Great Tacos: Taco Loco #2 at Maria’s Cafe


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Taco Loco #2 (wieners, papas, beans, cheese, pico de gallo); Maria’s Cafe, 1105 Nogalitos St.; (210) 207-7005; 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

You could throw a dart at the menu at Maria’s Cafe, a near South Side taqueria pillar, and hit a great taco. Maria’s is that good. If I could describe the food there in one word, that word would be “freshness.” I don’t know, but Maria’s might be my favorite taqueria.

Of all the great tacos Maria’s has to offer, the Taco Loco #2 — an assembly of wieners, papas, beans, cheese and pico de gallo — was the most memorable. With flour tortillas quite excellent, they assemble together wieners, papas, beans and cheese. On top of it all is about the freshest and best pico de gallo I’ve had so far writing this blog. It’s one of those roughly chopped picos with the small chunks of serrano pepper — seeds and all. The tomato and onion are chopped just as coarsely.

The entire taco, again, is fresh. It’s one of those crazy mixtures where all of the ingredients really work together. The combo of ingredients may seem all thrown together and random, a la a trash can-style taco, but this isn’t the case with the Taco Loco #2. The bean and cheese on the flour tortilla is the base of the whole thing, but well cooked and seasoned potatoes and wieners elevate this taco into Great Taco status.

Other Great Tacos

Carne guisada at Mi Celayence, 2903 Fredericksburg Road

Chicharron en Salsa Ranchera at Mama’s Kitchen, 504 Hildebrand Ave.

Ham and egg at Mendez Cafe, 201 Bartholomew Ave.

Taco Mexicano at Yatzil, 502 S. Zarzamora St.

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.

Great Tacos: Ham and Egg, Mendez Cafe

Ham and egg; $1.89; Mendez Cafe, 201 Bartholomew Ave., (210) 923-6603

Only twice has a taco made me cry.

The first was a bean and cheese on the West Side—but my emotional response I’m sure had to do with me biting into this excellent taco at the moment a father-son duo began belting out corridos three tables away.

The second time I cried was this week, when I tasted for the third time the ham and egg on flour at Mendez Cafe on the South Side. I wasn’t weeping, but tears did form.

If breakfast tacos are San Antonio’s comfort food, this one brings me the most comfort. What’s strange is that it’s unlike your typical San Antonio breakfast taco. It’s unlike your typical ham and egg taco.

What sets apart this ham and egg is its underlying syrup element that cannot be ignored. Yes, the egg and the ham and the flour tortilla are there. But underneath those dominant flavors is the hint of pancakes.

When I wrote about this taco for the overall write-up on Mendez Cafe, and made the same syrupy observation, a reader suggested that the tortillas are cooked on the same flattop as the pancakes. Mendez Cafe, after all, is a South Side institution that specializes in breakfast.

But the other tacos I ordered didn’t have this hint of syrup.

Upon closer inspection, after tasting the ham bits individually, I determined that they must use a maple-glazed ham. What’s crazy is that this was the third time I had this taco, and it was by far the best experience. This ham was charred to a slight crisp—not boiled. The egg seemed prepared almost “over easy,” then folded into the flour tortilla, and not scrambled.

The elements mentioned so far are great on their own. But then Mendez Cafe’s excellent flour tortilla jumps in to provide like a pancake element to accompany the charred bits of syrupy ham.

Other tacos made my Great Tacos list before Mendez Cafe’s ham and egg, and those may be technically better tacos, but this one’s my favorite. It’s tear worthy.

Read the original Mendez Cafe write-up.

Benjamin Olivo

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.

Great Tacos: Chicharron en Salsa Ranchera at Mama’s Kitchen

Chicharron en Salsa Ranchera; $1.99; Mama’s Kitchen, 504 Hildebrand Ave., (210) 733-0904

One taco puzzle I haven’t quite solved is how to properly prepare chicharrones. The most popular way to consume these bad boys is to fry them — sometimes fry the $#!* out of them. Sprinkle chile powder on them, squeeze some lime, crack open a beer, and you’re good to go.

In tacos, however, I’ve had them crunchy, I’ve had them soft and I’ve even had them gelatinous.

As The Tacoist, because I gladly wield my self-appointed power like a self-absorbed bastard, I proclaim Mama’s Kitchen on Hildebrand Avenue as the best version of chicharrones in a taco. Their version takes the skins and slow cooks them in a salsa ranchera. Traditionally this sauce is composed using the base of tomatoes, onions and peppers, or the colors of the Mexican bandera. After that, who knows what’s added to the sauce. Garlic, I’m sure. Salt and pepper for proper seasoning. I don’t know for certain that these pork skins in this sauce are slow cooked. But they must be considering the softness and depth of flavor that’s achieved with this dish.

