El Puesto restaurant in San Antonio offers authentic and healthy
It is the third in a row of Texas Mexican restaurants, next to each other, in the West side of San Antonio on old US Highway 90. Each of the three restaurants has a specialty and El Puesto has the reputation of making a delicious Menudo. I had some and it was superb, just like home.
These types of cafés, restaurantes of San Antonio’s Westside have been serving delicious, authentic Texas Mexican food since late 1800’s, away from the downtown area.
Only the working class Mexican American families dine here. They don’t eat at any of the downtown Mexican restaurants, for these are their neighborhood places. The clientele of these Westside gems are a discrimating clientele who know good cooking and demand it. Competition is fierce among these restaurantes as they strive for the best in freshness, preparation and service.
Price is also important and here at El Puesto you can have a beautifully executed breakfast of Huevos Rancheros for an unbelievable $2.49. That is their breakfast special price. That’s right, $2.49! Well, you can’t beat that, and that’s what I ordered.
Take a look at this freshly made corn tortilla that comes with the huevos rancheros. It is spectacular. Notice that there is a leaf, a delicate layer on the tortilla. That is the sign of a perfectly cooked tortilla: the right moisture, correct heat, perfect timing. Every tortilla comes out that way. If it didn’t the guests would go home and make their own.
The chef/owner is Santiago Segura. He has been in the restaurant business for 15 years and opened El Puesto 6 years ago. Business is good. As I looked around in the kitchen, I was struck by two things. How clean and well-organized the kitchen is and how fit and trim all the kitchen staff is. I knew instantly: the chef’s menu is not heavy with fried items, uses fat sparingly, and does not cook with lard, which in most kitchens today is the store-bought hydrogenated type.
Chef Segura cooks with only vegetable oil and he uses it sparingly. He says that lard is not very good for you. He then declared to me, “Tenemos ya mucha gente muy grande.” “We have already too many people who are too big.” Besides, he says, his guests don’t like fatty food, and they will complain if the food is greasy. I have heard that before from other Texas Mexican restaurants.
There are other reasons for his competitive edge in the Westside barrio. He uses only fresh ingredients. I asked him where he bought his nopalitos, cactus, and he says that they come in big batches from Mexico. They have to de-thorn them on site. I did not make the mistake of asking him if he ever used pre-packaged nopalitos.
Also, he uses only fresh avocados in his dishes. “Nunca con ese ‘pulp,'” he said. “We never buy that avocado pulp that comes in a plastic bag.” He buys and peels his own avocados to make sure they are flavorful.
I was curious about his salsa ranchera, which I had with my eggs, because it was just plain wonderful–the way it’s supposed to taste. Notice the fresh tomato, still with the peel, and the green chile. He says he throws it together, already familiar with the ingredients and ratios. I wish I had more breakfasts thrown together like that.
It was a restaurant like this one that a Chicago tourist visited back in 1900. He was so taken by how crowded and successful the café was that he decided to open one himself. Not in the barrio, where Anglos would not go, but in downtown San Antonio, a bit more soigné. He opened up his “The Original Mexican Restaurant” in downtown San Antonio, and that’s how Tex-Mex food began. A Mexican restaurant by Anglos for Anglos. Add to that the claim that it was the original Mexican restaurant. He hit on a winner, because Tex-Mex restaurants have been hugely successful over the years and even Mexican Americans have followed suit by opening up similar format restaurants, also with great success.
But they are different from El Puesto, of course, in many ways that speak to class, taste, cultural awareness and indigenous memory.
I like to taste a variety of cuisines, but admit freely that whenever I am near a little restaurante or café like this one, I cannot resist entering and savoring the delicious food that is so hard to find in most areas. And the folk in those barrios take it for granted! Life just isn’t fair.