Tracking Down the Origin of Dallas' "Puffy" Tacos

Categories: Food News

Tupinamba's Puff Taco 2.jpg
A sorta puff taco at Tupinamba
I've spent days stuffing my gullet, looking for something that should be relatively easy to find. It's called a puffy taco, and apparently it's delicious, but I can't be sure because you can't purchase puffy tacos here in Dallas -- anywhere.

The puffy taco got its start in San Antonio, at Tex-Mex restaurants that fried flattened balls of masa dough in metal forms. The shells puff up into a pliable, yet crisp shell that's shaped similar to traditional crispy shell tacos only thicker. There's a great picture of one on Robb Walsh's website, here.

In Dallas, I've tried "puff," or "puffy tacos" at three different restaurants and have been unable to find anything that resembles the delicate taco that has become synonymous with San Antonio Tex-Mex. It's odd that it's so easy to find endless renditions of passable lobster rolls that hail all the way from the New England states, yet it it's impossible to find an authentic version of a Tex-Mex delicacy that got its start just four hours away by car.

Tupinamba's Puff Taco.jpg
Tupinamba's taco is stuffed from the inside instead of folded, a bit like a puffed tostada.
Authenticity be damned, my favorite version served here in Dallas comes out of the kitchen at Tupinamba, where cooks deep fry pre-made tortillas instead of raw masa, without the metal form. The results puff up like a crispy softball that Tupinamba fills with your choice of ground beef or chicken, lettuce and cheese.

The problem with Tupinamba's version (and the other puff tacos I tried in Dallas) is the structural integrity of the finished product. They're impossible to pick up and eat and quickly crumble apart into what many describe as a taco salad. It's a good taco salad, especially when topped with loads of spicy salsa, but it's not a puffy taco -- at least not by San Antonio standards.

I called Eddie Dominguez, who owns and runs Tupinamba, and asked him how the puff taco ended up on his menu. Dominguez was quick give the puff taco credit to Ben Ojeda, who briefly worked with Dominguez in Tupinamba's kitchen before opening up his iconic Tex-Mex restaurant on Maple Avenue in 1969.

"Ben told me he wanted to work with me, but that he was going to quit after a year," Dominguez said. Ojeda wanted to learn the ins and outs of the restaurant business, which he did before he left Tupinamba with the puff taco that's still on the menu today.

Ben Ojeda is not around to confirm Dominguez's claim (he died in 1989) but if it's true, Tupinamba likely served the first puffy tacos in Dallas. Henry's Puffy Taco's in San Antonio, which claims to be the source of the original puffy taco, didn't open until 1978. If only Ben Ojeda had used wet masa instead of a pre-made tortilla. He might have gone down as the creator of a serious Tex-Mex taco legacy.

Dominguez seemed intrigued by all my questions. When we talked, he reminisced about a taco he ate "years ago" in San Antonio that was served in a thick, bread-like tortilla shell. "That sounds just like what you're talking about," he told me and then asked more about how they're made.

I just emailed him a few articles that detail the shell's fabrication. Who knows, in addition to serving Dallas' first puffy taco, Dominguez might be the first guy to perfect it too.

Ojeda's Puffy Taco.jpg
Ojeda's puffy taco dinner



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19 comments
J_A_
J_A_

Sounds too dirty to eat/order

romeolipschitz
romeolipschitz

Puffy tacos were invented at Caro's Mexican restaurant on bluebonnet circle in Ft. Worth. End of mystery.

Tupinamba
Tupinamba

Thanks again! Hope to see you all soon!

BorntoRhone
BorntoRhone

Henry's is not the original puffy taco - and I am not just saying that because I am more partial to Los Barrios. I was born in San Antonio and we ate puffy tacos in the 60s at Jacala, one of the oldest Mexican restaurants still around. However, sadly I still have to go to San Antonio for puffy tacos, we have searched Dallas for years without finding an accurate rendition.

G_David
G_David

Puffy taco = beating.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Casa Cavasos off Samuel has a good puffy taco, but it is also the "fall apart into a taco salad" type.

ohitsmattsmith
ohitsmattsmith

@cityofate @scottreitz dammit, now I want puffy tacos!

Grumpy_Demo
Grumpy_Demo

@scottreitz Desperado's on Greenville has different puffy taco check it out

Bobtex
Bobtex

@BorntoRhone I grew up in SA, graduating from high school in 1962, then moving to Austin until 1970.  I ate puffy tacos in both places during those years. They were too messy to mess with then, and they still are.

dallasfoodorg
dallasfoodorg

@Thunder_Butt @scottreitz Used to be able to get them at Caro's in FW. I've heard some former staff of Caro's reopened and serve them.

dallasfoodorg
dallasfoodorg

@Thunder_Butt @scottreitz Those were tacos dorados, not puffy tacos. Most of the "puffy tacos" I've seen in DFW are puffed tostadas.

scottreitz
scottreitz

@Grumpy_Demo I was hoping this post would flush more out. I'll give them a call

dixiechickidie
dixiechickidie

Are you talking about the Desperados Taco? It's a fried flour tortilla. A whole different animal.

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