There’s Tortilla Soup and There’s Tortilla Soup

Okay, today it’s finally raining after ?? days of dry, dry, dry weather here in the San Antonio area. I’m cozily beginning to think about lunch and sure wish I had a bowl of GOOD tortilla soup.  Soup lovers will tell you that there are few absolutes when it comes to this yummy concoction, found at almost any restaurant around here. The only ingredients you can count on are chicken or chicken broth, a few crispy corn chip slivers and some cheese. But what those ingredients are all swirling in when that bowl is placed in front of you, can vary like TV channels when hubby is controlling the remote. Is the broth thick or thin? Is the base tomato or clear? Is it spicy or mild? Is there avocado or guacamole?

I have my favorites and I know a local tortilla soup connoisseur who has tossed her votes my way.  So, here’s our official/unofficial tortilla soup report, just for you.

Jim’s Tortilla Soup

La Fiesta Patio’s Tortilla Soup

Jim’s Restaurant – A totally unexpected source, unless you’ve heard about their various awards and recognitions for this bowl of palate pleasing liquid. The price is great, too. I enjoyed this bowl the other day for only $3.49!

 La Fiesta Patio Cafe – My personal favorite, though really different from Jim’s version. I was a little hesitant when I didn’t see any tomato base in this soup, but one bite shot flavor alerts through my mouth and my brain screamed, “More!”

Votes also came in for Cappycino’s Chicken Tortilla Soup and the Paloma Blanca Tortilla Soup.

Don’t hold back. Tell us your favorites, too! We’d like to know. In the meantime…


The Ultimate Botana Platter?

What’s a Botana Platter? By definition, it’s a Mexican appetizer or snack platter. To people in my circle, it’s the quintessential “must have” for Mexican food loving carnivores! The great “Botanas” begin with a layer of tortilla chips  or quesadillas with added layers of refried beans, cheddar cheese, grilled vegetables, a hearty helping of tender beef or chicken fajitas and random globs of quacamole and sour cream. Salsa is essential. Tortillas, beans and rice are always present.

My Botana Platter passion began years ago when large groups of friends would join me at “The Roundup” in Pharr, Texas (now re-birthed “La Mexicana” in McAllen). We’d order the largest version of their Botana Platters and share great food and great friendships for hours almost every Saturday night.

Recently, we returned to the Rio Grande Valley with the ultimate goal of savoring another of those often missed Botanas. We weren’t disappointed when long time friends introduced us to Diaz Diner in Mission. This place is an unassuming Mission treasure with great food, very reasonable prices and a friendly staff. Owners Veneranda Padron and Eduardo Pinto bought the restaurant five years ago and transformed it into one of Mission’s favorites.

Though the Diaz Diner menu had tantalizing temptations I remained focused and ordered a “Mini Botana” for myself. Let me say there was nothing mini about it considering this whole plate was just for me AND the price was only $8.99!  The flavor of each item was perfect and the beef fajitas were especially tender. Our server, Ruben, provided great service, too. My only disappointment with the meal was that it had to end.

What are their other specialties? I’m including a picture of an absolutely scrumptious Sombrero Plate, and I hear that their #1 best seller is the Parrillada — a big plate with 4 meats (chicken fajitas, beef fajitas, Polish sausage and ribs) served on a sizzling platter with rice, charro beans and quesadillas. All of this for only $9.99! For folks in your group looking for American food (say, what?), there’s a Chicken Fried Steak platter or the customary hamburger that’ll win their hearts.

You won’t find any website for Diaz Diner, but that’s no indicator of the quality of their food. Just Google their map and stop by when you’re in the Valley.

Hours: Mon – Sat 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sun – 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Address: 501 W. Business Highway 83, Mission, TX 78572

Phone: (956) 581-9600
This area is rich in history so here’s a link to the city of Mission Chamber of Commerce.
           Happy Dining!
                       Cyndy Bartelli

Vegans Rejoice – Mexican Food for Everyone!

La Fiesta Patio Cafe

We love to tell the stories of American entrepreneurs – particularly restaurant owners. Today’s story is of a business woman with a great idea and the ability to carry it through, hold fast to her concept and earn a reputation in the city for quality Mexican food.

Patricia Diaz and her family opened La Fiesta Patio Café in 1974 on the Austin Highway in San Antonio. Their traditional Mexican food was good as it was, but Patricia’s inspiration to prepare the food with good health in mind, took her offerings to a different level.

After working with new recipes, she exchanged peanut oil for lard, whole grain brown rice for white rice and mashed beans for refried beans. Those changes led the way to numerous others. This café’s guests could enjoy vegetarian enchiladas with sides like fresh fruit and garden salads. They even swapped privately grown organic alfalfa sprouts for lettuce on their chalupas compuestas!

La Fiesta Patio Cafe became so popular that when the family relocated the restaurant to Universal City, many of Patricia’s customers faithfully followed her and her unique cuisine.

