Day two in San Antonio started with more eating. This time we were headed to Taco Taco, a restaurant Bon Appetit had raved about as being “the best tacos in America!!” and Food & Wine Magazine had named one of of the best taco spots across the country. Their list of awards goes on and on: http://www.tacotacosa.com/awards/

From the outside, Taco Taco appeared to be a pretty unassuming place.

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But a line stretched out from the door, just like we’d heard always did. It was only a five minute wait though, really nothing at all.

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The inside was equally unassuming, just some tables, chairs, and people eating. On a small tv in the corner, the episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives that featured Taco Taco played on loop (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqgDrZ4Sjzc). On the wall, a signed poster of Guy Fiery quietly boasted of his visit.

We ordered a Huevo a la Mexicano breakfast taco and their famous Taco Norteno. You couldn’t order it without meat, so I geared myself to eat some beef. I just feel like when I’m travelling across the country and trying to eat the best food I can, if they say the famous dish only comes with meat, I’m gonna try it for the experience.

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It was pretty good. I could see how if you were a meat fan you would be a lot more enthusiastic about the Taco Nortena. For us, we were underwhelmed. The tortilla for sure was delicious. It was warm, soft, and thicker than any tortilla I’d had before. You could tell they were hand-made in the cafe. It made me interested to try and make tortillas myself next time I cook mexican, because it was such a step above store-bought ones and noticeably elevated the quality of the taco. The beef was good, well seasoned. I’m just averse to meat, so what I look for in a taco is a lot of fresh vegetables. It only had a few bell peppers lightly sautéed and some refried beans. I was hoping for a taco bursting with vegetables and flavor, but that’s just not what I got. It definitely needed the salsa and hot sauce we added to it. The egg taco was, again, fine. It was scrambled eggs in a taco. The tortilla was the highlight.

Next we headed downtown to see the Alamo, something Rachael insisted upon. Neither of us really remembered what we were supposed to remember about the Alamo, but we got the gist that there was a big fight against Mexico there and everybody died. If you want to know more, look it up, because it really didn’t interest me. You weren’t allowed to take pictures in there, but it was a few empty rooms with some guns in glass cases and names on plaques. Instead, enjoy this picture of a horse in a silly hat.

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The best part of the Alamo was the gift shop. We had a little photoshoot with the coonskin caps and wooden guns.

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The theme of the shop seemed to be Don’t Mess With Texas. You could almost hear the chest thumping and manly grunting amongst all the bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets proclaiming that Texans were gonna kick your ass. I had trouble assimilating that attitude with the story I had just learned about Mexico completely defeating Texas’s forces at the Alamo. But I guess later there was a battle at San Jacinto where the Texian army defeated the Mexicans in all of 18 minutes, so that’s supposed to be retribution. Only 9 Texians died, while 630 Mexicans were killed, and 730 captured, which is admittedly impressive.

We were more into the candy sticks, so we got us some of those and were back out on the road…

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Patrolling around in the sunshine, sucking on our candy, we came across the largest table tennis paddle in the world. I feel like no cross-country trip is complete without seeing the largest something, so I was glad to find this strange artifact.

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There was also the world’s largest hawaiian shirt, for good measure.

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In a nearby souvenir shop we found this bizarre creature. Is that a jackalope?

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And lots of salt/pepper shakers…

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I was about to try and make two of the men shakers kiss, because I was curious on the state of gay rights in the shaker community, but I promptly dropped one and broke it. I swept it up and offered to pay, but the shopkeeper said I didn’t need to. That was my cue for a swift exit.

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In the next store we came across the oddest souvenir yet. Of course I want a water bottle that looks like a cow foreleg…image042

Next we walked through an old governor’s house, historically preserved. It was interesting in that it gave me more of a feel for past San Antonio than the Alamo had, but mostly I thought of it as the house with the cool candle-holders.

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We were off again. This time to Market Square, a mexican market area.

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Horchata and cantaloupe agua fresca were much needed after all that walking in the heat.

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Sitting on the floor to drink it, we watched a mexican band play and some couples/one homeless man dance.

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We started back towards our car. This wheel chair man was going places.

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Rachael wanted to look in this church, but she got the evil eye at the door for wearing shorts. I consoled her saying, “Jesus don’t care, he went shirtless all the time! I’ve seen pictures.”

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Finally back to our car, we were too exhausted to possibly rent bikes to bike through the historical old house area as our hosts had suggested. Instead I drove by slowly while Rachael hung out the window taking pictures.

