I first developed a love of puffy tacos at Vivo’s original location on Manor Road. Amidst a jungle of plants, vivid colors, and erotic art, I happily munched the crispy-soft puffy shell of gently deep-fried masa embracing savory proteins sprinkled with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and a dark, smoky salsa. The combo of pillowy crunch yet soft pliability of the taco shell makes for a delightful conveyance for the fixins’.
Although a similar dish can be had in Mexico with the salbute and inflada, Maria Rodriguez Lopez of San Antonio tacofied the fry to create what is now known as San Antonio’s puffy taco. Ray Lopez, Maria’s grandson, opened up Ray’s Drive Inn in 1956 to sling puffies, and the rest is history. Henry, Ray’s younger brother, took the dish to California (where it was first referred to as a “puffy taco”) before returning to San Antonio to start Henry’s Puffy Tacos.
Ray’s Drive Inn (“Home of the Original Puffy Taco”) has the better vibe, housed in its original lo-slung building that’s surprisingly spacious and comfortable inside. Ray’s has dive vibes, but, to be honest, it’s 1.5 notches too nice for the dive decree. I tried the Mexican Plate ($10.5), which comes with two cheese enchiladas, carne guisada, and a beef puffy taco. The puffy was as good as I hoped: crunchy, chewy, and, despite my sin of leaving it for last (you should eat that puffy first!), structurally competent and flat out yummy. The carne guisada was tender and flavorful, and the old-skool enchiladas were old-skool good.
Henry’s puffies (I tried a plate of two with rice and beans: spicy beef fajita, spicy chicken fajita, guacamole; $13) were similar to the one at Ray’s (I would not be able to tell the difference) and just as good. The beef fajitas were perfectly grilled and break-apart supple, and both were savory. Henry’s doesn’t quite have the vibe that Ray’s does (I visited the original location on Woodlawn), but extra points for the Ramones poster in the men’s restroom!
A quick search reveals that, in addition to Vivo’s, puffies are available in Austin at Amaya’s Taco Village, Lupe Tortilla Mexican, El Chilito, Tres Amigos, Tyson’s Tacos, and Angie’s. Tip a margarita to Abuela Maria Rodriguez Lopez if you go, but also plan on visiting Ray’s Drive Inn or Henry’s Puffy Tacos on your next visit to San Antonio.