Tacos — like men — are a varied bunch. They come in different sizes, tastes and shapes. But there’s one thing they all have in common, whether thick or thin, big or small, soft or hard.
You know what I’m referring to here: tortillas. (My apologies if you thought I was still talking about guys.)
The corn or flour foundation on which tacos are built plays the biggest role in their size. And while San Antonio wisdom seems to be the bigger, the better, the abundance of different tortilla sizes available suggests that isn’t always the case.
One important thing to get out of the way is the reason corn tortillas are smaller than their fluffier flour counterparts. Most corn tortillas range from four to six inches and seldom get much larger. Without much gluten, they can only get so big before crumbling to pieces.
So, with an empty belly, I hit up my main taco lady on the Southside for some answers about what tortilla sizes are ideal for what type of taco.
- The most diminutive of tortillas, street tacos’ corn wrappers are usually no larger than five inches in diameter. The tiny, thin tortillas fit easily in the hand. They’re travel friendly, because who eats street tacos sitting down? Usually served with trompo, pastor, or asada, grilled onions, radish, salsa and jalapeño, street tacos are supposed to serve as antojitos — snacks — which explains the small size. That said, they’re so delicious it’s impossible to have fewer than two.
- Simply put, tacos dorados are crispy tacos. Corn tortillas take on a golden hue when fried, which explains the literal translation of the fancy-sounding name. Cool, right? Not like those store-bought flaccid, pale tortillas. While tacos dorados tend to be on the smaller side, they accommodate a broad spectrum. Anything can fit within their crunchy confines — even Taco Bell fillings, although those really shouldn’t.
- The fluffy cousin of street tacos, these corn tortillas are deep fried until they become puffy clouds that hold picadillo or shredded chicken, along with cheddar cheese, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. Their crisp-yet-airy texture make them just as worthy as the more elegantly named tacos dorados. The pillowy treats were invented in San Antonio and are girthier and more indulgent than their crispy counterparts. But who’d expect any less from this city?
- Breakfast tacos are San Antonio’s lifeblood. At their most basic level, they’re flour tortillas filled to the brim with whatever we want. Beans. Eggs. Potatoes. Brisket. The possibilities are endless. The best flour tortillas should be about six to seven inches, meaning they’re big enough to be hearty while still fitting easily in the hand. Tacos, above all, should be convenient and delicious.
- The hulking monstrosities known as super tacos are built with tortillas as large as 12 inches in diameter. Most are roughly the size of three regular breakfast tacos. Eating a taco bigger than your head isn’t an easy feat. Perhaps I’m stirring the frijol pot here, but too much of a good thing gets tiring. Eating should be fun and delicious, but these can be overwhelming to consume in one sitting. Not to mention, too much filling is going to make even the best flour tortilla soggy — 12 incher or not.
Before anyone gets mad that I left out gorditas, flautas, chimichangas and burritos, my taco expert pointed out that these items are not tacos. Sure, some gringa on the internet said otherwise, but I’m not about to disparage the wisdom of anyone selling tacos for over 20 years on Pleasanton Road.
So, what did I learn from this exploration? Sometimes bigger is better, but it isn’t necessarily the best. It’s not the size of the tortilla. It’s what’s inside. But hey, barriga llena, corazón contento. Full belly, happy heart.
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