The details of the events I’m about to describe are hazy. So many years have passed — and alcoholic beverages slammed — since certain tacos were ordered, since certain hurtful words were spoken amongst close friends.
It must have been the late ’90s or early 2000s. We were at Mr. Taco past 2 a.m. because — why would you go there while the bars were still open? Everyone in our group of four or five ordered their favorite tacos. But only one is relevant to this post:
“Bean and egg with cheese.”
This is how Puff (his actual nickname) ordered this taco.
Seems straight forward. You get a bean and egg — not as common as a bean and cheese, but not exotic either — and add cheese. Except Mr. Taco always botched the order. Instead of “bean and egg with cheese,” the cooks would make, and the waitress would deliver, a bean and cheese, usually.
So the group suggested to Puff that maybe he switch up his ordering method. Maybe order a bean and cheese — this being San Antonio’s signature taco — and ask them to add egg? It’s less confusing this way.
“Bean and egg with cheese!” he’d say with righteous indignation.
Puff always complained about the service at Mr. Taco, but the reason he complained about the service was because they always fumbled his favorite taco. He loathed Mr. Taco for this reason. Mr. Taco is long gone, but it’s a grudge he still holds today.
“They got it wrong,” Puff told The Tacoist in a recent interview. “Every time, they forgot the egg.”
It became a debate every time we set foot inside Mr. Taco. Every time we went there, drunkenly, we told him, “Order a bean and cheese . . . with egg!” Every single time.
“I wasn’t going to bend,” Puff said. “I wasn’t going to break on how that taco should be ordered.”
. . .
It seems San Antonio’s nightlife eras can be measured by where tipplers flocked to to throw a munch after the bars closed. Mi Tierra has been holding down the downtown fort for decades. If you were partying on the northwest side of town, it’s Chacho’s.
“When it came to the post 2 a.m. taqueria wars, Chacho’s and the King Kong nachos destroyed Mr. Wacko,” Puff said.
But if you were partying late into the night on the St. Mary’s Strip, in the gay clubs on Main Avenue, or anywhere in the SAC area — and you’re currently in your late 30s or 40s — you drove drunkenly to Mr. Taco.
This was before Uber. You would have found your way to Mr. Taco after a night of drinking at Joey’s or Taco Land — the original Taco Land and not the soulless abomination that’s there now. This was before Las Salsas. The Pearl may still have been brewing beer. During this time, in the late 1990s, early 2000s, the St. Mary’s Strip — the White Rabbit and all — was on the decline.
San Antonio was much less Austin, then.
Now, the Mr. Taco building is inhabited by La Huasteca #3. The tacos are probably about the same quality, to be honest, but the hours of operation are less nocturnal.
If I remember correctly, Mr. Taco was open 24/7. This meant that after 2 a.m. the place became lively and filled with drunks — myself included.
“It was a crazy ambiance,” Puff remembers. “You had people from all walks of life, plus the little bar in the back.”
Sometimes we’d get there early, like at 11 a.m. or even midnight, to beat the 2 a.m. rush. If you really want to go back in time, Mr. Taco was located at the current Web House Cafe and Bar on Blanco Road and Ashby Place before it moved to the San Pedro location.
“I would say once they moved to San Pedro, the crowd was more mainstream,” said The Palate, my taco-tasting buddy who’s a frequent contributor to this blog. “At the original location, that was more sort of the Main street neighborhood — the club kids, party-goer types, the (cross-dressers).”
But the San Pedro location is the one that sticks in people’s memory. Maybe Mr. Taco closed in the mid 2000s? I’m not sure, I’ve drank since then.
. . .
Technically, Puff’s entire interview for this piece was off the record, so I’m not supposed use his quotes.
“I guess you’ll disparage my name to sell some T-shirts,” he said.
. . .
I forget her name, but our waitress was a San Antonio original — a short Hispanic lady with long and brightly-painted fingernails that crossed each other as she gripped the pen to jot our orders. She wore brightly-hued eyeshadow, and she had my order memorized.
Soon after Mr. Taco closed, us drunks took the party to Las Salsas. I remember she got a job there and I asked her — drunkenly at 2:42 in the morning, probably — why Mr. Taco had closed. Why? Is it over? Is the dream dead? She basically told me that Mr. Taco was a time and a place and that it was dead and never coming back and that that’s life baby and to get the #@!* over it already.
Were the tacos really that good? I remember them to be magical. After 2 a.m., I guess, all tacos are magical. I remember going there in the daylight one time and Mr. Taco was just another Mexican restaurant. There was no magic, no spectacle, no club kids.
I remember they’d bring the tacos wrapped in wax paper sheets. I still haven’t seen that treatment of tacos anywhere else in San Antonio. The barbacoa always stood out because the grease would soak right through the paper.
The wax paper also added a little extra drama when Puff would open his taco, to see if they would get it right this time. We knew better — they’d mess up the order again.
This is undebatable. The question that we debated, heatedly — and still to this day — is: Who’s at fault?
. . .
In conclusion, I pose these existential questions:
Is the taco a bean and egg with cheese? Or, is it a bean and cheese with egg?
Puff’s rebuttal was two-fold:
• Bean and egg was listed on the Mr. Taco menu.
• Cheese is an accessory not a main ingredient. You order such-and-such taco … with cheese.
Puff was ordering on principle. But isn’t the point to get the correct taco delivered — especially when you’re buzzed and hungry?
“At 2:30 in the morning, they don’t hear ‘bean and egg with cheese’,” The Palate argued. “All they hear is ‘bean and cheese.’ That’s the most popular taco . . . I don’t care if it’s on the menu, it’s 2:30 in the morning.
“You can’t blame Mr. Taco, you can’t blame the service. That’s your fault if they can’t get it correct.”
When Mr. Taco finally closed, Puff was beside himself.
“I think I drove down there during the day and it was shut down,” Puff said. “The only word that came to mind was ‘justice.’ Justice was served.”
The only word that came to my mind? Sadness.