After a good night’s sleep, surprising when considering I was sleeping inside the equivalent of the Vegas Strip, I was ready for more great food.
The weather was a little cloudy, but I still managed to get a decent look at Houston’s skyline.
Food Truck Heaven
I’d heard that the further West one headed, the easier it was to get great Mexican food. Raised on Taco Bell and having recently upgraded to Chipotle, I was ready to graduate to *real* Mexican food. And that’s how I decided to head to Taco Keto, THE place to get cheap, authentic Mexican food.
As I approached Taco Keto (a play on Spanish words “esta coqueto“, meaning “it’s nice/pretty/flirty/cute”), I noticed that the location was in a rather shady/semi-desolate part of town. A little apprehensive, I marched forward. Couldn’t let a little think like a potential car-jacking or mugging stand between me and good food.
And that’s how I finally arrived at Taco Keto, a food-truck located near a tire-shop, and almost non-existent parking space. Not being a food-truck expert, I had no idea what I was in for.
Since I had arrived before the lunch crowds, I basically had the place to myself. I ordered pork and chicken tacos to give them a try. Fresh cilantro, grilled jalapeno and lime? Yes, please!
And HOLY COW they were amazing! By far the tastiest tacos I’ve ever had. One of Keto’s “secrets” is to cover their corn tortillas in spicy salsa before throwing them on the grill. This is what gives their tortillas their reddish color.
I soon had to order more, including beef, al pastor and tripe varieties. This time around, I ordered them “coquetas” (nice branding touch!), meaning “with cheese.”
I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to food trucks and to “real” Mexican food. And with stomach full, it was onward to San Antonio, one of the cities I had most been looking forward to exploring on this trip.
Once you get outside the main cities, the Texans landscape seems oppressively vast. Endless highways with a smattering of houses here and there.
An Encounter With a Beavers and Kolaches
As you drive away from Houston, towards San Antonio, the highway is littered with signs encouraging drivers to stop at Buc-ee’s. I even spotted a sign for Buc-ee’s near Pensacola, Florida, almost 1,000 miles away.
Calling Buc-ee’s a gas station/convenience store is to massively sell it short. The particular Buc-ee’s I visited (there are several) has more than 50 gas pumps and it’s a mini-mall filled with Texas-themed souvenirs and assorted food. But I wasn’t here for souvenirs. I was here for three things, which the billboards promised me were awaiting at beaver heaven (Buc-ee’s mascot is a goofy-looking beaver).
My gameplan for Buc-ee’s had three objectives:
1. Enjoy the cleanest restrooms in Texas.
2. Eat Kolaches (no idea what it was)
3. Get a bag of Beaver nuggets (disgusting-sounding name, the more I think about of it)
Buc-ee’s delivered in all three counts. By the way, there’s a business tip for you: Build up the experience for the customer as early as you can and when it’s time to deliver… DELIVER. Those billboards had me pumped up for Buc-ee’s long before I got there.
One count one, Buc-ee’s DOES have the cleanest restrooms I have ever seen. Ever. There are employees inside the huge, of course, restrooms, wiping every sink, every urinal, every stall, after EVERY. SINGLE. USE. Borders on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder if you ask me.
Kolaches are Czech pastries, popular wherever large number of Czech immigrants happened to settle in North America. Texas is one such place. Kolaches are typically reserved for dessert or breakfast, and filled with fresh fruits. In Texas, it didn’t take long for people to replace fruits with smoked sausage, and that’s how the Texan Kolache was born.
Kolaches are normally a breakfast item, but a couple would be filling enough to constitute a quick lunch. I opted for the non-spicy, jalapeno-less version. I’d describe them as a juicy sausage and cheddar cheese, wrapped in soft, semi-sweet, doughy bread. Simple and delicious road food.
As for the beaver nuggets, they weren’t bad. Just a slightly sweeter version of corn puffs breakfast cereal. Gimmicky? You betcha.
Arriving at the Alamo
I arrived in San Antonio a couple hours before sundown. All I knew about San Antonio was that they had an awesome basketball team (Spurs) and that there was a nice place to visit called ” The Riverwalk.” Well, there’s a lot more to San Antonio than the Riverwalk.
For one, San Antonio has a lot of history and there are plenty of historic building everywhere…
… but none more famous than The Alamo.
The Alamo is by far one of Texas’ most popular attractions. This mission was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo, where Mexican troops laid siege to it for 13 days, killing everyone but two Texians. The Texians that died are revered because they decided to stay and fight the Mexican army, even if it meant assured death, in order to defend Texas.
By the way, Texans is the term for those born in the present-day state of Texas. Texians, on the other hand, refers to those born in what is now known as Texas, before Texas became a state. Not many people outside of Texas know that Texas was actually a sovereign country for about 10 years.
Unfortunately, tourists are not allowed to take pictures inside. There is staff stationed every 5 feet or so it seems, ready to jump on anyone who so much as raises a camera at eye level.
After walking around the grounds for a bit, I headed to the nearby Riverwalk to check it out. On my way, I passed by the Torch of Friendship, a gift from the Mexican government to the city. The locals seem to be split as to whether it’s a beauty or an eyesore. I personally like it. Due to all the fighting the US did with Mexico during its early history, I interpret the sculpture as a symbol of how friendships can be messy and confusing at times.
The Riverwalk was pleasant to walk around in. Since the river runs right through the city, someone had the bright idea to line it with shops and restaurants. A system of locks keeps the water levels steady, rerouting excess water around via other channels.
I pulled up to a parking lot nearby to try and book a hotel room. On a whim, I checked out Priceline.com and bid $40 on four-star hotel. To my surprise, the bid was accepted and I got to sleep at a Sheraton near San Antonio’s airport.
I even got this cool coffee bag as a keepsake.
Looking at the map, it seemed as if I’d have a long drive ahead. Eight hours at least to reach El Paso, the nearest major city on my route, and five more to reach Tucson, Arizona, my ideal destination.
So far, so good.