El Jaral, 5140 Roosevelt Avenue

7f7a9932

It’s heartbreaking when a taqueria cooks up some tasty taco fillings, but the tortillas are subpar. I wouldn’t say this is common in San Antonio, but it happens more than you’d think.

This was the case at El Jaral on Roosevelt Avenue. And it pains me to write this because the fillings were very good and in one case excellent.

Take, for example, the potato and bacon at El Jaral. This would have been one of the best tacos I’ve had while writing this blog, but the flour tortilla was stiff. The potatoes, however, were cooked perfectly — crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and not greasy. Seriously, the best potatoes I’ve had as The Tacoist. And the bacon strip had that semi-chewy consistency that I crave.

The carne guisada had that depth of flavor that comes with a well-composed and slow-cooked braised dish. The meat was tender. Fellow taco enthusiast The Palate thought he detected ancho chili powder in the mix.

The machacado was a bit of a hiccup only because the dried meat lacked seasoning. But the egg was done right and I loved that the onion flavor that popped through.

The barbacoa was very good and not that greasy. It had a crispiness to it that suggested it had been cooked a second time on a flattop, which I loved. The hardness of the tortilla here was excusable because you could tell from the grease marks that the tortilla had been warmed on the same flattop. Like any good San Antonian, try the green hot sauce, which at El Jaral is garlicky.

The bean and chorizo was packed with flavor, and the bean and cheese was respectable on a thin corn tortilla that had hard edges.

So, yeah, these tacos were tasty but the tortillas were off. Maybe I went on an off day. You should definitely and check it out for yourself. Just don’t expect the tortillas to blow your mind.

El Jaral, 5140 Roosevelt Avenue, (210) 927-1141

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.

Matehuala Cafe #2, 4101 S. Presa St.

7f7a9373

Thank goodness I brought more than one taco enthusiast with me to Matehuala Cafe #2 on South Presa Street. One, we’ll call The Palate, is a regular on Tacoist taqueria visits. The other we’ll call California Native, who described Matuhuala’s menu as overwhelming.

It definitely is.

There were tacos on this menu I hadn’t seen before, and this is a very, very good thing. Matehuala has the list of San Antonio standards, but then there’s a subsection that includes beauties such as the Taco Loco (potato, egg, cheese and bacon) and the Super Taco (potato, chorizo, cheese and bacon). This is awesome. I love when taquerias think outside the box.

We started with the Taco Delicioso (sausage, potato and cheese in a ranchero sauce) but unfortunately the bar for this taco was set too high. Because if you’re going to name a taco as such, it better get really close to mind blowing. We weren’t big fans of the sausage, but the potatoes and sauce were pretty good. This is a good taco, but to call it Taco Delicioso is a stretch.

We loved the Taco Callejero (pastor, chorizo and queso fresco). This was a perfect marriage of the pastor and chorizo to make like a new ingredient — like blue and yellow make green, but in a tortilla. The cilantro, queso fresco and corn tortilla added one delicious element after another.

And then we just kept going.

• Chorizo queso: Greasy, but very cheesy and very good. Strong paprika flavor. A greasy chorizo but not inedible.

• Mollejas: Yes, we went there. And they were pretty good. Sweetbreads, as you may or may not know, are the innards of the calf, typically the thymus gland. This is according to Tom Colicchio’s “Think Like a Chef,” which is one of my favorite books of all time. These were well charred and smoky and were very good mixed in with grilled vegetables.

• Papa a la Mexicana: Very good potatoes that were crispy on the outside combined with a nice flavor from the peppers.

• Bean and cheese: The beans had a purity to them, like perhaps they weren’t cooked with a lot of animal fat. They just needed a little salt. Definitely could use the house salsa. California Native really liked this one.

• Chilaquiles: The first thing I look for in proper chilaquiles is crispy chips. And these were very crispy. The overall mixture had a kick to it from the peppers. But I wanted more sauce and more cheese.

The flour tortillas were about average, but I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. I’ll put San Antonio’s average tortillas up against any city’s any time. And you have a couple of hot sauces to choose from — a green that is your basic serrano pepper and garlic blend and a red that was vinegary, hot and orange. We couldn’t figure out what peppers they used, but the heat definitely lingers.

