I’m sitting at 19th and Guadalupe on the West Side at Ray’s Drive Inn, the alleged true “home of the puffy taco.” In a few seconds I’ll take a bite of a brisket-filled taco that will crumble delectably through my fingers. But at the moment, I’m distracted by the unexpectedly mind-blowing interior design, which makes me feel like I’m in an 1880s saloon, or on a movie set. Every inch of the wood-plank walls is covered with old photos and trinkets. I’m ranking the visual experience below Magic Time Machine but above the Little Red Barn.
I have a lot of questions. The main one should be: “Is this place for real?” Instead, I look across the table at Jonas Ahnelöv, a professional hockey player from Sweden, and wonder, what does he think of all this? Welcome to another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of mismatched diners investigates the unexpected.
January’s culinary vice squad consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, former kickboxer and sommelier at Sandbar), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, a man who lives off of mangos and pork chops), and me (the occasional vegan). Ahnelöv, this month’s special guest, is an ace defensive player for the San Antonio Rampage. Jonas informed us that on Friday home-game nights, the Rampage and 99.5 KISS host an event called “Dollar Drink Night” at the AT&T Center. What do hockey and dollar drinks have to do with puffy tacos? I’m not sure. Then again, what do saloons have to do with puffy tacos? Again, not sure, but I know it’s fantastic.
If it seems like I’m avoiding talking about the puffy tacos that’s because I am; they were the least interesting part of Ray’s. Hold the rope — the puffy tacos aren’t bad. The brisket was quite tasty, in fact. Something filled with air that crumbles quickly would seem indicative of shoddy workmanship, but with the puffy taco, it’s part of the inherent, delicious appeal. Unfortunately, Jonas and I felt our second and third tacos paled in comparison to the first because the taco was losing its puff.
Frenchie very much enjoyed the moist flavor of the chicken puffy tacos but was less interested in the beef. Jonas and I both preferred the brisket, though that might be due to the unofficial Puffy Taco Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns. As for Carlos? He did the unexpected and ordered a ridiculous number of flautas. Nothing exceptional there, either, but he appreciated getting a LOT of food for the price.
I don’t think most people will rave about the food at Ray’s Drive Inn. However, the atmosphere and initial rush from that first puffy taco makes it worth checking out. I’m not saying you need to hurry, but those interested in experiencing the mystery of San Antonio (which should be everyone), should put Ray’s Drive Inn on the list.
Jonas: I dug into the barbecue puffy taco first and thought it was quite tasty. However, I still prefer homemade tacos like we made back in Sweden, with spiced hamburger meat, a tortilla, and lettuce, tomato, and cheese.
Frenchie: I really liked the atmosphere. This would be a good place to bring the kids.
Carlos: The flautas came with a good amount of beef. Good portions.
Jones: I don’t love all the food equally, but I love this place. It’s a San Antonio treasure. •