Lucy Cafe, 2517 West Avenue

Papa ranchera

You barely notice Lucy Cafe when driving up West Avenue after exiting I-10. The Mexican restaurant is in the middle of one of those shabby retail strips that are ubiquitous along the North Central corridors of this street, Vance Jackson and Blanco roads, and San Pedro Avenue.

Nondescript is a word to use, but, gosh, I’m tired of that word. From the outside it looked dead.

When I walked in, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Munchkin Land — except this was Coca-Cola Land. Prints of vintage 1940s ads and other paraphernalia hung on the walls. Helicopters made from aluminum cans dangled below the ceiling fans. Even the salt and pepper shakers were Coca-Cola bottles.

The only things not Coca-Cola red, seemingly, were the squirt bottles of green and orange salsitas, and the tacos.

Immediately, you’ll notice that the flour tortillas are different. They are super soft and nonuniform, as if the cook doesn’t really care if they’re circles. There’s something in these fluffy tortillas that give them a homemade quality. I can’t explain.

They went great with the papa chorizo, which needed salt. I also added the green salsa and — shit that’s hot. The tortilla absorbed some of the grease and the tortilla broke, but otherwise, very good flavor. The potatoes were not too mushy. They were coated nicely with good quality chorizo.

The machacado and egg was salty, but with good flavor. The meat, egg and veggie combo looked as bland as can be — not as vibrant as some of the others I’ve had, but tasty. And with some built-in heat from the serrano or whatever pepper they mixed in.

I loved the thick gravy on the carne guisada, which had good initial flavor, but not much depth. The bean and cheese was about average, but seemed enhanced on these unusual flour tortillas. Though, I asked for corn.

I thought the tacos here were OK. Perhaps I didn’t order the right ones. There’s definitely something about the atmosphere here. Besides the Coca-Cola trip, the staff here talks to you in a pleasant way. One waitress wanted to know if I study photography, given the huge DSRL I was handling. My waitress put a fan next to me as I ate — the place was a little stuffy. One lady, who was loud and who I presumed was Lucy, was super nice and was particularly proud of the aluminum helicopters.

Lucy Cafe, 2517 West Avenue, (210) 737-7166

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

Ben 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.

Mama’s Kitchen, 504 Hildebrand Ave.

Sometimes I’ll throw around the term “mind blowing” — not to describe what a taco is, but what it isn’t. This, of course, violates Strunk and White’s rule about always putting sentences in positive form, and I don’t feel good when I do it.

But when a taco does reach mind blowing status . . . I’m talking about a food at the very height of taste. Like the best of the best, but better. The type of eating experience that would trigger a mild-mannered person to say — to paraphrase the loquacious Debra Morgan — #$%*, that’s good.

I’ve experienced this only a handful of times as The Tacoist during visits to nearly 50 taquerias, so far. At Mama’s Kitchen on Hildebrand Avenue, it happened again.

The chicharron en salsa ranchera is a must-order and is definitely worth driving across town for. The sauce had excellent tomato-y flavor and the chewy chicharrons — texturally perfect — were pork skins at their slow-cooked finest. And then more layers kicked in. This taco actually gets better as you work through it. This must have something to do with the sauce inheriting the flavor of the skins and the skins picking up the flavor of the sauce. I mean, truly mind blowing stuff.

Mama’s Kitchen is kind of an institution in the Alta Vista area. I’ve been pointed in its direction by several taco enthusiasts. And I recognize Mama’s because I pass by it almost daily and read its sign that says “110% Mexican Food.”

First, they have near-perfect tortillas. The flour was soft and puffy. The corn tortillas were thin and puffed, sturdy yet soft.

I loved the uniqueness of some of the tacos. I really liked the spinach with egg a la Mexicana. Surprisingly, this taco was slightly greasy and needed a little more seasoning. However, all of the flavors came together nicely to form a well-balanced taco — the spinach mixed in with the egg and tomato, onion and peppers.

The rice and egg taco was new to me. The rice was clearly cooked with chicken stock, and so it provided a strange but delicious all around chicken flavor with the slightly messy scrambled eggs.

The bean and cheese had excellent beans, some of the best tasting beans, fatty and mashed on that perfect corn tortilla — yes, please.

