When I first married my wife, there were a lot of cultural issues that had to be dealt with. First and foremost was understanding that ordering a taco was just like ordering a sandwich; you have to offer a little more of a description of what you want. Do you want ham & cheese, BLT, tuna fish?
When I came to San Antonio, when I thought of a taco, I thought of what you get at Taco Bell – a crisp shell filled with hamburger meat, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheese.
The first time I went to a Mexican restaurant with my wife, it was Tacos El Rey over on Castroville Road. We sat down and she asked me what I was going to order. What with it being a taco place, I figured it would be safe to order a few tacos. Then the real trouble started.
“What kind of taco?” she queried.
“A taco taco.” I informed her.
“Yea, but what do you want on your taco?”
“The usual stuff, I’ll take it all.”
By now she thought I had to be messing with her. Surely, nobody was this dense. “So what? Do like, bean & cheese, carne guisada, chicken fajita?” she asked.
“No, you know, hamburger meat, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheese.”
I had a lot to learn about San Antonio and eating, and within the first three months of getting married, I had gained about 30 pounds attempting to learn everything!
So you can imagine that after 22 years, I’ve tried most everything and sorted out my favorites. I do love carne guisada with cheese and I enjoy a well-done chorizo and egg but I avoid Menudo having experienced the texture of tripas in my mouth. One weekend favorite is Barbacoa, and if you don’t already know, it is made up of the meat (and other things) found in cow head. The first time I had barbacoa, I just assumed that it was just the Spanish word for barbeque or BBQ, as in; some guy sitting out in has back yard with a case of beer looking at a huge slab of meat smoking on the grill for 8 hours. And I thought, that us white folks didn’t usually eat it for breakfast, but I’m a good sport, especially when it involves eating.
It wasn’t until after I had consumed at least three or four tacos covered with hot salsa and avocado that I would learn the difference between white people BBQ and barbacoa. My wife likes to tell people that I wanted to blow chunks when she confessed, but the truth is, my recollection was that I just shrugged my shoulders and asked what we were doing for lunch.
Okay, so keeping with the theme of taking the long way around the barn… This morning being Mother’s Day, we decided to take my mother-in-law some barbacoa. But barbacoa isn’t something you can get from just anywhere. For example, I love HEB but please, don’t ever even think about serving my mother-in-law their so-called barbacoa. She insists that they just take all the leftover meats and chicken and sausage that doesn’t sell on any given week then grind it all together and call it barbacoa. And the other thing you should know is that when you order barbacoa, you can get regular or all-meat. The regular costs less and is loaded with big chunks of gristle and fat, but tastes a whole lot better than the all-meat.
So we went out of our way to go by Rachel’s, one of our west side favorites for barbacoa. We hadn’t been there in a few years but I’m happy to report, the barbacoa was as good as ever. You will know you are at Rachel’s when you see the big mural painted on the side of the building. The lady standing in the field bringing food to the farm workers is Rachel I suppose, but you won’t find anyone resembling the painting inside. I’m going to guess the painting was from a time 30 or 40 years in the past.
You can always expect a line, especially on Sundays. But the staff has a system down so people go in, order their barbacoa, tamales, corn and flower tortillas, pick up an avocado and some salsa and are on their way. We were in and out in about 10 minutes.
And when we got to the mother-in-law’s, we were all pleased. I had three tacos and gave Rachel’s my Tasty Treat seal of approval, then promptly went into the living room to take a post-brunch power nap while the women folk yapped it up.