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And that was the end our day in San Antonio. We had aspirations of going country line dancing, but we were just too tired. Being a tourist is hard work.

I was looking forward to San Antonio’s River Walk. When I’d googled San Antonio, the pictures of it had looked pretty, and it seemed fun. Little did we know the exasperation this watery labyrinth would cause us…

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In the beginning it was fine. In contrast to New Orleans, San Antonio was clearly a well-maintained city, but very similar in the aggression it showed pandering to tourists. Walking around the river walk felt like walking down Bourbon in that it was a battle through a constant stream of tourists. But instead of everyone being white, middle-aged, and drunk, this crowd was generally Hispanic young couples either on dates or with a brood of toddlers. There was a general congestion caused by a fleet of riverboats giving tours, and the long cues waiting for their turn to board.

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The river itself was a maze of dead-ends, forks, and loops. When one side proved unnavigateable, you’d have to cross a bridge to the otherside. In hind-sight, this arrangement spelled our doom, but still at this point we were blissfully ignorant of the trials that lay before us…

One end of the river comprised a mall and some souvenir shops. The usual stuff.

Texas hot sauce-

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River Walk/Alamo salt shakers-

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Cowboy boots salt & pepper-

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There was some sort of Native American-type band playing. Live music is always nice outdoors in the evening.

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But we were getting hungry. Further down the river, at the start of the truly confusing layout, tables lined the banks, looking colorful and inviting. It was getting darker, and the lights reflected in the water.

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Unfortunately, the most colorful-looking restaurants were also the most asinine. Their menus had about the gormet-appeal of a chilis. We did not come all the way to Texas to eat some kiddo quesidilla on a placemat I could color with crayons. However, the hoards of families probably appreciated the bland, lifeless menus so that their toddler wouldn’t throw too great a strop at being switched off their usual chicken nuggets and mashed peas to something with character or flavor. Trying to find a decent restaurant then resulted in an expedition up and down the river bank, back and forth, trying to vet the menus for something we would enjoy. By the time we settled on Iron Cactus, we’d walked several miles and hours since we first arrived. It was dark in the sky, though still bright on the river, when we settled into our table.

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Now what I am about to relate to you I can only describe as the most disfunctional meal I’ve ever eaten. Let’s give me some leeway in our judging when we consider that previous to this point we had driven seven hours and walked around that devil-water for at least two. When the waitress arrived, we ordered two appetizers to split: Chile Con Queso and Lobster Tacos. We also ordered a Strawberry Cactus Marguerita to share.  Now on an empty stomach, after all this walking, our drink comes. First of all, it’s not a margarita. The menu was very deceptive in placing it under the heading margarita, but apparently half-way down the list just switches to tequila drinks. The official description is, “El Jimador Silver Tequila with Cointreau, Prickly Pear Puree, and Fresh Strawberry”. Rachael and I are sipping away on our salt-rimmed, but not margarita, drink, and it is delicious. But I am the most pathetic of light weights. And starving, and tired. Next our waitress brings this course, which the a human possessing normal mental capabilities would describe as “chips and salsa”.

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I, however, am apparently completely retarded by this point, because in complete honesty I took this picture whole-heartedly believing this was our chili. A false belief I held firmly all the way to the end of the meal when our real chili arrived. I literally was like, “Oh how interesting, they eat their chili with chips here. It’s so tomatoey and all vegetables, how nice.” And then I ate it with a fork. Ohh, but it will only gets worse. Next come our lobster tacos, “Three mini flour tortillas filled with sautéed lobster, Monterrey jack cheese, served with sweet red pepper coulis and pico de gallo.” By this point I’m getting tipsy, and still starving, because salsa-“chili” is not a very big meal. There are no pictures, because I gobbled these up. They were the most delicious things in the world. We should of ordered 20 of them, and nothing else. But I can’t even trust my own judgement here, because clearly I was pretty off that night. My rave review could have been the alcohol talking. It certainly had a lot to say about the next dish, because suddenly a waiter brings a skillet of cheese. Literally just a skillet of cheese. Still under the impression that my salsa was chili, I’m thinking, “What the hell is this? Free food?” Then Rachael, acting with more intelligence and less inebriation identifies this strange cheese monster as our chili. What? My mind is blown. The salsa was not chili. Cheese is chili? We read the description in the menu again- “Chile Con QuesoA blend of white cheeses, Hatch green chiles, pico de gallo, and fire roasted jalapeño peppers.” The chili is not chili… it’s cheese with a little chile pepper. We had assumed we were getting chili, and the listed description was just the garnish. Well I don’t speak much spanish, but in my opinion that dish should have been titled Queso Con Chile then. But I guess chili and chile aren’t even the same thing, and this restaurant has been tricking us right and left from the start, so I’ll take the blame on my exhaustion-addled brain, once-again. At this point I’ve finished my half of our drink, eaten a dish of salsa and one and a half  little tacos, and have the full on drunchies. The restaurant has defeated me, and there’s nothing to do to make the best of this bizarre cheese-skillet. In my state I don’t even care anymore, I just pour salsa on top of the cheese to try to make it slightly less monotonous, and drunkenly munch away on the chips. It was one of those strange drunken experience where you’re not enjoying the food at all, and you know it’s so bad for you, but you’re starving and there’s no stopping you from eating it. Ug.

