It’s hard to resist the lure of Lil’ Johnnys Taco House when driving on I-35. Its sign features an anthropomorphic, sombrero-wearing taco mascot who’s making a run for it — from people trying to eat him, I suppose. It’s also located next to a Studio 6 motel, and something about the seediness of that situation suggests these tacos must be outstanding — you know, that road stop diner-type situation, but with tacos.
The tacos at Lil’ Johnnys are about average for San Antonio. Some good, some so-so; one was outstanding.
The Taco Bañado is a combo of papa Mexicana, bacon, cheese and avocado. But what makes this taco outstanding is its crispy flour tortilla. This adds a charred flavor, but more importantly it adds texture. It’s crunchy, but then you have the softness of perfectly cooked potatoes underneath. The pico, which make the papas a la Mexicana, adds those excellent hints of onion and chile and lime. The other ingredients — the bacon, avocado and cheese — are bonuses. They all come together beautifully. You really get all the flavors. Perhaps the potatoes needed more seasoning, but that’s what the salt shaker’s for.
Also, I really enjoyed the patty and egg — which is a Jimmy Dean-style breakfast sausage mixed with scrambled egg. I wonder why more San Antonio taquerias don’t offer this taco. It’s almost impossible to screw up. The egg here looked a bit overdone, but ended up just right. In my notes, I wrote “juicy.” Perhaps there was some grease, but it wasn’t enough to be a turn off. But definitely not dry. Delicious.
The bean and cheese had a very, vey good corn tortillla. By far, the soft and flavorful corn tortilla was the star. The beans seemed average; the cheese, OK. Good, not great.
The carne guisada disappointed. The meat was on the tougher side. The stew added decent flavor, but not a lot of depth. It’s worth mentioning here that the regular flour tortillas (so not the crispy version of the Taco Bañado) are very good.
Back in The Tacoist test kitchen (aka my apartment) I had the chilaquiles and puerco in a red sauce. These required the microwave, so consider that. Though they weren’t in their ideal state, I really enjoyed these tacos.
To be expected, the chilaquiles had soggy chips, but the egg and bits of tomato and onion and serrano were very good, and there was a good amount of cheese.
The puerco had a very good flavor. Many — most? — slow cooked dishes actually get better with age. This one seemed cooked in some kind of chile combo.
I would have rated Lil’ Johnnys higher, but it didn’t deliver on my two favorite tacos: the bean and cheese and the carne guisdada. The others, however, were quite good. So it’s definitely worth checking out next time you’re driving down I-35 and feel that the sprinting taco’s daring you to chase him.
Lil’ Johnnys Taco House, 3601 I-35 North, (210) 227-7533
Worth traveling across town for
Average S.A. taqueria. Some hits, some 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.