Based in San Antonio, Texas

Efrain’s Food Market, 1222 Saltillo St.

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that a painting of a building behind the register was of Efrain’s. It is not.

Here’s the scoop on Efrain’s Food Market on the West Side: The tacos didn’t change my life and — from the look of things — the tortillas come from packages. Still, I loved the place.

Efrain’s is a throwback to a time when families bought their groceries from the mom-and-pop store down the street. Efrain’s has survived. The store is located on Saltillo Street, a side street off the main thoroughfare of Zarzamora. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you took a wrong turn or unless you were from the neighborhood.

I heard of Efrain’s from a student at Memorial High School — where I attempted to impart journalistic wisdom recently; I think I succeeded — who rhapsodized about the barbacoa and tamales.

When I arrived there on a Sunday, around 10 a.m., the tamales were sold out. I was there for the barbacoa, anyway.

Though it’s not much of a grocery store or meat market anymore, Efrain’s, which was founded in 1953, is still popular in the community. There are those old-school grocery store shelves — the ones that are at chest height — that have some produce such as onions, bananas, dried guajillo peppers, and some household cleaning items. There are a few tables for dining in. It’s all very tightly spaced and cozy. Behind the cash register are pictured of loved ones and lots of Jesus signage. A painting of what looks like the Efrain’s building back in the day is the centerpiece of the arrangement.

Where you’re drawn to is the meat counter. A expansive colorful sign informs you of the choices — barbacoa, chicharrones, carnitas and lengua by the pound. Breakfast tacos only on weekdays. Tamales by the dozen.

On the weekends, the place does steady traffic for its barbacoa, pork carnitas and tamales. This isn’t a restaurant. So the food is cooked and put in warmers, and they tell you what your choices are for that day.

On the weekday when I went, I had a papa ranchera, which was spicy from what seemed like serrano. The potatoes were on the mushy side, but still had very good flavor. However, they seemed old a little old, like the papas had been sitting in the warmer a while.

The beans in the bean and cheese on corn were very good — creamy, fatty and rich in flavor. But the corn tortilla was obviously store-bought.

Another taco — I didn’t get the name because I’m a bad reporter — I can only describe as pork and beans. Like salted pork. Good, not great.

The carne guisada was disappointing. Its flavor was OK with a strong chili powder flavor. It also seemed stewed in water and not in any kind of stock.

Which brings us to the barbacoa. They loaded up the corn tortilla, which was nice. And the meat was good — not greasy and with some fat. Clean, but also very just average. I was expecting more flavor. But, honestly, the slight blandness wasn’t anything a little salt and the very good green hot sauce didn’t fix.

The pork carnitas were similar — well cooked, tender and shredded. But definitely in need of seasoning and salsa verde.

Before wrapping this up, I must say that the service was excellent. The family who runs Efrain’s is extremely friendly, which might explain why it’s remained open since the 1950s.

Efrain’s Food Market, 1222 Saltillo St., (210) 435-4004

Worth traveling across town for
Average S.A. taqueria. Some hits, some misses
Mostly misses

Benjamin Olivo

What do you think? Is there a taco I should have ordered, but didn’t? Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.

3 Responses to “Efrain’s Food Market, 1222 Saltillo St.”

  1. Maria Lopez

    1st and foremost, thank you for the nice things you wrote about Efrain’s and while we do welcome and appreciate your business, I wanted to touch base about some of the items you wrote in your blog regarding our food and our history. I’ll start by introducing myself, my name is Maria Lopez, I am the daughter of Leonardo, who hand makes all of the food at Efrain’s. I help out on Sundays as do my other siblings during the week and on the weekend where you’ll also find the matriarch, my step mother, Evelyn. She’ll always be greeting you with a smile and is sure to brighten up your day. My father, whom some refer to as Leon, is there everyday from open to close and uses our family’s mexican roots and heritage as inspiration when he is cooking. He works very hard as do the rest of the family and uses his never ending will to serve God as his strength to get it all done.