I really liked Matehuala Cafe #2 for its inventiveness and I’ll definitely be back to explore more of the menu. I’m still waiting for someone to invent the macha-quiles? Whether its Matehuala or not, can someone get on that please?

Matehuala Cafe #2, 4101 S. Presa St., South Side, (210) 531-9770

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.

Lupita’s No. 2, 544 New Laredo Highway

7f7a8916

Sometimes you’re not on your game.

When I left Lupita’s No. 2 last week, I felt good about having just completed a thorough investigation of this charming South Side taqueria. Turns out, not really. Tacos were missed.

One whiff of the bat was the American taco, which, at Lupita’s No. 2, looks to be papa a la Mexicana covered in liquid cheese. This taco isn’t listed on the menu. Instead it’s handwritten on a sign at the register that I didn’t notice till it was too late.

Then there was the Tlaquepaque-style barbacoa tacos. I’m just noticing this item as I review the picture of the menu I took. Seems to be a plate of four barbacoa tacos covered in a brown salsa.

I must return to Lupita’s to try these tacos — the first seemingly a Lupita’s invention, the second seemingly an actual style found in Mexico. But don’t worry; this visit wasn’t a complete waste. New discoveries were made!

The albañil was foreign to me and is basically bean and chorizo with chile. So, a spicy bean and chorizo. I liked that this taco wasn’t messy, which can be the case with lower-quality chorizo. Instead, the beans and chorizo melded and held together well. And because we didn’t fully understand the waitress’ explanation of the albañil taco, we actually ordered a bean and chorizo on its own. Fail!

I was delighted to find the “patties & egg” taco. Usually, sausage and egg takes the form of pre-cooked sausage links you would throw on a grill. This sausage is of the Jimmy Dean breakfast variety you would normally shape into patties. The taste of this taco is about what you’d expect when combining breakfast sausage with egg. Not sure why more taquerias don’t serve this taco. This was ordered on a corn tortilla, which was good — soft with decent corn flavor.

The bean and bacon was watery, buttery, and overall slightly above average. The chilaquiles was another solid taco — not as cheesy, but with crispy chips and fresh diced onion and tomatoes in well-done scrambled egg. The “wini & egg” was your average weenie and egg; salty with good flavor, but definitely in need of the green sauce.

These were all very respectable tacos with about average tortillas. Some were on the crispy side and felt like they had been cooked with fat of some kind or cooked on the same greasy surface as some of the fillings. Depends on how you like your tortillas.

Lupita’s is one of those places I have a soft spot for, admittedly. Most of the menu is hand-painted on the facade. The side door to the kitchen is wide open so you can sneak and peak at the action as you walk around to the front. Off to the side is a walk-up window for to-go orders.

Inside, it’s like walking into a hobbit’s home. The ceiling is low. We sat in tiny one-seater booths along the window. They give you a menu, but half of the items are on the wall in picture form. For example, the Dragus plate (sounded very D&D) is a chalupa, a crispy taco, two enchiladas, rice, beans and tortillas.

But let’s not forget the American and Tlaquepaque-style barbacoa tacos. They will soon be had.

Lupita’s No. 2, 544 New Laredo Highway, (210) 921-1090

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.

Tony’s, 1503 Nogalitos St.

7f7a8115

When I walked into Tony’s on Nogalitos Street, my eyes didn’t know where to begin. Rows of masa balls were squished together on a tray that sat next to dunes of flour. One by one, a cook loaded the balls semi-flattened in an industrial tortilla press — cranked it — and out spat the dough disks onto the flat top griddle. Other cooks cranked out the taco orders.

Above the cooks loomed a jumbo menu that listed the dozens of tacos and plates, burgers and tortas, and that touched the high ceiling. On it, a cartoon of a little Mexican dude in a sombrero and chanclas.

What I didn’t see were tables. This is Tony’s “Tacos To Go,” after all. But there were stainless steel countertops along the windows for dining in.

