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UPDATE: The Making of El Real's Puffy Tacos

Chicken Puffy Tacos at El Real

Back in August of last year I posted this item about the Tex-Mex puffy taco. We were building the menu of El Real Tex-Mex Cafe at the time. In the process we sampled a great many puffy tacos in hopes of perfecting our own. It took a whole lot of trial and error, but when we opened we had our puffy taco ready. If you haven’t tried it yet, I invite you to check it out and tell me who it rates compared to the greats.

The puffy tacos at Sammy’s Mexican Restaurant in La Vernia are the best I’ve had in awhile. They were a lot sturdier than most. As you are probably aware, the biggest problem with puffy tacos is the lack of structural integrity.

Puffy tacos have been on my mind a lot lately. A couple of days ago, I tried the incredibly fragile puffy tacos at Loma Linda on Telephone Road in Houston. They are quite tasty, but the stewed chicken version falls apart within minutes of hitting the table. The ground beef taco meat version offers a slightly longer window of dining opportunity, but both of these puffy tacos are very delicate. I am thinking these are made by frying a regular, fully-cooked corn tortilla in hot oil–just like the queso puffs.

The puffy tacos at Los Barrios in San Antonio are much more substantial. They are made from fresh masa which puffs up when it fries. I love the puffy tacos at Los Barrios, but the stewed chicken version has the same problem that every stewed chicken puffy taco has–the juicy chicken makes the fried masa soggy and the taco falls apart when you pick it up.

Los Barrios puffy tacos have lately acquired legendary status. In June, the owner of Los Barrios, Diana Barrios Trevino, prepared them on the White House lawn at the invitation of President Obama. The event was called “Taste of the States” and it was a picnic for members of congress and their families. The country was split into five regions, and Diana’s puffy tacos were chosen to represent the Southwest.

Exactly how Los Barrios beat out Henry’s Puffy Tacos of San Antonio for this honor is a political matter that I don’t care to speculate about.

Here is the Diana’s puffy taco recipe from Trevino’s “Los Barrios Family Cookbook” (Note: Yes the recipe really calls for frying the tacos in 250 degree oil.)

Puffy Tacos

(makes 12-15 tacos)


* 3 cups corn masa mix
* 1 ½ teaspoons salt
* 2 ¼ cups warm water
* Vegetable oil for frying

1. Combine the masa mix, salt and warm water in a large bowl and mix until a smooth dough forms. Pull off pieces of dough and roll them into balls about the size of Ping-Pong ball.

2. Cut a quart-size resealable plastic bag open down both sides, to form a rectangle. Use the bag to line a tortilla press as you shape the tortillas, so they do not stick: Lay one side of the plastic over the bottom of the press, place a ball of dough in the center, and fold the other side of the plastic over the dough. Shut the top of the tortilla press firmly down on the dough to shape the tortilla.

3. Meanwhile, pour 2 inches of vegetable oil into large deep pot and heat to 250 degrees.

4. Drop a tortilla into the hot oil and, using a metal spatula; repeatedly douse the tortilla with the hot oil until it begins to puff up. Flip it over and, using the spatula, make an indentation in the center of the tortilla to form a taco shape. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.(Caution: Be very careful when making these. Make sure there is proper ventilation, and do not allow the oil to get too hot.)

NOTE: If you can’t get your hands on a tortilla press, a clean countertop will do. You will still need the plastic so that the dough does not stick to the counter. Place the dough ball on one side of the plastic, cover with the other side, and use a heavy skillet to press out the tortilla.

Masa Mix can be found at Latin markets and some larger supermarkets.

Fill each taco with 2 tablespoons of cooked ground meat or shredded chicken, Guacamole, beans, and cheese or choose your favorite filling. Top with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes.

3 comments to UPDATE: The Making of El Real's Puffy Tacos

  • Blaine

    I too have given much thought to the classic puff taco conundrum. How to solve the innate “sog vs. crunch” problem. (After all, this isn’t a taste issue. It’s about access and reliability, at the end of the day.)

    Two mornings ago, I woke with a start.

    What if a thin layer of shredded cheese was sprinkled on the ‘inside’ of the tortilla and it was flash broiled (a la nachos) before the fillings were added.

    I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I’m on to something. The added layer of thin, crusted, baked cheese could serve as a salty compliment as well as Sog Protection.

    Whadayathink? (There’s got to be a way to make this work while maintaining the structural integrity/taste of the shells, que non?)

  • Pamela Marquis

    I was so, so excited to hear you were opening El Real as I admired your food choices and adventurous spirit to find the unusual. I even told friends about it before you opened. I went twice when El Real opened and was so saddened to taste pablum salsa, bad margaritas and even awful nachos. I have no one desire to ever go back. Now I find I must go tonight with friends. Why oh why is the food so awful? You know good food and this is not it.
    I had hoped you would bring exciting food to an industry sorely lacking it.
    Truly disappointed in Houston,

  • this looks so yummy..I can’t wait to make this puffy tacos..thanks..