This restaurant bills itself as “The Shortcut to Mexico” and advertises “The Mex! Without the Tex” on their website. I don’t remember what drew me here in the first place, but I have been going back ever since. This is one of the few restaurants in San Antonio where you will find Mexican cuisine that is closer to central Mexican fare rather than TexMex. Don’t get me wrong. I mean, who doesn’t like the typical TexMex dishes of enchiladas and tacos? However, Guajillo’s focuses on the tastes of Mexico that are mostly unfamiliar to Americans, and I love them for it.
Guajillo’s is located prominently on the North-Central part of San Antonio in a building that has seen its fair share of restaurants throughout the years. Its comfortable, with good latin music. I have found, however, that many locals have overlooked this fabulous establishment.
Needless to say, the food is fantastic. To begin with, beware of the table sauce (fair warning). It is a bright orange, fiery concoction of guajillo peppers that will scorch your mouth if you are not careful and prevent you from tasting your entree. However, it tastes so good that I can’t keep myself from eating it (and thus, burning my mouth). The thin chips allow you to taste the slight tomato sweetness and the tart lime flavors of the sauce. Again, start slowly.
I’ve had a few things here so I will write on what I have experienced.
The tortilla soup is different from any other I’ve had. Most are a light chicken stock as a base with the normal accoutrements (cheese, avocado, tortilla, sour cream). This tortilla soup has a heartier flavor, probably from a beef base. The stock is flavored with tomato and chiles which gives it a sweet and smoky/bitter taste at the same time. It is inexpensive and I recommend ordering it at least to try a tortilla soup made in a different manner. The Fideo soup is also a flavorful tomato based soup with vermicelli noodles (typically Mexican). This is a great alternative for unadventurous kids.
I’ve had the Albondigas numerous times and have never been disappointed. These small meatballs are stuffed with rice and hard boiled egg and served in a spicy chipotle sauce. The egg adds a new dimension to what would normally be considered just another boring meatball. The sauce has that sweet tomato flavor mixed with the smokiness of the chipotle pepper and is fairly spicy, so ask if the kitchen can tone it down if this bothers you.
My wife is in love with the Mole Verde. Mole is a typical Mexican sauce made with numerous ingredients normally including dried chilies, nuts, and chocolate. In this case, the “green” mole is made with pumpkin seeds, cilantro, and serrano peppers and is served over grilled chicken with cilantro rice. What you get is a slightly nutty flavor combined perfectly with the pungency of the cilantro, and tempered with the tanginess of lime, all while still enjoying the flame grilled flavor of the chicken breast which has been flattened to maintain moistness and even cooking through a shorter cooking time.
The Cochinita Pibil (or Yucatan Pork) is one of my favorites. I’ve tried several recipies of this dish and Guajillo’s does this well. The pork loin is seasoned mainly with achiote (which is a paste made from the annatto seed), citrus (mainly from oranges) and vinegar and is sometimes steamed in a banana leaf (causing it to just fall apart). The achiote gives the pork a bright red color and tastes somewhat peppery with a hint of nutmeg, or anise. It comes with pickled purple onions and is just delectable together.
The Tinga is composed of shredded chicken stewed in an onion and chipotle pepper sauce served on tostada chips. This is another good selection for the kids (just ask for the heat to be adjusted).
I ordered the Bistecs en Chile Pasilla once (steak in pasilla sauce) and the owner looked at me a little funny. He asked if I had tasted it before because he had found that it has a flavor most Americans do not care for. I’m somewhat adventurous and asked for it anyway. The chile pasilla is not very spicy, but has a pungent and slightly chocolaty taste. the steak was well cooked (I would have preferred it to be flame grilled) and I liked it quite a bit.
Of course, I haven’t tried everything, but am confident that everything on the menu is as good as what I have tried. The owners are always there and will ask you if you are enjoying your food. They have given our kids free fideo, just to try it, and have offered to cook us another entree if we did not like what we ordered. This is not a linen tablecloth and artistic plate design kind of place. It is a restaurant that serves great, authentic, Mexican fare. The focus is on the food, and the owners are intent on introducing San Antonio to what real Mexican food is like.