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travellers' luck: Guajillo's in San Antonio

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travellers' luck: Guajillo's in San Antonio

David Sloo | Apr 18, 2006 02:16 AM

Everything about Guajillo's, to my out-of-town eye, boded unexciting. It sits right next to a freeway overpass among unremarkable malls on the very edge of San Antonio. Construction surrounds, even including two big buildings slated for implosion. The sign, for what it's worth, could be that of a chain-restaurant. It has a slogan: 'the shortcut to Mexico' or, alternately, 'el atajo al México'. A slogan.

But once we parked, before walking in, we knew the place would be acceptable. A lot of the right kind of fresh paint and tables and handwritten signs. One sign was for birria-- perhaps the goat stew of your Sunday morning dreams, as it is of mine. This sign was subtitled 'with lamb'. Intriguing. Maybe we'd even like the food.

We did. Guajillo's is a reasonable place to eat.

We had, among our party of five, two excellent quesadillas, one with pork in the al pastor style. The other was a plain quesadilla, grilled well and very hot. Probably the best dish was a chile verde in the plateau of Mexico vein: a water- and chilli sauce thickened entirely by pumpkin seeds. The chile verde was served on well cooked but unremarkable chicken, alongside quite nice beans and rice. When I asked later about the beans, I learned they were enrichened only with vegetable oil.

I didn't much admire the ceviche de pescado, though it was okay and refreshing on a hot day: pickled fish, lots of tomatoes, and some condiments. Sliced olives, like martini olives with pimientos, were a curious but unsuccessful ingredient. If every failed restaurant experiment were as interesting, we would be continually challenged and occasionally wowed.

The big bowl of birria came with a side plate, half of chopped white onion and half of chopped mexican oregano. There were already lime halves on the table with the salsa and fresh chips.

I talked a little to the fellow in charge, who is from the DF. He commented on his own tubbiness, patting it a little dismissively: 'I don't eat much fat, but lots of bread, because my family came from Europe'.

He told me that he decided to start using lamb for birria because he had a bad experience with goat fat: 'It hardened once. I was skimming the birria and I spilled the fat on the counter. Then I went to wait on a table. A little later, I came back and I looked at it, and I tried to scrape it off with a knife. I decided that was too, too much.'

That said, the lamb birria is good: it tastes like very flavorful shoulder at the heart of a rich soup, but it has the rendered fat of lamb shin. And the soup is very un-fatty, but flavor rich, like all the dishes we had.

The next time I go to Guajillo's, I will take the waiter's recommendation and have either the albondigas or one of the fish dishes.

Guajillo's is only about 2.0 mi from the San Antonio airport. You could walk it in an hour if you were very tolerant of highway traffic and (this April) 100 degree heat and pervasive dust. Having eaten at the San Antonio airport, I suggest stopping by at this restaurant instead, before clearing security.

Guajillo's, Loop 410 at Blanco (NW corner).

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