I grew up going to the State Fair of Texas, and everything there is all about fried food. I mean, EVERYTHING. If there is a food that the humans eat, the State Fair will attempt to fry it. And 99 times out of 100, they’ll succeed at it. And so when I started when I started exploring the taco scene in San Antonio to round up this guide to the best tacos in San Antonio, I wasn’t too surprised to bite into this golden, crispy, deliciously flaky, and crunchy San Antonio puffy taco and realize, “oh, it’s just a deep fried taco. Tastes familiar.”
If you’re new to San Antonio, new to Texas, or just new to puffy tacos in general, here are a few interesting facts about the San Antonio puffy taco:
1. Puffy Tacos Are Originally From San Antonio
Who invented the puffy taco? That would be brothers Henry and Ray Lopez. According to Henry’s website, they were working at Ray’s restaurant, Ray’s Drive Inn in the 1950s, and experimenting with various fried foods (as one does when he has a deep fryer at his disposal.)
They tried dropping in raw masa (meaning, the masa used to make tortillas but before it’s cooked into a soft tortilla on a hot stove) and realized that when they drop the raw masa into hot oil, it puffs up.
And it tastes delicious.
Thus, the puffy taco was born! Henry Lopez later broke off and started a few different restaurants, but Henry’s Puffy Tacos, which officially opened in 1978, is known to be the first San Antonio restaurant that consistently had puffy tacos on the menu. It’s still open today and constantly crowded with hungry locals and tourists who can’t get enough of these deep-fried taco shells.
2. Puffy Tacos And Chalupas Are NOT The Same Thing
What’s the difference between puffy tacos and chalupas? Puffy tacos are made from raw (uncooked) masa dough that’s dropped into hot oil until it puffs up into a taco shell, while traditional chalupas from Puebla, Mexico, are made from masa that’s shaped into a boat-shaped mold, fried, and topped with only salsa, cheese, and shredded lettuce.
Puffy tacos are a lot bigger, and, well, puffier. Chalupas are small, very thick, and crunchy, and traditionally don’t have as many toppings.
Of course, you might be thinking of the Tex-Mex version of chalupas, like the chalupas you can get at Taco Bell. And sure, these are kind of similar to the San Antonio puffy taco. But puffy tacos are REALLY puffy and full of air pockets, while chalupas are more like a regular crispy taco shell that’s been deep-fried.
Once you taste an authentic San Antonio puffy taco, you’ll instantly be able to tell the difference.
Also, the San Antonio puffy taco was invented in the 1950s, and Taco Bell didn’t introduce the chalupa until 1999. So it’s pretty fair to say that puffy tacos could have been the inspiration for this popular fast food menu item.
3. Puffy Tacos Are 100% A Tex-Mex Thing
There’s nothing authentically Mexican about these. At all. These are a fusion Tex-Mex food that combines the corn masa from Mexico with the deep-fried goodness of Texan cooking.
This means that when you’re selecting your toppings for your San Antonio puffy tacos, go all out gringa on it. I’m talking seasoned ground taco meat, bright orange shredded cheddar cheese, and crisp shredded lettuce on top.
Of course, a lot of San Antonio restaurants offer meat options that you might see on authentic Mexican street tacos like asador, pastor, or carnitas. And those are delicious too!
Basically, this is fried food, my friend. It’s going to be delicious no matter what filling you choose.
4. Puffy Tacos Aren’t Actually All That Crispy
They’re not soft, but they’re not crispy. You’ll bite into that deep-fried taco shell and you’ll probably think it airy, puffy, crunchy, and flaky. It falls apart a bit as you eat it, and the puffy taco shell crumbles a bit and falls into the taco interior, mixing it all together into one delicious bite of Tex-Mex goodness.
If you’re used to eating gorditas or crispy tacos, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you bite into your first San Antonio puffy taco.
5. There Are Excellent Puffy Tacos All Over San Antonio
Where are the best puffy tacos in San Antonio? Sure, Henry’s Puffy Tacos gets to hold the claim to fame as the birthplace of the San Antonio puffy taco. But these delicious deep-fried Tex-Mex tacos are all over the city. Here are a few places you can get them:
Henry’s Puffy Tacos // The birthplace of the San Antonio puffy taco, so you really should try this place first. WEBSITE | 6030 Bandera Rd, San Antonio, TX 78238
Ray’s Drive Inn // An iconic drive-in restaurant. Ray and Henry were the two brothers who created the San Antonio puffy taco. WEBSITE | 822 SW 19th St, San Antonio, TX 78207
Chela’s Tacos // Chela’s Mexican restaurant uses quality ingredients for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates. It’s a fun spot to dine in with a group of friends and enjoy a few puffy tacos. WEBSITE | 5231 Broadway APT 117, San Antonio, TX 78209
Tommy’s Restaurant // This one is a local favorite, and they have 5 locations so it’s easy to find a puffy taco near you. WEBSITE | 8823 Wurzbach Rd, San Antonio, TX 78240
Los Barrios // A casual family-friendly Tex-Mex restaurant that’s been in San Antonio since 1979. WEBSITE | 4223 Blanco Rd, San Antonio, TX 78212
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