The biggest city in Central Texas, San Antonio is a prime destination for taco enthusiasts. This town represents the absolute best of Tex-Mex cuisine, along with plenty of restaurants and trucks that specialize in regional Mexican dishes, resulting in a flavorful and engaging taco landscape that's constantly changing and evolving, while still paying respect to old-school recipes and techniques. Here, you'll find a list of our 8 favorite tacos in San Antonio circa 2022, from puffy tacos to breakfast tacos and everything in between.
Beef Puffy Taco at Ray's Drive Inn
Arguably San Antonio's greatest contribution to the national taco conversation, "puffy tacos" get their name from the deep-fried shells that encase the taco fillings. These shells start with masa dough, which is then shaped into a disc and fried just long enough to "puff" up with air. Then, they're removed from the hot oil, allowed to drain, and filled with meat, cheese, salsa, lettuce, and any other desirable taco accouterments.
Ray's Drive Inn, a San Antonio Tex-Mex staple that's been operating since the 1950s, claims to be the birthplace of the puffy taco. And even today, over half a century later, their version counts among the absolute best in town. The beef puffy taco is a perfect example of what makes Tex-Mex so special; the ground beef picadillo is nicely spiced and juicy, the shell is flawlessly "puffed", and the Ray's team dresses the tacos with diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and bright-yellow grated cheese. No frills are present because no frills are needed-Ray's has the confidence to keep their tacos simple, and the crowds that gather here on a daily basis more than justify that decision.
Spicy Beef Fajita Puffy Taco at Henry's Puffy Tacos
Henry's Puffy Tacos comes from the same pedigree as Ray's, and we mean that literally; founder Henry Lopez launched his culinary career at his brother Ray's restaurant, then decided to open his very own puffy taco joint. The tacos at Henry's pack the same textural contrast and bright flavors as the versions at Ray's, and Henry's spicy beef fajita taco has become the stuff of local legend. The perfectly-grilled beef sings with smoke and spice, and it provides a juicy, tender, savory filling for the airy puffed shell and an ideal base for the crunchy tomatoes and lettuce and sharp cheddar cheese.
DIY Carnitas Tacos at Carnitas Lonja
Slow-braised pork-also known as carnitas-is a celebrated specialty of the Michoacán region of Mexico, and in San Antonio, carnitas play a major role in the taco menu of Carnitas Lonja, a restaurant opened by chef and Michoacán native Alejandro Paredes. San Antonians flock to Carnitas Lonja for Paredes' rich, melt-in-your-mouth carnitas, which can be ordered by the quarter-pound and is served with fresh tortillas, bright pico de gallo and salsa, and pickled onions for a magnificent DIY taco experience.
Big Red and Barbacoa Taco at Stixs & Stone
Big Red, a citrus-and-vanilla-flavored cream soda that got its start in the Texas city of Waco, has been used as a meat marinade in San Antonio for decades, with BBQ masters carefully studying the effect of Big Red's sweetness and specific flavor blend on brisket, pork, and other smoked meats. But at Stixs & Stone, a relatively new arrival to the San Antonio restaurant scene, Big Red is used as a replacement for water in the eatery's housemade tortillas. These sweet, subtly-fruity corn tortillas then get a swipe of Big Red-infused strawberry jam before being loaded with tender beef cheek barbacoa and garnished with queso fresco and pickled watermelon rind. The sweet, savory, tangy, and salty flavors all meld together to create a beautifully balanced and very San Antonio taco.
Carne Guisada at El Rafas Cafe
El Rafas Cafe may look unassuming, but this low-key diner serves some of San Antonio's most satisfying Tex-Mex grub. Tacos are a particular draw here, thanks to El Rafas' plush housemade flour tortillas. You can get top-notch breakfast tacos here, but the real star of the menu appears at lunch: carne guisada tacos, which feature cubes of slow-cooked beef in an umami-loaded stewed gravy. El Rafas Cafe ladles the guisada onto their famous tortillas, and a strip of melted American cheese finishes the dish off with a perfect touch of saltiness and creaminess.
Veggie Street Tacos at Señor Veggie
Central Texas as a whole has a well-earned reputation as a carnivore's paradise, but that doesn't mean that plant-based diners don't have plenty of options for excellent meals. At Señor Veggie, you'll find a global array of vegan eats with a special focus on Mexican and Tex-Mex flavors. In their Taco section, a true gem can be found in the Veggie Street Tacos, which use jackfruit in lieu of meat. Jackfruit has a toothsome texture and an ability to readily absorb flavors and seasonings, so it's able to effectively replace carnitas when tucked into a corn tortilla, topped with a tangy slaw, and drizzled with indulgent cashew crema.
Quesabirria with Consomme at Tortas Ahogadas El Chivito
Birria tacos have become a hot property at taco trucks throughout the United States, and for good reason-this rich beef or goat-based stew flavored with chile peppers and loaded into tortillas packs an enormous amount of umami. At the Tortas Ahogadas El Chivito truck in San Antonio, birria is best served in "quesabirria" tacos, or tortillas filled with beef birria or goat birria and and cheese, then fried until the cheese fully crisps. These tacos are delicious on their own, but they truly come to life when dunked in El Chivito's deeply-flavored consomme for more meaty, savory goodness.
Bean, Cheese, and Bacon Taco at The Original Donut Shop
When it comes to breakfast tacos in San Antonio, The Original Donut Shop has been taking excellent care of the city's early risers since 1954. In addition to this eatery's namesake donuts, tacos count among its most popular morning items, and the bean and cheese taco on a flour tortilla is an unquestionable favorite. Locals and visitors alike praise the mega-savory, schmaltzy refried beans, which are amply slathered onto the griddled tortillas and topped off with melty cheese. For an extra hearty (and breakfast-y) taco, add a rasher of crispy bacon.