then a rising Latino art starlet in Manhattan and Rome. After Rome, my great grandmother's house was for sale for $25,000 ... I paid cash! I bought more houses and over-decorated them like a white lady living in San Miguel. The house has been featured in The New York Times and magazines all over the world. My family has lived on Leal street for almost a century, all the neighbors are descendants of the original working-class Mexican gentrifiers. There were no paved streets or flood control or busses until the early '70s. When I moved here, the Latino intelligentsia scolded me because I was going to make taxes go up. The white intelligentsia were thrilled that one of their own (almost) was going to "create a community" in my 100-year-old ancestral barrio.

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Say your close friend or family was visiting your neighborhood for the first time, where would you be sure to take them and why?:

[Ed. Note: Franco dug up a Current article from 2010 in which he gave a tour of his West Side recs. He's asked us to re-share it here.]


Little Flower Basilica, Corner of Zarzamora and Kentucky Avenue

It is the huge ”Mexican Cathedral” –looking basilica you see from IH 10.  It is dedicated to Saint Therese (the Little Flower).  You can still light real candles there (can’t even do that in Rome) and enjoy viewing an effigy of the Little Flower laying in state in her crystal sarcophagus.

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The Chapel of Miracles. 113 Ruiz St., Haven of Hope Way

Open 9-2 everyday except Tuesdays.  Meditate on the meaning of life in a tiny chapel while the expressway  thunders  outside the ancient adobe walls.  The life- size primitive crucifix is rumored to be from the Alamo’s original chapel.  The hundreds of photos of the suffering, miraculously healed and enlisted will break your heart.

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La Fe Hierberia, 901 S. General McMullen, (210) 435-1897

One of dozens of the Westside’s botanicas offering spiritual services, consultations, powders, potions and a pungent and visually arresting journey through a faith adorned  with Indigenous, Catholic and  Afro-Caribbean traditions. La Fe has been around for decades and is richly layered.




Ray’s Drive Inn, 822 SW 19th

One of the most convincing claimants to the invention of the Puffy Taco, they have a patent number on display. If they didn’t invent it, they certainly perfected it. The décor is a cross between The Ponderosa and a vintage '70s Tex –Mex  garage-to-den conversion. Check out the art collection, altar and Tex-Mex sports pics in the back. Try your first crispy dog and hand-squeezed lemonade.

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Giovanni’s Pizzeria, 913 S Brazos, (210) 212-6626

With community-minded Giovanni Gagliano of Brooklyn and Phillip Chavez of Chicago at the helm, this 20-year-old establishment can’t go wrong. Real homemade cannoli and tiramisu, smart music, exotic sodas and  cute young people abound. The best eggplant parmesan my mother has every had.  Espresso for lucky insiders.


El Torreon, 1505 Culebra, (210) 736-0756

Open 24/7! Superb old-school, hand-crafted greasy nachos , a full bar and lots of fluorescent lighting!  I love this town. Some English spoken.


Taquitos el Guerro, 3016 W Commerce, (210)431-5468

A festive tasty roadside taco hut.  Good tortas and a charming  ambience chockfull of candy, pickles, music ,sodas  and all things colorful and plastic.  Makes you happy to be Mexican all over again! Eye-popping at night.


Panifico Bake Shop, 602 NW 24th St, (210) 434-9290

The very best Mexican Pink Cake on the planet ... you will get hooked.  Also has beautiful traditional breads and holiday specialties such as Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto).  Quite uniquely, they have excellent donuts: a rarity for Tex-Mex bakeries.  (The bakery is connected to Ramona’s Mexican Food , they have good potatoes ala Mexicana, lengua, and beef ribs ... these dishes should probably not all be eaten at the same time)

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El Chilaquil, 1821 W Commerce, (210)226-5410

Mexico City brothers Benito and Roberto Barrasa serve what I call the “Caviar of the Westside”:  delicate grilled pork carnitas ordered extra-crispy.  They also give an enthusiastic nod to their hometown’s Aztec roots with pre-Columbian décor and pretty girls dressed in Aztec tunics, their ankles “bejeweled” with melodious shells. The fare includes exotic ingredients Moctezuma would have enjoyed—flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and huitlacoche (corn fungus). Some late nights turn the place into a Fellini spectacle with a lively keyboardist and spontaneous dancing and flirting.


Golden Star Restaurant, 821 W Commerce, (210) 223-1681

Any chop suey joint that has stayed packed since 1932 deserves a visit. During the Depression my grandfather would have to fetch food from here on foot to satisfy my oft-pregnant Grandma’s cravings. Worth an anthropological trip to see what our ancestors considered Chinese food.



El Siete Mares (the Seven Seas), 3831 W Commerce, (210) 436-6056

I’ve even spotted 09ers here feasting side by side with locals and homesick recent arrivals on whole Redfish (Huachinango) grilled with garlic,  giant cocktails of squid ,oyster and octopus

and a dangerously but irresistibly salty garlic soup  (cures hangovers and most other ailments)

make sure and have a Mexican coke.

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Mi Guadalajara, 4414 W Commerce, (210) 433-7200

Excellent, beautifully presented inexpensive food with a youthful  happy staff.  If you or a friend have never tried barbacoa or menudo or tongue, etc

this is the place to be seduced.



Mariachi Connection, 2106 W Commerce, (210) 271-3655

A mansion full of accessories for music and dance

Mexican style. Mariachi ties, gold earrings, or ribboned Mexican braid extensions make perfect gifts!


Mando’s Liquor and Barber Shop

2724 Commerce and Rosillo

An obviously picturesque husband and wife business. A bottle of Jack from la Senora De Los Santos on the left and a haircut from Mando on the right ran me 30 dollars. Has been around for 42 years and is across the street from H-E-B, you better hurry!!


The Lake at our Lady of the Lake University

411 SW 24th St

Take a leisurely 20 minute stroll  around the lake

you will be all by yourself except for the ducks, geese, turtles and herons (bring them some snacks but be ready to run). Except for the occasional floating tire or Handy Andy cart, you are transported to an idyllic 19th century French landscape. Enjoy the dramatic avant-garde architecture of the dam

a perfect setting for a Phillip Glass concert.

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 Maybe artists Vincent Valdez and Adriana Corral have a different perspective from their converted fire station >>>>

Name: Adriana Corral & Vincent Valdez

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Occupation: Artists

Neighborhood: West Side

Years lived there: 1

Why did you choose that neighborhood?:

We wanted to be close to Downtown and we wanted to bring life back into and restore an old civic building, Fire Station No.15 as our home/studio.

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Say your close friend or family was visiting your neighborhood for the first time, where would you be sure to take them and why?:

We enjoy driving ourselves and others through the neighborhoods deep in the West Side. It always reminds me of going to visit my great grandmother back in the '80s. She lived in a tiny house and it was always like going back in time in old San Antonio. There was her tiny casita and what always seemed to be a thousand monarch butterflies that swarmed her rosebushes in the backyard.

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