The carne guisada was simple — not a lot of ingredients in there — and good. Like it was dependent upon the quality of the meat and not so much other ingredients.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote the beginning of this piece. I waited that long to finally post this report for several reasons — procrastination being one of them. But another is that I wanted to read my ode to this chicharron en salsa ranchera was true. I didn’t want to be accused of hyperbole. Two weeks later, I stand by my assessment of that taco. I challenge you to go try it and tell me it’s not one of the best in San Antonio.

Mama’s Kitchen, 504 Hildebrand Ave., (210) 733-0904

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.

Las Sabrosas de Guanajuato, 6825 San Pedro Ave.

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Here’s a place whose breakfast tacos are more Mex than Tex-Mex. At Las Sabrosas de Guanajuato on San Pedro Avenue, named after the state in central Mexico, the signature breakfast dish are the chilaquiles — except here they are eggless.

Most taquerias in San Antonio serve chilaquiles as a combo of migas and egg a la Mexicana with that nuclear yellow cheese. Here, chilaquiles is corn chips in a salsa covered with white queso — and that’s it. And that’s all it needs to be, because the taco is delicious.

The chilaquiles are usually served on a plate, but you can request them in a taco. It’s essentially a tortilla chip taco in a salsa verde (you can also order with the red salsa) that is tangy roasted tomatillo in its purest form. The chips are incredibly crunchy and seem made in-house. The white cheese adds that extra layer of flavor and complements well the salsa.

Turns out Las Sabrosas, by not sticking with the typical Tex-Mex offerings, is full of surprises. On a lunch menu board, they offered a plate with pasilla chile as the main ingredient. I mean, there is birria (stewed goat) on the taco menu.

Before I describe the other tacos I ate, I must mention in as much detail the house salsa.

All I can say is that the salsa is magic, baby. Usually, when describing how something tastes, I take an educated guess because I’m still developing my palate. This hot sauce might be the most complicated thing I’ve tasted as The Tacoist so I’ll throw a few darts at it. The sauce’s base color is orange, so I assume there’s a healthy dose of habanero. It also has good flavor and bites like a mother — sticking with the habanero theme. But there’s more: This is possibly a blend of dried peppers, as well, judging from the red flakes. Definitely vinegar. Possibly citrus, like orange, squeezed in. Definitely cilantro given the green herbal flakes.

This hot sauce will go good with anything. I mean, any of the tacos at Las Sabrosas, any kind of beef, chicken, fish, tofu, Spam, whatever.

The other tacos were respectable to really good.

The bean and cheese is your typical San Antonio bean and cheese with homemade beans and yellow cheese. The migas had the same brilliant crunch of the chilaquiles; they were a bit dry, but enter that magical sauce and, no problem. The carne guisada was fork tender and a perfect blend of meat and stew. The papas in the papa chorizo were mushy, but the chorizo had good flavor. And they were all served on tortillas — flour and corn — that were very, very good.

This place is definitely worth the trip if you’re looking to shake up your taco routine. Indeed, it’s very Mexican. Portraits of Pedro Infante hang on the walls as do portraits of countryside haciendas presumably in Guanajuato.

Las Sabrosas de Guanajuato, 6825 San Pedro Ave., (210) 785-9211

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.

Taqueria El Charro Tapatio, 4600 Blanco Road

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A gentleman who looked to be having breakfast with his mom said, “You can’t go wrong with anything on this menu,” as I was waiting for my order. He was almost right.

Taqueria El Charro Tapatio is a small restaurant in one of those crumbling retail strips that line Blanco Road (and San Pedro, West Avenue and Vance Jackson, for that matter) heading north from downtown all the way to Loop 410. It’s a comfortable place that feels like a diner.

I ordered a machacado (oh mama), chicharron and egg (turnout out to be with bean), a chilaquiles (hmmm), and chorizo and bean (hell yes). They didn’t look like much, but three of the four tacos were quite good. The chilaquiles wasn’t bad, just different. Maybe it was bad. More on that later.

This is exactly how a machacado (pictured below) is supposed to be. The dried meat moistened by the taco’s other elements — not too stringy or elastic. The tomatoes, peppers and onions cut lengthwise and cooked with the egg and meat, and seemingly made to order as the whole thing was fresh and hot. And thus this taco was perfectly balanced — as you went through, all the flavors took turns chiming in. I wanted the tortilla to be fluffier, but it didn’t ruin the taco’s awesomeness. This taco doesn’t need any of Tapatio’s on-point red or green chile, hotness and taste already included.

