With renewed motivation that comes with a new year, I’ve decided to bring back The Tacoist, but in newsletter form only. Here’s the plan: I’ll continue to eat tacos — because, one must if they’re to call themselves a San Antonian — and I’ll give my thoughts of them via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’ll then use those posts to build a monthly newsletter.
Yes, this is definitely more doable and realistic than trying to write complete reviews for every taqueria I visit being that I have a full-time job.
Though The Tacoist will live mostly through newsletter — right now, the name is the S.A. Taco Report, but I’m welcome to suggestions — I plan to write the occasional essay and continue adding to the Great Taco list to keep the site alive. Hopefully, some point down the road, in two years maybe, I can make this my full-time job and the reviews and features will return.
So please, if you haven’t already, sign up for the newsletter. The first one launches Friday, Jan. 5!
Oh, and don’t forget that there’s merch for sale, like this “Body by Tacos” onesie. (Hey, I have bills to pay.)
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.”
“Russia,” Bourdain said. And then he elaborated (and I paraphrase):
“They drink vodka for breakfast like San Antonians eat burritos.”
Umm — excuse me?!
As much as I love that man’s work, WTF with the burritos, Bourdain?! Such a glaring error from someone so erudite and well-traveled.
It made me realize that in San Antonio, all we have is each other, our breakfast tacos and our Spurs. And while our Spurs have gained the recognition from the rest of the NBA as a model franchise, the rest of America isn’t on board with breakfast tacos. Sure, a New York writer will occasionally weigh in with an article that’s thinly researched and reported. Or, some Brooklyn hipster restaurant will begin serving $4 bean and cheese tacos and proclaim it a culinary renaissance or some shit. And EVERY SINGLE TIME, we San Antonians will get all indignant because after all these years we still have an inferiority complex the size of a Rolando’s super taco.
People, who cares?! We’re in this breakfast taco thing together — you and me. (Me being Ben Olivo, former downtown reporter, columnist and blogger at the San Antonio Express-News. I have since left and decided to start this project, among others. Enjoy!)
And yet, we hardly know anything about breakfast tacos. I mean, we know we love them as a San Antonio culinary staple and we know individually which ones bring us the most joy, but do we know where they came from, the journey they took to get to this point in San Antonio? We were born, and they were there, in front of us on a paper plate in our abuelita’s kitchen. Or, who serves the best breakfast tacos? Hundreds and hundreds of taquerias dot San Antonio, but has anybody tried to chronicle them all?
Hence, this blog. I hope to find answers to these questions and many others that surround breakfast tacos in San Antonio, Texas. My goal is to deliver a review of a different taqueria every Tuesday. How I’ll do this, I have no clue. For example, what the hell do I order as I waddle from taqueria to taqueria with so many taco permutations — the potato and egg; the potato and egg with cheese; the potato and egg with cheese and bacon; the potato and bean with bacon? Throw in the machacados and the lenguas and the weenies and the various a la Mexicanas and who knows where to start? And what about the bean and cheese???
Another goal of this blog’s is to explore the city, and not review (at least not in the first year) the places that always make critics’ and readers’ choice lists: the Original Donut Shops and the Taco Havens and the Rolando’s of San Antonio — been there, done that.
Eventually I’ll write beyond breakfast tacos to include other types of tacos, post interviews with cooks and restaurant owners, eventually visit the border, eventually visit Austin (to see what good if any they bring to the table that’s not kale), and explore various taco-related issues in essay form — God forbid another half-assed article about Austin is published.
Don’t have time for BS. Too many tacos to eat.
— Benjamin Olivo
Want me to visit your favorite taqueria? Have any taco-related news, issues or concerns? Email me.