I love dining at the classics in any city I visit. I wrote a guide to classic restaurants in Austin, and that’s because I think it’s just so cool to dine at a place that been around since the early 1900s…and still thriving! And when I started exploring San Antonio’s taco scene, I quickly knew that Ray’s Drive Inn was a classic San Antonio restaurant I’d need to check out sooner than later.
I went on a weekday afternoon. The pre-noon lunch crowd consisted of a lot of folks who seemed pretty familiar with the place.
There is something so comforting about an old restaurant that has regulars, dining week after week, eating the same puffy tacos and boats of tortilla chips and homemade salsa in the same booths.
Ray’s Drive Inn is old. It opened in 1956 and it’s been on the same street corner ever since.
It’s full of old restaurant charm, like dark wood walls, a jukebox in the corner, and memorabilia lining the shelves. The ceiling is low and looks like it’s seen better days…but don’t worry! It’s not going to cave in just yet. I asked them. 😉
A Bit Of Ray’s Drive Inn History
You’ve probably heard of Henry’s Puffy Tacos in San Antonio, right? Well, Raymond and Henry Lopez were brothers! They’re the ones who started the idea of puffy tacos after experimenting with throwing raw masa into the air fryer (as one does…) and both of their iconic restaurants are still alive and well today.
Although Ray has passed away, Ray’s Drive Inn is still family-owned. They serve about 500 puffy tacos every day. Eat up, SA.
Is Ray’s Drive Inn Still Operating As A Drive-in Restaurant?
And in case you’re wondering: yes, it is an actual drive-in restaurant. But the idea of eating fried tacos in the car didn’t sound fun to me, so I went inside and asked for a table.
However, you can get a carhop to bring your food out to the car! Just park in their lot, call them on the phone, and they’ll bring an order of hot, fresh puffy tacos to your window.
There are quite a few seats indoors, though. And that sounded a bit more appealing to me.
How are the puffy tacos at Ray’s Drive Inn?
I ordered two of them: a ground beef with cheese (classic!) and a bean and cheese puffy taco. They’re cheap! About $2 - 3.50, depending on the fillings you get. (Extra for cheese.) And they’re delivered fast. It only took about 5 minutes, but I was also there for an early lunch before it got too crazy. I’d imagine that the dinner wait is a bit longer.
The funny thing about puffy tacos is that people often describe them as “crispy,” but they’re not. They’re a little bit soft and chewy with a crunch. They’re exactly halfway between a crispy corn taco shell and a soft flour tortilla. And they’re scrumptious.
Puffy tacos are Tex-Mex at their finest. I love to go all-out with delicious fillings that are also inauthentic to traditional Mexican cooking when I order puffy tacos. Ground beef for sure, but bbq chicken, refried beans, and shrimp are other favorites.
I snapped a few pictures and then dove in. The tacos are hot and fresh, glistening from the deep fryer and layered with cold, orange cheese.
If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say that the tacos at Henry’s Puffy Tacos are slightly better than the tacos at Ray’s Drive Inn. They have a bit more “puff” to them and a little bit better crunch.
However, you simply can’t beat the fact that Ray’s Drive Inn is a San Antonio institution. The family-run business has been in the same spot since the 1950s, and I truly hope it doesn’t go away anytime soon. The staff is friendly, the food is delicious (can’t wait to try a burger next time I go back!), and the drive-in function is a pretty novel thing for people who were born after the 1950s. Ray’s Drive Inn in San Antonio is a gem that’s 100% worth a visit.
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