It’s the perfect fusion of the flavor of the pork skins with all of the ingredients of the sauce. It’s a swirl of all of those flavors. “America’s Test Kitchen” couldn’t recreate this taco. No way. The flavors of the skins and the sauce become one. You remove the skins from the sauce, taste them separately, and find that each ingredient has soaked up some of the other’s flavor.

In my write-up of Mama’s Kitchen, I described this taco as “mind blowing.” After having had this taco recently, I stand by that statement.

The chicharrones make this taco great. But Mama’s Kitchen’s soft and very good flour tortillas certainly play a huge part. Also, this taco is naturally hot, and already contains the salsa ranchera flavors, so there’s no need for additional hot sauce.

I had heard of Mama’s Kitchen through the Trinity University grapevine, and through friends who are mutual admirers of breakfast tacos. In 50-plus taquerias visited, Mama’s Kitchen is one of a handful that has earned The Tacoist’s coveted three salsa cup rating. For now, this restaurant has produced one of San Antonio’s truly Great Tacos. “For now,” because there are probably other Great Tacos on its menu. This one is the best one I’ve had at Mama’s Kitchen.

Read the original Mi Celayence write-up.

Benjamin Olivo

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.

Great Tacos: Carne guisada at Mi Celayence

Carne guisada; $2.39; Mi Celayence, 2903 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 732-1122

We all have our go-to tacos. Mine is carne guisada. There’s nothing like braised beef that’s cooked for a long period of time, building layer upon layer of flavor throughout the process. Or, as some cooks have told me, it’s all about keeping it simple with high quality ingredients.

Nobody does carne guisada better than Mi Celayence — at least in the 51 taquerias I’ve visited so far. Mendez Cafe on the South Side comes close, and then there’s a huge drop off from the others.

Before taking a bite, I recommend opening the flour tortilla and just admiring it. This is stew in a tortilla, so it’s intrinsically messy. I don’t trust carne guisadas that stay in the tortilla. You’re supposed to eat as much of the beef chunks as you can and then save some tortilla and sop up the sauce that’s nearly covered your plate. And at Mi Celayence, it’s all about the sauce. It’s has depth of flavor that’s meat-based. But upon close inspection you’ll notice jalapeno seeds and red flakes and other bits of ingredients unrecognizable because they’ve disintegrated through the slow cooking process. There are black bits that are probably Maillard bits the cook scraped from the bottom of the cooking vessel — where the real flavor comes from. Um, hell to the yeah. This — all of this — and the meat is tender with absolutely no fat.

Fellow taco enthusiast The Palate, who makes regular appearances on this blog, says he could taste the tomato paste, which indicates they’re not cutting corners in the kitchen.

All of this would be enough to raise this taco’s jersey into the Tacoist rafters, but then the flour tortilla is perfect and pillowy and fresh.

So, yes, please, please, please take the time to eat this taco from this place and experience a truly great San Antonio taco.

Read the original Mi Celayence write-up.

Benjamin Olivo

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.

Great Tacos: Taco Mexicano at Yatzil

Editor’s Note: The first in a series that celebrates S.A.’s best tacos. I completely stole this idea from Roger Ebert’s Great Movies, and so . . . here is one of San Antonio’s Great Tacos.

Taco Mexicano (asada steak with guacamole, onions and cilantro); $3; Yatzil, 502 S. Zarzamora St., (210) 432-2240

To launch this series, I chose this taco for many reasons. The biggest reason being that my favorite taco on this Tacoist journey doesn’t exist anymore, or else I would have lead with that one. I’ll decline to write its name and the restaurant that makes it, because there’s a possibility it may return.

Until then, I give you the Taco Mexicano at Yatzil on the West Side.

This isn’t even my second favorite taco. But why not start this Great Tacos series with this one?

The menu describes it as asada steak with guacamole, onions and cilantro. So I ignored it during my first visit to Yatzil back in October. I wanted to try something new. Steak asada taco? Been there, done that. Oh, no I hadn’t. I figured they would cut the steak into strips. Oh, no they didn’t.

Yatzil puts an entire steak in a tortilla. And then they only charge you $2.99. This makes the price of tacos at Fiesta (only two days away!) seem like 10 times more a rip off than they already are.

The first time I ordered the Taco Mexicano, the steak was thicker; the second time, the steak was thinner. It doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s still grilled to perfection — juicy and well seasoned. The dollop of guacamole and onions and cilantro complements the meat and Yatzil’s very good flour tortillas.

A truly great San Antonio taco in both taste and price.

The Taco Mexicano when I ordered it for the first time.

Benjamin Olivo

Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at ben@thetacoist.com.