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An open letter to Victor Wembanyama on breakfast tacos

Hey there, Victor, I’d like to formally welcome you to the neighborhood. I know this probably feels like overkill after the airport greeting, and the Riverwalk intro, but we’re friendly here. Talk to anyone from the greater 48 that’s actually been to Texas, and that’ll likely be one of the first things they say. Friendly. Possibly too friendly.

You’ve probably noticed that by now. Outsiders always do. But we’re really excited you’re here now, and we want to be sure you know how great an experience it’s been for everyone involved. Seeing you praise the Spurs at every opportunity, hanging out with team legends, and even cheering that Houston Rockets missing out on the top pick, it just really warms the cockles of my silver-and-black (orange-pink-and-teal) heart.

There is, however, one thing we’ve all been most excited to hear you talking about: breakfast tacos.

You were right to be excited about breakfast tacos at the draft. Even now, having experienced what was no doubt a pleasant offering from Las Palapas on arrival, it would be surprising if you’d already grasped the importance of breakfast tacos to the City of San Antonio — and this area of Texas.

That’s why I felt that I had to write this letter: as silly as it might seem, this breakfast taco thing is vital.

Even just yesterday there was a lively twitter discussion about whether or not the tacos from Taco Palenque counted as San Antonio Tex-Mex. And if that sounds a bit asinine to you, then this is a letter you need to read.

You see, of all the four major cities in Texas, San Antonio is the most overtly Hispanic. Much of the identity of this city revolves around its heritage, and cuisine is a huge part of that.

On a macro level, breakfast tacos are just one piece of the puzzle, alongside the festivals, and the art, and the music, and the people. On a micro level, however, breakfast tacos represent so much more. Breakfast tacos are one of the most inherently egalitarian meals in south and central Texas. The ingredients are simple and common. The composition, equally so. To be sure, there are always those trying to elevate tacos to a more formal mode of dining, but this misses the crucial elegance of the simplicity.

People from all walks of life enjoy breakfast tacos, and you’re just as likely to find the rich and poor dining on them in equal measure. They’re inexpensive and delicious. Blue collar in origin but loved by all. It’s one of those rare crossroads where culture and taste combine to bleed through lines of resistance, prejudice, or class. In many ways, they represent the most universal acceptance of Hispanic culture in the state.

And even more so, it’s the places where they’re made, and the people who make them that best express their importance.

Soon enough, it’s likely that you’ll begin to realize that you’re unlikely to find breakfast tacos in glittering locales. Breakfast tacos are not made by the dining elite. And this is likely because, by and large, the profit margin is so slim. It also has something to do with the relative simplicity of the flavor profiles, and the individual touches that make each venue and product its own experience. And of course, the regulatory grey area that so many of the best tacos are made in.

To this day, some of the best tacos I’ve ever had I purchased out of the trunk of a car that daily passed by my place of work. The lady who sold them was a one person operation; making and selling from her own home and vehicle. Her sons had been lost in Vietnam, and her husband (himself a Korean War Veteran) had passed away some years before. She got up early each morning and made breakfast tacos as her sole form of livelihood, and her social outlet, making cheerful conversation with each of her customers.

It was during those afternoon conversations with her that I heard tales of the La Llorona, and Huay Chivo, and El Charro Negro, which as a 15 year old enthralled me. (And was also how I learned that she cooked all of her ingredients in lard, God bless her.)

In high school I would drive just down the road to the makeshift parking lot of a dilapidated building known as Loera’s Tamale Hut in search of breakfast. I can still remember the metal chairs and wobbling tables, the aroma of freshly cooked meats and peppers wafting out of the partially concealed kitchen, the abuelos and school bus drivers playing dominoes silently in the corner, the reruns of Chavo del Ocho looping endlessly on a 1980’s era television set.

All of these individuals took such pride in their craft; in the quietly reliable enrichment of their communities and the showcasing of cultural culinary traditions and techniques passed down through generations after generation.

Loera’s was one of many such cafés I walked into for tacos in the course of my life. The viejita of my working youth was far from the only person selling breakfast and lunch from the trunk of a car, or the inside of a van.

So you see, there’s so much more to breakfast tacos and the city of San Antonio than meets the eye. I say this with affection, and the hope that you’ll make those kinds of memories of your own with the people of your newly adopted city.

It’s not my place to tell you where should get them. I’m not sure that it’s anybody’s place. When I started writing this letter I thought maybe it was, but really I have only piece of advice for you: try it all.

Whether it’s at gas stations, or out of travel trailers, or more traditional restaurants, or a small cramped hole-in-the-wall covered with the pictures of family members and Spurs paraphernalia, they’re all worth a try.

It’s one of the best ways to embrace the people who make it possible for The San Antonio Spurs to give themselves to a slogan like ‘Por Vida’. And it’s the only way you’ll ever really get to know the city, and the people who live here. Do it for the adventure. Do it for the flavor. Do it for the culture. But most of all, do it for yourself, and have fun.

Once a Spur, always a Spur, Victor. Por Vida.