I did an extra-long workout at the gym this morning just so that I could pig out a little. My friend Rick and I had decided to try the three taquerías that are in a short stretch of McCullough, and so I knew I'd be having three tacos today instead of my usual two. These restaurants are all a short distance from San Antonio College, and from Metropolitan Hospital; both institutions are expanding, and the area is becoming more built up, so I reckon all three restaurants, as well as their non-Tex-Mex neighbours, will be with us a while.
The idea was to order the same thing at each of the three restaurants, for head-to-head comparison. Once again, though, that plan was frustrated slightly.
The first of the three was Taquería Chapala Jalisco, in a converted pizzeria on the corner of McCullough and Dewey. (There's another restaurant with the same name on Perrin Beitel; I don't know if it's part of the same restaurant group.) Brightly painted in yellow with red trim, inside and out, this converted Pizza Hut (nice to see something productive done with old buildings, isn't it?) had been my favourite of the three from previous visits. I expected that opinion to be sustained, but it was not.
I ordered one chilaquile taco, my preferred breakfast food; Rick got his usual, a beef fajita taco. We both had coffee.
|Latest city inspection, Sept. 2010; |
Although the place is clean and neat, and the service is good, and the prices are very reasonable, we were both disappointed. We both found the coffee slightly acidic, but that's a minor point. Our main dissatisfaction was with the food. Rick's beef fajita taco was chewy and dry, with just a hint of seasoning and no vegetable component. My chilaquiles were generally disappointing in texture, with thick, chewy pieces of fried tortilla, very little onion or pepper, and a small dose of tomato; and what little there was of the veggies could have used another minute or two on the grill. The taco was also runny. It was, however, well seasoned. The cheese used was mozzarella, which was unusual but surprisingly tasty.
A block south, and across the street, is Regio Cafe, a smaller Tex-Mex place with more of a traditional look. While the staff clearly take some pains to keep the place clean and neat, they are undone by the nature of the vinyl tablecloths used. Made to simulate leather, the numerous small creases show the dirt that has accumulated and not been scrubbed out. The pale colour matches the seat-cushion covers, many of which have split and cracked despite being, from appearances, not all that old. Otherwise, though, the place is nicely decorated, with ivy arranged like bunting through racks of terra cotta pottery. As at Jalisco, the service is good, and the prices are almost exactly the same.
|Last city inspection, Jan 2011|
The food here was more to our liking. Rick's beef fajita taco contained a generous portion of meat, along with sautéed onion and pepper. It was deftly seasoned, tender, and moist. My chilaquiles were good but not great. They had a good texture, with the egg and tortilla chips properly cooked, but there was no discernible onion or pepper in the mix. The cheese was the American-traditional cheddar, thinly shredded and allowed to melt into the filling without forming the sort of repulsive, tasteless goo that one gets where Velveeta is used. The salsa verde that was provided was very hot, adding a nice edge to the overall taste.
|Last city inspection, April 2010;|
The third place on this row is the Little Taco Factory, another block or two south (catty-corner from Armadillo's, one of the better burger joints in town -- where Little Hipps used to be). This is a more casual spot, with the air of an old-fashioned lunch counter. You place your order at the counter separating the kitchen from the dining room; drinks and utensils are self-serve. Your food is brought out to you in very short order.
The dining room, beside being very small, is noisy. There's some noise from the kitchen, but that's subdued, being in another room behind the counter; and some noise from the other tables, but not a roar like we find in so many recently-designed restaurants spaces. The irritating aspect of the noise at the Little Taco Factory is the noise of machinery, especially the ice machine, whirring and whining just a few feet away. I'm not sure it's as bad in reality as it is in my recollection -- it did, on the plus-side, provide white noise to mask the conversations going on around us -- but it was, as I said, irritating. Mildly irritating, but irritating nonetheless.
More importantly, the food: the Little Taco Factory's menu put paid to our plan to compare all three restaurants on the same basis. They do not offer beef fajita tacos, they have brisket. And they do not offer chilaquiles, they have migas; but they don't offer migas tacos, only plates. (This is, incidentally, the first time any Tex-Mex place has ever refused to serve a taco filled with something offered on the menu in another form. I think that's shortsighted, to so blithely pass on the opportunity to provide the customer what he wants, but it's their shop, and so it's their prerogative to be anal-retentive about their menu. It just becomes another reason I won't care to return to their shop.)
Rick found his brisket taco bland, tasteless, and dry. He did not appear to enjoy it at all.
Stymied by the restaurant's lack of chilaquiles, and their unwillingness to slap some migas into a tortilla for me, I ordered a potato and egg taco with cheese. This is my default order when I can't have anything I want. It's hard to ruin a potato and egg taco. About all you can do wrong, in my prior experience, is overcook the eggs.
These eggs weren't over cooked, but alas! they found another way to displease. Two other ways, actually. The potatoes were overcooked, and the eggs were salty. I liked it not at all.
At least the coffee was good. As were the prices, but not good enough to make up for the quality of food, the lack of preferred options, or the restaurant's unwillingness to accommodate variations.