Tony’s resides in what used to be a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, according to a framed Express-News article on the wall. The interior looked historic; it’s easy to imagine a 1950s neighborhood grocery in this space. I fell in love with the interior as soon as I set foot. It happens that the staff was super friendly. Usually, people stare at me as I take pictures. Here, I was a fly on the wall — they didn’t mind.

Tony’s serves very, very good tacos with very good flour tortillas, which are more doughy and on the thicker side. Nothing cold is being put into these tortillas — the other half of the griddle is used for cooking some of the fillings, while the pre-made stuff like carne guisada and beans stay hot in warmers. The tacos steamed greatly when we unwrapped them. The red hot sauce is worth noting — some kind mix of red chiles in oil. Like the fire oil ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants. Handle with extreme care.

Let’s talk tacos . . .

The chicharron in salsa verde is not to be messed with. They’re not cooking the skins in some piddly tomatillo sauce — this is straight up serrano pepper, ma’am. Spiciness aside, this taco was delicious in its simplicity as the pork flavor really came through.

The chilaquiles were super cheesy, the egg and its other ingredients piping hot, and the tortilla strips semi-crunchy. The carne guisada was stewy and wonderfully messy with meat cooked to perfection. To make the country a la Mexicana, they cooked the pico de gallo on the griddle, which was nice, and whatever sausage they were using was top-notch. The bean and cheese on corn was more cheesy with the beans serving as the foundation.

The barbacoa was very good and a tad on the greasy side, which is going to happen. I really liked the corn tortillas here. They are simple, soft, heavy, light in color and not overcooked like many seem to be. They are the perfect conduit for the meaty barbacoa, the ideal relationship between tortilla and filling.

Most of these tacos don’t need the sauces. The aforementioned red is provided along with a light green that’s probably jalapeno pureed in oil with garlic and cilantro.

I had a similar experience walking into Tony’s as I did walking into Kreuz’s in Lockhart. There, walking into the smoke room where you also order is like walking into barbecue church where I always keep my voice down out of respect for the smoked meats. Tony’s is a place of worship, too, but it’s more like those nondenominational iglesias on the West and South sides that inhabit deteriorating one-story buildings and that stay open late — more rambunctious but still reverential toward the religion that is the breakfast taco.

Tony’s, 1503 Nogalitos St., (210) 271-7113

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.

Rocky’s Tacos, 2423 Pleasanton Road

7f7a7817

Sometimes a taco is greasy. And sometimes a taco’s so greasy that as you bite through it, you begin to feel your arteries clot as a pool of the fatty liquid forms on the plate a la primordial soup.

This was the experience with the barbacoa taco at Rocky’s Tacos, a 24-hour taqueria on the South Side.

(A quick note about barbacoa: I’ve been reluctant to explore barbarcoa because I consider the heady meat to be its own category in world of tacos. Same reason I’ve stayed away from puffy tacos, mini tacos, etc. Breakfast tacos — the backbone of S.A. cuisine, daily routine for so many San Antonians — must be explored, understood and conquered, first. To include barbacoa would mean I’d have to order it every place I go. Then I could visit places only on the weekends, along with other logistical issues. But we ordered the barbarcoa at Rocky’s, so we’ll go there.)

People, I realize this blog is about tacos in San Antonio and that it’s definitely not about eating healthy, or tofu or goji berries. There is, however, such a thing as too much grease. Maybe more of a sin at Rocky’s was the lack of beefy flavor in its barbacoa. The pool did indeed form on the plate, because I found myself wringing the taco to force out as much of the grease as I could.

The chorizo and bean greased, too. But my fellow taste-tester and I thought the spices of the chorizo and the homemade beans mixed well together.

The highlight was the country and bean. Those very good and well-mashed beans acted as a thick coating to sausage that had great flavor — whatever brand of sausage they’re using (assuming they’re not stuffing the tubes themselves) was quite good. And not too greasy. This was a good example of grease held in check.

The bean and cheese on corn was respectable, although the corn tortilla seemed stale. The carne guisada was a little tough but had good beefy flavor. The potato and egg was very average. All on flour tortillas that were a bit on the hard side.