Finally we escape from this den of deception and are on the loose again. We decide the only way to salvage this night is to get some ice cream. I take the lead on navigating us back to the ice cream parlor at the beginning of the river walk. Bad idea, obviously. I’m charging full steam ahead, as confident in my directions as I was that the salsa was chili. We miss a bridge-cross over, and end up in the dark, deserted section of the river where the hobos live. I’m on a roll this night. We decide to climb the stairs to street level, and try to walk ourselves to the beginning above ground. Now we are wandering through what has, like Bourbon Street, at night has magically transformed into bar-land, drunko-ville. Except strangely, there are a lot of horse and carriage rides, with the carriage designed to look like Cinderella’s transformed pumpkin. But we don’t have enough energy to waste wondering at this strange world, we are on a mission. Lost for sure, but we’re going to get where we are going. And eventually we do- we make it all the way back to a closed ice cream shop.

But we won’t give up! Forward march, back down the river, to the restaurant area where more ice-cream parlors reside. Our attitude towards traversing this river has escalated from giving slow-moving tourists a deserved shove out of our way into the water, to scaling the walls to escape this hell, to spider man swinging from bridge to bridge, to taking a bazooka and just blasting our way through the walls. We’ve had plenty of time to elaborate on these fantasies as we power walk through the twists and turns. At least I’m burning off some of that cheese skillet.

Finally, sweet success. Justin’s Ice Cream Company. We were so tired, but it’s hard not to enjoy sitting by the water, eating some delicious ice cream. I had pesca (peach), and Rachael had some incoherent word we translated to probably fancy vanilla. They were cold, sweet, and my favorite consistency for ice cream: so soft it’s just on the edge of melting.

But the memory of all our travails was still fresh in our mind. Here is a visual representation of how we felt about the San Antonio River Walk. And that was the end of that.

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Driving west from New Orleans, the I-10 took us on long stretches of elevated roadways over the bayou. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. On either side of us, the green foliage of the trees leaned in. Their trunks submerged into the swamp, an abrupt halt to the line my eye expected to follow to roots and earth.

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(photos via google)

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As we drove farther away from the city, an oil refinery became visible, silhouetted in the periwinkle and lilac of the morning. I’m sure it’s horrible environmentally, but in that moment it was just so… pretty. The smoke puffed out of stacks to meet the clouds in an azure mist. I’d have taken a picture, but driving does tend to put a damper on that impulse. As we got into Texas, swamps gave way to green fields filled with little yellow flowers, rimmed by trees and lorded over by the occasional herd of cattle. The sky turned to that deep, cerulean blue, with white clouds laying low and heavy. We flipped to the radio and tried to get the full Texas experience by listening to country. Unfortunately, the stations in the middle of nowhere basically consisted of praise-jesus and mariachi band, so we put that thought on hold for a bit. After four hours we made it to Houston and stopped for lunch and a look around. We only saw a very little bit of downtown, but everyone there was so genial and unrestrained. As we walked down the street, almost everybody had something kind to say to us.

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It was Mother’s Day, and this little girl looked so cute holding a flower for her mother I had to take a creeper snap of her.

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The owner of this restaurant was pulling out of the parking lot and stopped to offer to take a picture for us in front of his cool mural. I’m telling you, everyone was so nice!

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Bitterman’s Market Square Bistro and Grill served up some mighty fine shrimp quesadillas. Of course I was too hungry to have the mental capacity to think to take a picture, but picturing a quesadilla doesn’t take too much imagination, does it?

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A nice stop, and interesting to get a quick look at Houston. Then it was back on the road. San Antonio awaited us…

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