In a city where great tacos can be found on practically every strip, it's difficult to name the best. That’s why it took a team of chefs and other culinary experts to help select the nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Favorite San Antonio Taco. Spanning regional Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex, the resulting list is a testament to the culinary diversity of Alamo City.
On the off chance one of these spots hasn’t worked its way into your routine, pay it a visit immediately. Then join us at Austin’s Bullock Texas State History Museum on April 10 as we name the final winner.
Carnitas Lonja — Carnitas
How does an unassuming spot on Roosevelt Avenue become one of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants? By sticking to what they do best. Before chef Alex Parades’ pork hits the tortilla, it is slowly cooked for hours, coming out almost preternaturally moist and crisp. There are various toppings available — pico de gallo, guacamole, a pair of sprightly salsas — to add a little oomph. But it is just as good unadorned, wrapped in the cradle of a warm corn tortilla.
Cascabel Mexican Patio — Puerco a la Cascabel
At this treasured Southtown hangout, the writing is literally on the wall, a sort of pre-digital Yelp where guests scrawl poetry and platitudes attesting to the quality of the food. Order the puerco a la cascabel taco, wafting with the tobacco allure of its namesake chile, and after a couple of bites, see if you aren’t inspired to get out your own Sharpie.
El Milagrito — Barbacoa
There’s no need to wonder about what to order at this San Antonio institution. Sumptuously fatty without being puddled in grease, the barbacoa is one of the city’s most famous dishes, a tiny miracle that has kept customers coming back for decades. Almost as good are the breakfast tacos, infinitely customizable with pillowy papas and verdant nopales.
Garcia’s Mexican Food — Brisket Taco
Garcia’s signature brisket taco doesn’t look like much at first glance. Two slabs of thickly sliced brisket are plopped nonchalantly on a speckled flour tortilla with a smear of guacamole. All that is, of course, underselling its appeal. The brisket, for one, is luxuriously marbled with a ribbon of fat and swaddled in a sturdy bark. Add the other two components and it triggers memories of backyard barbecues and state fairs, as if it captured Texas on a plate.
Pollos Asados Los Norteños — Pollo
It’s true that the word “taco” does not appear on Pollos Asados menu. Instead, guests find grilled meats and charbroiled chicken served half or whole. One could get bogged down in semantics or, instead, pick the chicken off the bone, festoon it with grilled onions and a squiggle of green sauce before wrapping it in a tortilla to create one of the best tacos you’ve ever had.
Tacos El Regio — Taco al Pastor
This ragtag taco truck, parked outside the recently rebranded Hardbodies, knows its audience. It doesn’t woo with fancy ingredients or attempt any sort of nuance. What it does deliver is the char of al pastor, the sting of limes, and the pow of salsa verde — everything that’s needed to cut through the fog of a night drinking on the St. Mary’s Strip. Be forewarned, lines develop quickly; arrive before last call to ensure a shorter wait.
Taquitos West Avenue — Taco al Pastor
Its brilliant red sign wrapping around the roofline means there is no missing this North Side eatery from the outside. On the inside, however, its the Jalisco-style tacos that get everyone's attention. The specialty is al pastor, shaved to order off a massive trompo, but the other meats sing just as loudly. Whatever the choice, order it all the way with cilantro, onions, cucumbers, radishes, and lime.