Yes, Rocky’s is open 24 hours and I imagine this write-up would be more favorable if my visit occurred at 3:13 a.m. And I imagine, perhaps, I wouldn’t wring my barbacoa taco during that visit as well. Makes me wonder if Mr. Taco was indeed as heavenly as I remember it — pour some on the block.

Rocky’s Tacos, 2423 Pleasanton Road, (210) 921-9449

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 Palmas, 2911 Roosevelt Avenue

7f7a4827

If you weren’t looking for the place, you’d probably drive past Las Palmas on Roosevelt Avenue. There’s no towering sign you can seen from the road. Just a green neon behind burglar bars in a rinky-dink retail building seemingly thrown to the side of the road like many of the businesses that flank this part of Roosevelt.

The neighborhood seems to be keenly aware of Las Palmas. It was still a lively place after the morning rush. Older couples. A couple of solo older dudes. A pastor from a nearby church introduced himself to two younger tattooed Latinas, one of them with green hair, and gave them cupcakes as a kind gesture. They talked and laughed for about five minutes, and then they prayed.

On the breakfast taco menu were a handful of new discoveries. I asked the waitress about the papa caseras, because I had no clue. Potatoes in a red sauce, she said. But when the taco arrive, large chunks of potatoes were in a seedy paste more than a sauce. And so this taco was dry. The paste tasted like the ubiquitous chile de arbol. Definitely more of a rustic taco in desperate need of more seasoning and moisture. Nothing some of green hot sauce — a typical green peppery, watery sauce — couldn’t solve, and it did elevated the taco several notches.

The wiener and gravy on flour was another unique taco, for me. This was exactly what you’d expect: weenie and in a salty white gravy and onions — the weenie this strange sort of nuclear orange color. I’m not going to say an unnatural color for weenie, because weenies are naturally unnatural. (It got me thinking of another combo I haven’t seen: weenie a la Mexicana. Let’s make that happen people!)

The chicharron and egg I ordered cripsy (30 cents extra). At the risk of making myself out to be a complete ignorant fool, this taco for me begs the question: When they make chicharron guisada, are the skins stewed after they are fried? Or are they never fried? One would think that if stewed after frying that the skins might disintegrate in the liquid. But anyway, these chicharron were slightly chewy, which was actually nice, and the egg well-cooked and seasoned.

Finally, the bean and egg on corn was dry, too, but nothing some of that green sauce couldn’t fix.

Las Palmas also happens to have the friendliest service I’ve experienced while writing this blog. Not fake friendly and not smothering, either. But a genuine humble kind of friendly where they’ll call you sir.

Las Palmas, 2911 Roosevelt Avenue, (210) 928-7980

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.

Los Magueyes, 3743 Pleasanton Road

7f7a3819

Not all breakfast tacos are going to be camera worthy. This was the case at Los Magueyes on the South Side, where I ordered a papa-chorizo, country a la ranchero, carne guisada and bean and cheese.

That said, we all know you can’t judge a taco on presentation and appearance alone. Unlike other culinary plates, I don’t mind if a breakfast taco looks thrown together as long as the taste is present. But even that was hit and miss — mostly miss — at Los Magueyes.

The edges of the potatoes in the papa-chorizo had that nice browning indicating that they were cooked to crispiness. But they were cooked to crispiness way before they were put in my taco — the edges had a hardened, rubbery texture to them. And they needed more seasoning.

The Country a la Ranchero was that classic sausage and stringy onions in a tomato sauce that every kid growing up in San Antonio remembers from elementary school. I’ve forgotten which day the sausage was served — Wednesdays were enchilada days, and I don’t remember much after that. To some, the sausage will bring comfort. And for me, it was fine. But I wanted more coarse pieces of onion and peppers in the ranchero sauce.

The carne guisada less chunky and perhaps too shredded. It needed more stew as it was kind of dried out. The bean and cheese taco was serviceable.

I must also point out that the edges of the tortillas were hardened. So the taste was there, but the texture not so much. So I wasn’t crazy about the tacos at Los Magueyes. The service, however, was very good.

Los Magueyes, 3743 Pleasanton Road, (210) 922-2118

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.