Courtesy of Galleria Ortiz, San Antonio
Franco Mondini-Ruiz is a San Antonio-born visual artist living and working in San Antonio and New York. He is the author of High Pink : Tex-Mex Fairy Tales and is currently working on his second book, Postcards From Home : A Painted History.
The West Side of San Antonio, historically one of the economically poorest and visually richest neighborhoods in the country, has had many prayers answered. Growing economic and political empowerment has resulted in historic businesses (Karam’s) being replaced by Walgreens, and charmingly imperfect handmade casitas replaced by “anywhere suburbia” government-subsidized housing. Not that there isn’t still lots to explore and celebrate about El Weso … but you might want to check out some of these suggested sites quickly before they become a Pocket store.
I also invite you to simply drive around and “get lost” in what I consider an exciting Arts and Garden District, relishing ancient rose bushes, hand-painted signs and murals, Pop Art piñata shops, peopled streets and cacophonous households: oases of tolerance and inclusion where there is always room for one more plant, dog, grandchild, or plaster sculpture!
(Note: For the purpose of G.P.S. most of these sites are located in the 78207 Zip code.)
Little Flower Basilica
Corner of Zarzamora and Kentucky Avenue
It is the huge “Mexican Cathedral” looking basilica you see from IH-10. It is dedicated to Saint Therese, “the Little Flower,” a different Therese than the one quoted on page 18. You can still light real candles there (can’t even do that in Rome) and enjoy viewing an effigy of the Little Flower lying in state in her crystal sarcophagus.
The Chapel of Miracles
113 Ruiz St., Haven for Hope Way
Meditate on the meaning of life in a tiny chapel while the expressway thunders outside the ancient adobe walls. The life- size primitive crucifix is rumored to be from the Alamo’s original chapel. The hundreds of photos of the suffering, miraculously healed, and enlisted will break your heart.
La Fe Hierberia
901 S. General McMullen, (210) 435-1897
One of dozens of the Westside’s botanicas offering spiritual services, consultations, powders, potions, and a pungent and visually arresting journey through a faith adorned with Indigenous, Catholic, and Afro-Caribbean traditions. La Fe has been around for decades and is richly layered.
Ray’s Drive Inn
822 S.W. 19th, Cash Only
One of the most convincing claimants to the invention of the Puffy Taco, they have a patent number on display. If they didn’t invent it, they certainly perfected it. The décor is a cross between The Ponderosa and a vintage ‘70s Tex –Mex “garage to den” conversion. Check out the art collection, altar, and Tex-Mex sports pics. in the back. Try your first crispy dog and hand-squeezed lemonade.
Giovanni’s Pizzeria, Deli, Bakery
913 S. Brazos, (210) 212-6626
With community-minded Giovanni Gagliano of Brooklyn and Phillip Chavez of Chicago at the helm, this 20-year-old establishment can’t go wrong. Real homemade cannoli and tiramisu, smart music, exotic sodas, and cute young people abound. The best eggplant parmesan my mother has ever had. Espresso for lucky insiders.
1505 Culebra, (210) 736-0756, Open 24/7!
Superb old-school, hand-crafted greasy nachos, a full bar, and lots of fluorescent lighting! I love this town. Some English spoken.
Taquitos el Guerro
3016 W. Commerce, (210) 431-5468<
A festive, tasty, roadside taco hut. Good tortas and a charming chockfull ambience of candy, pickles, music, sodas, and all things colorful and plastic. Makes you happy to be Mexican all over again! Eye-popping at night.
Panifico Bake Shop
602 NW. 24th Street, (210) 434-9290
The very best Mexican Pink Cake on the planet ... you will get hooked. Also has beautiful traditional breads and holiday specialties such as Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto). Quite uniquely, they have excellent donuts — a rarity for Tex-Mex bakeries. This bakery is connected to Ramona’s Mexican Food, which serves good potatoes a la Mexicana, lengua, and beef ribs (Note: These dishes should probably not all be eaten at the same time).
Golden Star Restaurant
821 W.Commerce, (210) 223-1681
Any chop-suey joint that has stayed packed since 1932 deserves a visit. During the Depression, my grandfather would have to fetch food from here on foot to satisfy my oft-pregnant Grandma’s cravings. Worth an anthropological trip to see what our ancestors considered Chinese food.
Garcia’s Casa Verde Baptismal Shop
3203 W. Commerce
Although I have never set foot in this shop, it is one of my favorite places in the world: A little green house filled with tiny white dresses in every window. The best public-art installation in San Antonio — pure visual poetry.
Mando’s Liquor and Barber Shop
2724 Commerce and Rosillo
An obviously picturesque husband-and-wife business. A bottle of Jack from la Señora De Los Santos on the left and a haircut from Mando on the right ran me $30. Has been around for 42 years and is across the street from H-E-B. You better hurry!
The Lake at our Lady of the Lake University
411 SW 24th St
Take a leisurely 20-minute stroll around the lake ... you will be all by yourself except for the ducks, geese, turtles and herons (bring them some snacks, but be ready to run). Except for the occasional floating tire or Handy Andy cart, you are transported to an idyllic 19th century French landscape. Enjoy the dramatic avant-garde architecture of the dam … a perfect setting for a Phillip Glass concert.