I recently traveled into the geographical center of Texas: McCulloch County, to cover the 2015 World Goat Cook Off held each year in Brady since 1974.
Now that I live in New Orleans, where there are no good tacos, I have to make the most of my visits to regions of the US where high-level taquerias are a way of life.
San Antonio is the capital of Tex Mex in USA; there are hundreds of Mexican restaurants, taquerias, enchilada parlors, taco huts, tamale repositories and loncheras.
In some cases entire city blocks are little more than row after row of Mexican restaurants.
San Antonio is Tex Mex heaven.
After a quick 2.5 hour drive, my first stop for barbacoa is Caracheo’s Mexican Restaurant #2 in the northeast part of town. The little taqueria sits in an old desolate shopping plaza that may have had a heyday back in the 70s. Or maybe not, it’s rough, it’s forlorn and that’s exactly how I like it.
The barbacoa here is bang-up. It’s clean-tasting and elementally beefy like a good pot roast with almost no fat in the meat. My tacos, a pair, are served on both corn and flour tortillas. The corn has a good, sunny flavor and the flour has seen some time on a comal as little heat blisters are chockablock across the tortilla’s landscape.
Two salsas come with: a stove-top warm chile Arbol that I briefly consider drinking and a salty, green tomatilla that has a lingering peppery burn. My server, La Reyna, checks after me and is amused at the notebook list of restaurants I’m due to eat at over the course of the day.
You have to really work at it but you can find taco houses using grocery store tortillas in San Antonio. Mimi’s Barbacoa Tacos Tamales Y Mas is tucked away in a soul-less shopping center in the Northwest part of town. Here the barbacoa is the deep, funky old school style with hints of ass, balls and offal. It smells like a barnyard and will appeal to only the most devoted head meat aficionado.
Two salsas: a standard Tex Mex red and a thin, hot green ride with my taco and both are fine. Mimi’s is busy with patrons lined up nearly out the front door onto the sidewalk. Many of the customers have stacks of donut boxes from neighbor Shipley’s to complement their pounds of barbacoa to go.
“I came to San Antonio to find a wife, the most beautiful women in the States live here.”
I’m chatting with a fellow who’s standing in line with me at Adelita Tamales And Tortilla Factory, a restaurant that has been in operation since 1938.
In truth this business lives up to the factory in the title more than anything else. It occupies an enormous, old industrial building featuring a large grain silo in the parking lot. You know you’re going to get pluperfect corn tortillas when there’s a molino (grain mill) on the premises. Adelita’s grinds and nixtalamizes grain corn to make fresh masa (corn dough) for their tortillas, tamales and totopos.
The air is heavy with the scent of corn.
A plus-size barbacoa taco is only $2 at this ancient restaurant. The meat is pure cachete (beef cheek) and has that resonant flavor of cow you’re always seeking when you’re on the barbacoa trail. A pico de gallo-style hot sauce comes with my feast but truth be told this taco is so good no hot sauce is needed.
La Bandera Molino is spoken of in hushed tones in San Antonio. There is a reverence for this restaurant, a near mystical quality has been assigned to this old, ramshackle cafe. Walking in I find the old masa parlor filled with the smell of braising meats and freshly ground corn.
I take a peek back into the kitchen as a steel molino is disgorging fresh masa dough from its innards-soon to be made into corn tortillas. Antonio Salcedo, the owner, is working the register and is amused when I ask him what year he opened. “Oh, I don’t know, it was so long ago that I forget” A lady behind the counter whispers “1988?” and he murmurs assent.
La Bandera Molino’s barbacoa is rich, the head meat comes wrapped in a rustic, thick corn tortilla that has been made moments prior to leaving the kitchen. A brown salsa is served with the taco and is take-your-breath-away hot. I love chiles and this is one of the hottest salsas I’ve ever encountered. It is also delicious.
I’ve been eating at La Bandera Molino for years. They make my favorite Huevos Rancheros in San Antonio, they sell excellent cooked meats by the pound and their corn tortillas are peak in a city where their production is held in a reverence normally associated with religion and high school football.
My next stop is Rio’s Barbacoa, a previous winner of the city-wide Barbacoa and Big Red Competition. My luck craters as the concern has closed at the early hour of 1:30pm. I land on my feet and begin scrabbling for more barbacoa but it quickly becomes apparent that the Labor Day weekend is wreaking havoc on the Mexican restaurant scene as my back-up restaurants are all closed.
I left a lot behind when I migrated from Texas to Louisiana: a great job, a coterie of good friends, and the best craft beer scene in the US but most importantly I left behind tacos.
And when I fall asleep most nights it’s thoughts of San Antonio and her tacos that comforts me into the nether.
Caracheo’s Mexican Restaurant #2
San Antonio, TX 78218
10918 Wurzbach Rd,
San Antonio, TX 78230
Adelita Tamales And Tortilla
San Antonio, TX 78201
La Bandera Molino
2619 N Zarzamora
San Antonio, TX 78201