Replenishing my soul at Guajillo’s with tacos from Mexico City

Tacos al pastor
Pitch perfect tacos al pastor at Guajillo’s

Just as a favorite burger joint, pizza spot or deli not far from home is a staple of American life, the neighborhood restaurante gives a feeling of home and identity in Mexican cities. Fortunately, Guajillo’s brings that feeling of a homey Mexican spot to San Antonio. It doesn’t matter that the restaurant sits at a busy intersection, just off a major freeway. It takes me back every time I go.

The dishes are very good, and the table salsa is outrageously tasty. I proclaimed it among the nation’s best for Epicurious several years ago, and I still think Guajillo’s is amazing. It’s still a pain to get to and it still looks like a chain from the outside — but it also still feeds my soul. There aren’t many places that take me back to Mexico, so I treasure the ones that do.

Guajillo's salsa
Guajillo’s table salsa includes some type of magic.

So what is it about this place that transports me to Mexico and makes me feel like a zócalo is nearby? Part of it has to be the clientele — lots of working-class families, many speaking Spanish with accents that proclaim their homes in central Mexico.

Another part is definitely the dishes. I get my fix of pitch-perfect tacos al pastor, in which the achiote, citrus and other spices all come together on oil-moistened corn tortillas. The broth of a gorgeous tortilla soup focuses more on dried chiles than chicken soup, and the thick tortilla ribbons stay crisp and bring lots of wonderful corn tortilla flavor.

Tortilla soup
Outrageously good tortilla soup works perfect for a cold day. Or a hot one.

If I’m in the mood for a mole poblano or a mole verde, I can get my fix here. And when I’m not craving the tacos al pastor, I’m getting chilaquiles. These are the ones I first tried and fell in love with when I first visited Mexico. Unlike the Texas version of the dish with cheese and egg, the interior Mexico version is little more than crisp pieces of corn tortillas cooked in green salsa, topped with cotija and crema. The key is that the corn tortillas need some heft, and they hold their texture best if they’re a little stale when first cooked. Guajillo’s makes their chilaquiles with shredded chicken. Sometimes, I’ll ask for it without the chicken, for the flavor that keeps me rooted in my ancestral cuisine.

To wash it down, I like a Bohemia, but my wife likes the margaritas and my son prefers the vanilla sweetness of horchata. In fact, when my wife and I were dating and when we were first married, it was one of our go-to spots. Because we have more demands on our time, we don’t visit it as often as we used to. But when we to, it’s always still a treat.

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