What’s the perfect bean and cheese taco? Mando Rayo set out to find it in San Antonio

The Tacos of Texas podcast host threw together a Bean and Cheese Battle Royale, crowning a winner.

By Kristen CabreraSeptember 12, 2023 2:53 pm,

What’s a quick and easy go-to if you’re hungry? Any time, day or night?

For some, PB&J is that staple. For others, its the classic bean and cheese taco.

There are an abundance of restaurants that make them too, which is why Mando Rayo, host of the Tacos of Texas podcast, had to have a taco throwdown, with Mando crowning a victor in a Bean and Cheese Battle Royale.

He spoke with the Standard on why the bean and cheese taco is that classic go-to and about putting the competition together. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Why did you feel like bean and cheese was the way to go if you’re doing a taco comparison?

Mando Rayo: Well, I mean, I think it’s just probably the simplest form of something that your mom or something that you grew up with, something they just gave you and it was just, like, so comforting, right? And where you have to go is San Antonio, in all of Texas. So really thinking about where food culture is around tacos and really thinking about the bean and cheese, I had to do it in San Antonio.

Is there some logic to why San Antonio seems to be ground zero for good bean and cheese tacos? 

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think there’s just a lot of local mom and pop shops there. You know, and then there’s a long history of not only the flour tortilla, obviously, but just kind of the simplicity of like, what’s the common people’s taco? I always say bean and cheese is the people’s taco. It don’t matter if you’re wearing a tie, some baggy shorts or a suit – it don’t matter. A bean and cheese will definitely fill your need for comfort, for culture, and that comida that you grew up with.

When you’re talking frijoles, do you like it smooth or do you like the black beans? Because there’s a lot of texture.

There’s a lot. There’s a lot that goes into it, right? First, you have to have a good tortilla, right? And then the beans have to be creamy, for me. So that’s a personal choice, right? And refried. 

What cheese do you prefer?

Yellow cheese #5.

You’re kidding. Is it really yellow cheese #5?

I don’t know, I just made that up. But just, like, the yellow cheese.

You’re going to have a bunch of Texas Standard listeners at the H-E-B looking for yellow cheese #5.

“Excuse me, where’s the yellow cheese #5 section?”

No, but it’s the mixture, you know, and it’s also like the bean to the cheese ratio. You know, the tortilla has to be warm, the beans have to be creamy. And then just the right amount of cheese. You know, I’m going to go with like 70%/30%.

» MORE MANDO: Austin’s Taco Mile takes eaters off the trendy taco path

Do you put the cheese on the top or do you first the tortilla, cheese, then beans?

Oh, so the perfect one for me is when it’s mixed in together and blended as it’s cooked. So not not assembly line, but a lot of places do have that assembly line. But when you do get it, then it’s melted all together.

So let’s get to the battle royale. How did you go about picking the contenders?

So we actually partnered with two organizations out in San Antonio, friends of ours. Barbacoa Apparel – they make their own shirts and a lot of like local culture and flair around the culture of San Antonio, right? And as well as with Puro Pinche – Stephanie Guerra.

So I had my favorites, they had their favorites. We all pulled them together. We did like, “okay, let’s figure out like what’s the top ten,” right? And then we put it out to social media and said, “okay, here’s our top ten. Who else is missing?”

And so we actually crowdsourced and then everybody came in with their favorites from, you know, the Original Donut taco shop, Tacos El Rey, Taqueria Jalisco, I mean, La Gloria, you name it. They were all out there, right? And then we looked at which ones are the ones that kind of rose to the top.

And from there we actually created a bracket, The Sweet 16 or Los Diez y Seis Más Dulces. Then we had the eight and then the Final Four, you know, and then we hosted a live podcast event in San Antonio at Jaime’s Place. And then the finalists came and they served tacos to be part of the championship. We had this welder, this fabricator, make us a metal crown – a Bean and Cheese Battle Royale metal crown – which was amazing.

So it was great because the people got to vote there on the spot for the finalist. So it was a mix of that crowdsource, but also the people there tasted the tacos, they voted live.

Was it a secret ballot or were you raising the hands or what?

We had like, you know, brown paper bags and you put your vote in there. Very technical, you know.

Well, you know, I’m a little uncertain about whether or not to ask you about who the winner was, because part of the fun is of course the build up to it.

Yes. You got to listen to the podcast.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on texasstandard.org and KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.