This is a place you’ve just gotta try. One bite and you know there’s no sacrifice for quality and flavor at this special spot. My personal favorites are the light and crunchy chicken puffy tacos and the “what’s-in-this-soup!?” tortilla soup. The puffy tacos don’t taste heavy at all (because of the peanut oil?). I took

Tortilla Soup and Puffy Taco

one bite of the soup and had that wow moment while I tried to discern what all of the delicious ingredients were.

It’s hard to stop talking about this place, but I’ll see what else I can squeeze into this one paragraph: fresh tres leches cake (swimming in the sweet milky sauce), fantastic frozen margaritas (made with specially imported agave wine) and a friendly staff who make your visit a pleasure.

Tres Leches Cake and Flan

Stop by and say “hello.” Patricia no longer does the cooking, but you’ll see her there, watching over the operation carefully to see that their presentation and quality are maintained.

In Honor of Spring Fever

I admit it. I have spring fever. A bad case, in fact. All I want to do is go play out in the sunshine and forget responsibility. So, I’m facing my sickness head on and planning some FUN for the next week. My idea of fun includes getting outside while the weather’s so fantastic AND enjoying good food. Where else will that happen best than at our area restaurants with outdoor dining. We’ve got some good uns, too. Here are some suggestions:

Habaneros Grill

Fatso's Henderson Pass

Tycoon Flats

Los Cucos Mexican Cafe

And more…

Frank’s Hog Stand

El Mana Bakery and Cafe

Frankfurter Express

Lucky Burger

Happy Spring Break Dining!!!

Texas’ Best Breakfast

Huevos a la Mexicana
Huevos a la Mexicana

In June, 2010, Southtown’s TACO HAVEN on S. Presa St., received the “Texas Best Breakfast Award” with the Food Network Magazine. Their “Reggie’s Weekend Special” brought the honors to this well known family restaurant.

We can testify ourselves, that EVERY breakfast there is wonderful, but the “Reggie’s Weekend Special” is phenomenal. Now hear this: It includes two Huevos Rancheros, two cheese quesadillas, refried beans, and potatoes rancheros. Fresh tortillas are served with a side of barbacoa (all cheek meat), too! All of this is only $7.50. No doubt you’ll want to come hungry!

Owned and operated by the Jerry Torres Family, Torres Taco Haven prides itself on continuing its rich history of providing wonderfully tasty and authentic food with great service all in a tradition filled ambiance.

Decades of tradition, authentic ingredients and a great variety in their menu are what makes their dishes popular with everyone — not only in San Antonio, but with travelers, stopping in for this sought-after experience.

Welcome to Patty’s Taco House #2

Patty and Rudy Reyes started their popular restaurant Patty’s Taco House #2 in 1997 with a great plan and a heritage of good food ideas.

Beef Fajita Taco
Mini Puffy Taco Plate

Though Patty was raised in the restaurant business, Rudy was a true West Texas cowboy who rounded up his herds and lassoed a calf or two. Both understood the value of hard work and determination. They’ve utilized those skills (along with some natural marketing talent) to build their business into one of the most popular taco destinations in south San Antonio.

Their seven children have helped build the business as a family team while working their way through college. There’s no stopping the Reyes’ enthusiasm and savvy about producing wonderful Mexican food.

This great little cafe is a treasure to find. They specialize in fast, fresh, made-to-order tacos, but we can testify to some awesome chili rellenos, gorditas and puffy taco plates!(BTY, they are open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. M-Sat only.) Before you stop by, be thinking about your favorite taco combo to special order. There are plenty of ingredients to choose from: quacamole, fajitas, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, bacon, potatoes, picadillo… and much more!

The Reyes Family
Reyes Family

YouTubeCheck them out on YouTube!

Our Next Frugal Find – The San Antonio Historic Missions

I’m ashamed to say it took many years for me to finally tour the San Antonio Missions. Once there, I wished that I hadn’t taken these architectural treasures for granted for so long. Even those with little fascination for history are struck by the incredible resilience of these structures and the people who lived and worshiped in them.

“The legacy and history of San Antonio and this region began with a simple ceremony when in 1718 Franciscans and Spanish representatives established the first mission. Within 13 years, five were located along the San Antonio River. The missions’ purpose? To acculturate and Christianize the native population and make them Spanish citizens. Today, visitors can retrace the footsteps of the mission Indians and friars. And, possibly, meet descendants of those first inhabitants.” (The National Park Service Website)

If you plan to take the guided tours of the missions, set aside a day and wear good walking shoes. The entry fees and tours are free and fascinating. We spent most of our time at Mission San Jose where the structures are more fully restored and the Visitor’s Center is located. I’d definitely suggest that if your time is limited, you begin there.

Oh, and this time of year, you’ll want to pack some cool water to take along. We thought that stopping off at Taco Haven for one of their sensational Mexican food breakfasts, was the perfect way to start our long day. Taco Haven is just south of downtown and is practically historic, too! I know you’ll forgive me for “pitching” one of our $5Dining restaurants once you’ve tried the good food there.