Tacos are abundant in San Antonio, and they come in many varieties, from Michoacán-style carnitas tacos to the famous hometown puffy tacos to barbacoa tacos that pair oh-so-perfectly with Big Red soda. It helps that you can roll almost anything up in a tortilla, top it with salsa, and call it a taco.
There’s a taco out there for everyone in this city, with a diverse landscape of sources, including food trucks, traditional taquerias, donut shops, Tex-Mex restaurants, and more. Here’s a quick overview of San Antonio’s taco offerings and some of the best places to find them.
What to know: Breakfast tacos are San Antonio’s pride and joy, which is why you’ll find them on nearly every taqueria’s morning menu. A breakfast plate wrapped in a flour tortilla, these tacos consist of any combination of refried beans, eggs, chorizo, potatoes, bacon, and cheese, among tons of other fillings. Other tacos served at breakfast include carne guisada, a gravy-heavy beef taco, and barbacoa, which tends to be served exclusively on weekends.
Where to find it: Patty’s Taco House (2422 South Hackberry) and the Original Donut Shop (3307 Fredericksburg Road) are two taquerias that are bustling in the mornings for good reason. But again, these are some of the most common tacos in the city, and most places do them pretty well.
What to know: Originating from Michoacán, a western Mexican state, carnitas is essentially chopped pork, either shoulder or butt, that has been seasoned and slow-cooked in fat until tender. The juicy cuts are put on a corn tortilla, sprinkled with onions and cilantro, and a taco is born. Salsa verde is a local favorite topping for carnitas tacos, as is pickled cabbage.
Where to find it: Carnitas Lonja (1107 Roosevelt Avenue) and Carnitas Don Raúl (2202 Broadway) have both garnered national attention for their carnitas recipes.
What to know: The exact origin of the puffy taco shifts depending on who you ask, but San Antonio is where the fried tortilla shell really took off thanks to the Lopez brothers, all of whom founded restaurants that have been in business for decades. What makes puffy tacos so special is that corn tortillas puff up when fried in oil to become an airy delight before being filled with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded cheese. The iconic staple has become so ingrained in San Antonio’s culture that it’s begotten merchandise and even a popular sports mascot.
Where to find it: Henry’s Puffy Tacos (6030 Bandera Road) and Ray’s Drive-Inn (822 SW 19th Street). That’s the list. Anywhere else is serving their best attempt at what two of the Lopez brothers already perfected.
What to know: Name a better duo than barbacoa tacos and Big Red soda. In San Antonio, you can’t, especially on Sunday mornings when a hangover cure is necessary.
Traditionally, barbacoa is made by burying a cow’s head underground in a pit lined with hot coals or rocks until the cheek meat cooks to perfection, while today in Texas, more contemporary methods of steaming are typically used to get the meat nice and tender.
Where to find it: Some of the city’s most renowned barbacoa tacos can be found at Tommy’s Restaurant, which, luckily for eaters, has multiple locations across the city.
Tacos al pastor
What to know: Tacos al pastor are a derivative of shawarma, which was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the early 20th century. The tacos consist of pork that is sliced from a rotating spit, also known as a trompo, which is often served as mini tacos–small corn tortillas laid flat on a plate and served with onions, cilantro, and lime.
Where to find it: Tacos al pastor is a common dish for taco trucks like Tacos y Burritos Metro Basilica 2 (11070 Shaenfield Road), but you can find them at taquerias as well, like Taquitos West Avenue (2818 West Avenue), which famously offers al pastor Thursday through Sunday.
What to know: Another favorite option for mini tacos, carne asada is beef steak, usually flank or skirt, that’s been marinated with ingredients like lime, cilantro, and chile powder. The steak is then grilled and sliced up to be served in tacos topped with grilled onions, cilantro, and, of course, some spicy salsas.
Where to find it: One of the most popular taco options, you can find carne asada everywhere — but for good carne asada, check out Taqueria Datapoint (1702 West Gramercy Place) and Tacos El Regio (2726 North Saint Mary’s Street).
What to know: Birria has had a surge in popularity in San Antonio in the last couple of years, with more restaurants popping up around the concept. The dish, which is made with beef or goat, hails from the Mexican state of Jalisco, where it was originally served as a stew, but in San Antonio, anything can be turned into a taco with the right tortilla.
Where to find it: The food truck El Remedio (2924 Culebra Road) gets creative with its birria taco offerings, while some smaller Jalisco-oriented taquerias tend to have a more traditional stew version of the dish.