Lil’ Johnnys Taco House, 3601 I-35 North

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
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.

Cazadores, 927 Rittiman Road

On a recent visit to Cazadores, a taqueria on Rittiman Road near Fort Sam Houston, the salsas saved the morning.

This happens a lot when you eat randomly at taquerias throughout San Antonio, as I’ve chosen to do on this blog with great sacrifice. Most taquerias aren’t going to wow you, and most aren’t going to give you intestinal difficulties.

Most are right down the middle, and San Antonio’s right-down-the-middle is better than the best in most cities. This stays true, I would assume, if you’re a soldier from nearby Fort Sam who might be trying Tex-Mex breakfast tacos for the first time.

For us breakfast taco experts, sometimes ho hum tacos require the hot sauce. And this is what really distinguishes Cazadores, where the tacos became conduits for the sauces.

The green was a tangy tomatillo sauce, which has been rare in S.A. to my surprise. The greens are usually grounded in serrano or jalapeno peppers. The red sauce here was a chile de arbol-based sauce that was vinegary and very good.

I kept reaching for these sauces in part because they were good, but also because the tacos were indeed right down the middle in terms of quality.

My favorite was the machacado and egg with its salty and well-seasoned dried meat. The meat was so strong that it powered through the egg and pico de gallo, which ended up being there for texture more than for additional flavor.

The egg in all of the egg tacos — I realize now that we may have gone overboard with egg-based tacos — were overcooked. But no biggie.

The egg a la Mexicana on corn was simple egg and pico. There was something store-bought about the tortilla because of its perfect shape and the way it delivered a flat flavor.

The carne guisada was dry, but tasty; simply put together in a basic stew. The bean and cheese was good beans topped with white cheese. The chorizo and papas was more mashed potatoes and dry chorizo, which is actually an indication that they’re using higher grade chorizo and not the cheap greasy stuff.

Although Cazadores was about as average as taquerias get in San Antonio, the experience did get me thinking about the role of salsas in taquerias. Should S.A. tacos be like Lockhart barbecue, where the sauce ruins the purity of the taco? Or should the sauces play an integral role in the taco like they do in Mexico? I guess it depends on the taco.

Cazadores, 927 Rittiman Road, (210) 824-0175

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 Los Dos Laredos #4, 1264 Austin Highway

7f7a4897

At times, being inside Taqueria Los Dos Laredos on Austin Highway was like those awkward visits to a friend’s house when you were a kid and your friend’s parents were fighting. The staff was making much commotion as they moved from task to task around the cash register and into the kitchen and back out. The commotion could be characterized as fighting, yes, but there was more to it than that, more complex.

And my waiter seemed to be in the center.

He saw my DSRL camera and it’s like the floodgates opened and he proceeded to talk my ear off for almost the whole sitting about photography and camera equipment. Super friendly guy. But, dude, these tacos aren’t eating themselves. Turns out he is an amateur photographer trying to get his own business off the ground. Everyone could hear our conversation. This Taqueria Los Dos Laredos — there are four of them — is a tight space with Magic 105.3, Today’s Best Music, playing from on high.

The menu itself doesn’t list its tacos. You have to go up to a framed taco listing next to the cash register, and all of the usual suspects are there. So I ordered, and they came, and I wasn’t impressed. These aren’t terrible tacos, but they disappointed me greatly.

The papa ranchera had a great sauce in that the roasted tomatoes, onions and peppers were fresh and they balanced out one another. But the potatoes lacked seasoning and so the entire taco came off as bland.

The chorizo and egg was slightly burnt, dry and greasy with way too strong of a paprika flavor. It was like: Let me have a paprika taco with egg.

The bean and cheese overpowered by hard, shredded cheddar cheese. Hard in the grade of the cheddar, but also hard in the way cheddar stiffens when left out in the open. This kind of cheesiness actually can be quite tasty, but it negated the beans in this taco like the beans didn’t matter and that’s never a good thing.

The chicharron guisada was slightly crunchy, but there was absolutely no stew. Dried out, and so it seemed silly eating chicharrones in a tortilla without some kind of accessory or accompaniment.

So all of the tacos were off in some way. Even the hot sauces were unusual. The green not the typical watery sauce, but thick and garlicky. The red could have been chile de arbol or guajillo but was oily and bitter in a bad way. But then it had what looked like chopped cilantro in there. And too hot. Coming from me, that’s saying something.

Taqueria Los Dos Laredos #4, 1264 Austin Highway, (210) 822-3110

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.

Taco Guadalajara, 4838 Rittiman Road

tacoguadalajara425

For some reason, the northeast side of San Antonio fascinates me. North of Loop 410 and bound roughly by I-35 and I-10, this area reminds me of the impoverished and blue collar West and South sides, but without the history or soul. I mean, The Eisenhower Market and The Planet K on Austin Highway are about as puro as it gets.

Ended up at Taco Guadalajara on Rittiman Road, a tiny no-frills place located in a retail strip that also includes Yanni’s One Stop Barber Shop and an E-Z Wash. A block away are H-E-B warehouses were tractor-trailers lumber to and from.

Taco Guadalajara has 11 tables, a green and a red sauce, and that’s it. (And chips and salsa, but I was having breakfast.)

My taco order: machacado; bean, cheese and bacon; and carne guisada with cheese. I wet the machacado (shredded dry beef mixed with egg, diced tomatoes and onions) with the red sauce. The taco’s natural flavors were nice on their own, but the red sauce boosted it a notch.

bolnerschiledearbol

Now, this sauce is not life changing. But I bring up the sauce because it was so recognizable to me and yet I couldn’t ID it. It was definitely chile based and not tomato based. So I took one of those lidded plastic cups with the red sauce back to The Tacoist Test Kitchen (my friend’s house) where we determined the sauce was made with the chile de arbol — the smaller, thinner Mexican pepper. One sniff of those dried bad boys and it was an instant match. The sauce reconstituted child de arbol (so it has red flakes), slightly tangy and probably mixed with garlic and oil — the heat lasts throughout the taco and then some before eventually backing away.

Couldn’t tell you about the bean and cheese with bacon because I wasn’t paying attention.

But the carne guisada was really good. Had that bold well-seasoned beefy flavor without being fatty. It was more shredded carne guisada than chunky. The flour tortillas were kind of thin and silky, but the crispy edges provided nice texture.

Taco Guadalajara, 4838 Rittiman Road, (210) 661-3333

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.