An Ode to the Puffy Taco

Arturo Lopez brought this Tex-Mex dish to Texas, and San Antonio tacos were never the same again.

By Garrett Heath October 26, 2015 9:12 am

While you know about crispy, soft and breakfast tacos, if you’re not from San Antonio, you may never have heard of a puffy taco. Let me tell you friend, that’s a shame.

The puffy taco is a corn tortilla that is lightly fried until it begins to puff up. It’s then traditionally filled with ground beef, chicken or guacamole. The puffy taco is like a cross between one of those fried marvels at the Texas State Fair and traditional Tex-Mex.

Arturo Lopez was the owner of Ray’s Drive Inn — a restaurant that was initially started by his older brother, Ray Lopez. It was a classic San An​t​onio Westside joint complete with car hops. In the mid-60s, Arturo, who was living in California, agreed to purchase Ray’s Drive Inn from his brother and brought his puffy taco creation to the Alamo City.

There was a new taco in town, and San Antonio would never be the same.

When a puffy taco is served well, the shell is airy and crispy with a little bit of chewiness like a normal soft tortilla. Finding the balance to make the right puffy taco is difficult — at many restaurants, I’ve joked that you have about 15 seconds to eat one before the tortilla gives way, resulting in a mess on your plate.

This is not the case at Ray’s Drive Inn. They’ve mastered the dish, where it somehow miraculously retains that puff without falling to pieces. Maybe it’s because of repetition (they report to serve over 500 a day), or maybe it’s because of the impromptu Catholic altar alongside one of the walls. Regardless, it’s one of the best tacos that you’re going to find. Leave the enchiladas and carne guisada for another place in town. When you visit Ray’s for the first time you’d be foolish to not order the Puffy Taco plate.

Arturo Lopez passed away on Oct. 16 at the age of 77, after battling diabetes. My condolences go out to Mr. Lopez’s family and friends. Not only was he credited as the inventor of the puffy taco, in my book he was El Rey when it came to this dish.

Garrett Heath writes for SA Flavor, a local blog in San Antonio. Hungry for more? You can see his three favorite spots to get a puffy taco in San Antonio.