The chorizo and bean on corn was a pleasant surprise. To be frank, the taco looked unappetizing (but don’t all chorizo and bean?) the beans leaking out from the ends all bleh. It also looked all bean and no chorizo. After first bite all that prejudice goes away. You immediately get the creamy beans and corn from the tortilla. The tortilla has a great texture with some resistance at the beginning and then softness. It wasn’t until mid-taco when I (hashtag) realized the chorizo. As opposed to the machacado, where all the ingredients were given a solo, the chorizo’s presence was subtle, just underneath the bean, harmonizing with the bean’s lead.

The chicharron and egg ended up being a chicharron and bean. The flour tortilla was cooked to a crisp, which I like sometimes. And it worked with this bad boy. Those creamy beans meshed beautifully with the chewy chicharron. This one requires hot sauce, because for me it lacked some seasoning.

And now the chilaquiles. This taco confounded me like no other in Tacoist history. I nearly finished it, because I was confused as to what I was eating. I didn’t know if it was delicious or nasty. I was trying to crack its code … The tortilla chips crunched, which was great. But the cheese overpowered all the other elements in the taco. It was a strange cheese, an orange cheese. Nacho-y, but not nacho-y. Like a strong cheese and tomato flavor and the egg and chips an afterthought. Not a bad taste, just different. Perhaps Taco Bell-ian? And at El Charro Tapario, they single out the chilaquiles on the menu, as if to showcase it. So maybe I’m missing something.

Finally, the chiles red and green. Both hot, and totally flavorful.

The green seemed like roasted serrano seeds and all with some garlic in there. The vinegary red probably guajillo based judging from the mellowness and maroon color. And rustic, as they say in the culinary world, with its flakes and seeds.

Overall, El Charro Tapatio was impressive and I’ll be going back to try the rest of the menu — and maybe even the chilaquiles in all its strangeness.

Taqueria El Charro Tapatio, 4600 Blanco Road, (210) 340-2650

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.

Little Taco Factory #2, 1510 McCullough Ave.

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Three weeks into this taco journey, and I’m already taking shortcuts. This is supposed to be about exploring San Antonio, about getting the hell out of downtown, my comfort zone. However, deadline was fast approaching and I needed a taqueria ASAP. So I went to an old standby, The Little Taco Factory on McCullough Avenue (there’s one in Kirby, too).

This time, I brought my good friend Zach Garza, who happens to be an executive chef most recently at Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl. I mention Zach’s credentials to give this post some credibility. A culinary expert and a dumbass walk into a taqueria and this is what happened.

At The Little Taco Factory, there’s this red hot sauce. It’s a brilliant Corvette red. Seedy. Tangy. Perhaps slightly smoky. And it will look good daubed on anything: a taco, plate of enchiladas, a lover. It’s probably my favorite hot sauce among the local taquerias. Zach found out it’s made from red jalapenos, which are ripened green jalapenos.

The other hot sauces are wonderful, too — the green, probably serrano; the tangy brown, probably roasted tomato — but the salsa dojo rises above them.

In terms of tacos, I best enjoyed the papa chorizo, an excellent combination of well-seasoned potatoes with bits of chorizo heavily sprinkled throughout. Zach’s favorite was the papa ranchera — more well-seasoned potatoes in a well-balanced and deep-in-flavor ranchero sauce. Perhaps the potatoes could have used more color, but the taste certainly was there.

Other taco notes: The weenie, egg and cheese, I deduced is called the Denver here, because we properly identified all of the other tacos in our order. Let’s be clear, this is weenie — not sausage — and weenie rocks. The taco was hot and fresh and all the flavors blended together beautifully.

The chicharron had good flavor with the right chewy texture, although we would have preferred more stew. The chorizo and egg good and not greasy. The bean and cheese a really good bean and cheese.

The one hiccup: The bacon and egg with its bits of kind of stale egg; and chewy, not crispy, bacon.

The tortillas, clearly made inside the factory, had that proper fresh chewiness.

They aren’t lying with the name. The Little Taco Factory is small and has about 12 tables. You order at the counter. And it’s a popular place, so it’s often crowded with people standing around waiting for a seat or to-go order.

OK, now back to exploring.

Little Taco Factory #2, 1510 McCullough Ave., (210) 227-5657

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.