First up: Jim Mendiola
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). You can still light real candles there (can’t even do that in Rome) and enjoy viewing an effigy of the Little Flower laying in state in her crystal sarcophagus.
The Chapel of Miracles. 113 Ruiz St., Haven of Hope Way
Open 9-2 everyday except Tuesdays. 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 SW 19th
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, 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 every had. Espresso for lucky insiders.
El Torreon, 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 ambience chockfull 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 St, (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. (The bakery is connected to Ramona’s Mexican Food , they have good potatoes ala Mexicana, lengua, and beef ribs ... these dishes should probably not all be eaten at the same time)
El Chilaquil, 1821 W Commerce, (210)226-5410
Mexico City brothers Benito and Roberto Barrasa serve what I call the “Caviar of the Westside”: delicate grilled pork carnitas ordered extra-crispy. They also give an enthusiastic nod to their hometown’s Aztec roots with pre-Columbian décor and pretty girls dressed in Aztec tunics, their ankles “bejeweled” with melodious shells. The fare includes exotic ingredients Moctezuma would have enjoyed—flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and huitlacoche (corn fungus). Some late nights turn the place into a Fellini spectacle with a lively keyboardist and spontaneous dancing and flirting.
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.
El Siete Mares (the Seven Seas), 3831 W Commerce, (210) 436-6056
I’ve even spotted 09ers here feasting side by side with locals and homesick recent arrivals on whole Redfish (Huachinango) grilled with garlic, giant cocktails of squid ,oyster and octopus
and a dangerously but irresistibly salty garlic soup (cures hangovers and most other ailments)
make sure and have a Mexican coke.
Mi Guadalajara, 4414 W Commerce, (210) 433-7200
Excellent, beautifully presented inexpensive food with a youthful happy staff. If you or a friend have never tried barbacoa or menudo or tongue, etc
this is the place to be seduced.
Mariachi Connection, 2106 W Commerce, (210) 271-3655
A mansion full of accessories for music and dance
Mexican style. Mariachi ties, gold earrings, or ribboned Mexican braid extensions make perfect gifts!
Mando’s Liquor and Barber Shop
2724 Commerce and Rosillo
An obviously picturesque husband and wife business. A bottle of Jack from la Senora De Los Santos on the left and a haircut from Mando on the right ran me 30 dollars. 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.