    I was actually the one who served you that Sunday you came in and noticed you taking pictures of your food and yet I wondered who you were and why were you taking photos. I refrained from asking because I didn’t want to sound rude, although my eyebrow was still raised at the sight. When I learned about your article this past weekend I went on to read your mission statement on your blog & saw where you mentioned you are trying to help San Antonio by giving your feedback about taquerias and the breakfast tacos from locations that do not seek press and acclaim. You also mentioned how you’re aiming to post interviews with the cooks and restaurant owners, however, in your most recent experience at our store I don’t remember you asking to speak to the owner, Jessica Garza, whom I’m proud to recognize as a latina business owner and my sister. She or her mother, Evelyn, are there on a daily basis and would have gladly given you the real history behind Efrain’s Food Market and how hard the family works to keep the store alive. And by history, I’ll use the painting you mentioned behind the register for example. It is not a painting of Efrain’s Food Market like you stated. In fact it is a painting of the store located on Picoso and Vera Cruz, established by Miguel Menchaca, who happens to be Jessica’s great grandfather. This store was later passed down to his daughter and son-in law and had you bothered to ask for an interview or simply asked one of us at the store while you were there, you could have educated yourself on the spot so that your blog was written with correct information about it. We could have answered all of your questions including why there were so many Jesus signs posted up. Again, had an interview been seeked along with your curiosity for the barbacoa and tamales, you would have learned that our family is one who is strong in our faith and we’re not ashamed to praise the lord whether it is verbally or on a handpainted sign. The signs of faith are not uncommon among neighborhood businesses in the hispanic communities so I’m not sure I understand the reason for pointing this out. These signs and scriptures are recognized by those who hold on to their faith and if someone as yourself was having a rough day and needed prayer all you had to do was ask and we would have obliged, no questions asked. Although I’m happy you did like some things, you seem to have overly criticized several other items including the fact that the tortillas are not homemade. You are correct about that, however, we have never promoted nor advertised that we make handmade tortillas. The food, however, that goes into those tortillas is made from scratch by my father and to be honest, I’m glad he doesn’t make the tortillas on top of the food as this would add even more back breaking efforts on his part, so please forgive us for using the packaged tortillas, but nobody else seems to complain about them. In regards to the tamales, the fact that you weren’t able to eat any was a shame. They are really good, filled very generously, and best of all hecho a mano! He makes a limited amount of food daily and there are some days when customers will come in and order 2-3 dozens at a time causing the good stuff to be sold out at various times of the morning. Same thing will go for the barbacoa, but all you need to do is call in early enough to place an order on hold for yourself if you’d like.

    So you see, maybe Efrain’s wasn’t up to par for your taste in some areas, but apart from what you think, it doesn’t stop customers from returning week after week, year after year, and sometimes even from out of town just for some of our good eats. I’m not at all writing this to bash your review. I’m simply sticking up for our family’s store and the people who run it. If you’re going to give a review about us try to find out who we are so that you have a better understanding of what Efrain’s is all about and how we give back to the community. We’re the little neighborhood store on Saltillo St. A west side gem as you called it. We take pride in making every effort knowing our customers are happy with our food and with our service. We’re not in it for the glamour nor do we compete with any other place for bragging rights. We are simply Efrain’s Food Market run by a family with corazon in the west side of San Antonio and THAT is why we have remained open for over 50 years.

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  2. Ben Olivo

    Maria,

    First, thank you for commenting on this write-up and for defending Efrain’s. I wish more people commented on my posts, so I’m glad you did.

    Just to be clear, the reason I didn’t ask you or anyone else at Efrain’s any questions was because I was writing a review. As a critic, my job is to go in (unnoticed if possible, but I realize my big camera gives me away sometimes), eat the food, get out and then write as objectively as I can about my experience. If I were to speak with you or anyone else there, that objectivity would start to erode. I would be influenced. No good critic strikes up a conversation with the person who created the thing that they’re critiquing.

    It’s easier to do this at restaurants that don’t have a lot of history or personality. Efrain’s is one of the most interesting places I’ve been in, and as much as I wanted to ask about your establishment to learn more, I simply couldn’t.

    All of that said, if your family is up for it, I would like to send a reporter and photographer to write a feature article — so, not a review — on Efrain’s and your family and how y’all have remained open for so many years. I’d love to have that history capture on my site.

    Thank you,

    Ben

    PS — My apologies for assuming the painting of the building was of Efrain’s. I’ve adjusted the wording.

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  3. Shay

    Ben, I just have to take a moment to commend your defense of this piece. I was about to put in my two cents, but you took the words right out of my mouth, “As a critic, my job is to go in… eat the food, get out and then write as objectively as I can about my experience.” Many people confuse reviews and critiques with journalism; that is to no fault of their own, but they do.

    I just started following the Tacoist, and I really enjoy what I’ve read so far. Your reviews have me planning future cheat-meals, though I have yet to follow-through :-/

    Keep it up!

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