As food critic for the San Antonio Express-News, Mike Sutter wanted to express his love for the city’s burgeoning food scene in the best way he knew how: by visiting as many taquerias – and eating as many tacos – as humanly possible. He’d done the same thing in Austin in 2015, and wanted to prove that San Antonio has just as much to be proud of.
And so he did, visiting up to 10 individual taquerias in one day, and over the course of a year downing 1,387 of them.
“San Antonio has a full-fledged food scene that’s growing by leaps and bounds, so I was surprised when some people asked me if we even have 365 taquerias,” he told me during a recent phone call. “The answer is a resounding yes.”
In fact, there are more than 200 places in San Antonio with the word “taco” in their name, and when you add in all the other Tex-Mex joints and other establishments that are all but invisible to those who aren’t looking for them, the number grows in leaps and bounds. On his quest to write about a different taqueria every day of 2017, Sutter averaged 3.8 tacos per restaurant, meaning that after visiting 365 of them he downed a total of 1,387 tacos, all within the borders of San Antonio.
And as you might expect of someone who spent all year exploring one city’s taco scene, he learned a few lessons along the way.
One, family-owned restaurants tended to be better. “Families make the biggest difference, because you can learn where they’re from and what the traditional tacos of that part of Mexico are,” he said.
Two, places that made their own tortillas tended to be better. “One of the primary differences between taquerias in Austin and San Antonio is that San Antonio has a much higher concentration of shops that make flour tortillas by hand,” he said. “A fresh flour tortilla is easier to make than a corn one, so it’s more impressive to make corn tortillas. A lot more San Antonio taquerias make their own tortillas, wiether it's flour or corn, than Austin.”
Three, a surprisingly large number of taquerias aren’t open for dinner. “They open at dawn, and close after lunch,” he said. “Their hours reflect the work schedules of the clientele.”
Four, there’s real value to learning to order in Spanish. “By doing that, you show them that you’re there to be a part of the experience, that you’re doing a buy-in into the culture,” he said.
And five, there are a couple things to watch for when you visit a taqueria. “You should look to see if they have an al pastor trompo [vertical spit] and an iron carnitas cauldron,” because those are the most traditional cooking devices for those meats.
And as for his favorite taquerias in town? The ones he suggests are Tacos La Salsita, Carnitas Lonja, Angela’s Café, Bertha’s, and Chago’s, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can find all 365 writeups here.
Up next for Mike? He’s already thrown himself into 52 Weeks of BBQ. It’s a rough life. Looking for our ranking of the 75 best tacos in America? Find them here.