“Hello, Welcome to Ray’s!”
The friendly and genuine greeting from several employees provides a warm welcome as you enter Ray’s Drive Inn, located on 800 block of Southwest 19th Street and Guadalupe Street, adjacent to Castroville Rd.
Following in his parent’s entrepreneurial footsteps, Raymond “Ray” Lopez opened up Ray’s Drive Inn on the Westside of San Antonio in 1956. From that moment, the building that was once known as the Cibolo’s Ice House was transformed into the future home of the infamous Puffy Taco.
In 1982, Ray unfortunately became ill, but was able to sell the restaurant to his brother Arthur “Arturo” who took pride in continuing to craft the Westside San Antonio icon that we all know and love. On November 3, 1992, “Ray’s Drive Inn” received the Official “Trademark” for the “Puffy Taco”. Arturo became known as the “King of Puffy Taco” and passed on his legacy to his children. His daughter Maria Rambo “Lollie” is now partial owner of the restaurant and still owns the house across the street where Arturo was born and raised in.
Ray’s Drive Inn is a special place. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the door. Oldies music plays in the background and you are surrounded by memorabilia that has either been in the Lopez family for generations or has been donated.
General Manager, Norma Navarro, fully embraces the history and legacy of Ray’s. You can see it in the way she respects the traditional characteristics that make the restaurant special and leads by the example of hard work guided by corazon. She tells her staff, “Serve with love, don’t serve a plate.”
On June 24, Ray’s survived a fire that was thankfully contained to the kitchen. Norma Navarro was shocked to receive the news on a Monday when the restaurant is usually closed, but rushed over and did not hesitate to work late to mitigate the effects of the fire. Not only did Ray’s open up on schedule the following day, but the memories and history housed within the walls of Ray’s Drive Inn were safe.
If you get a chance to walk through the building, you will see pictures and paintings that tell the story of the Lopez family – 3 sisters and 5 brothers – one of which is the owner of Henry’s Puffy Tacos that opened in 1978. In the back room sits Arturo’s beloved truck which is now retired, but has previously been a fixture in Fiestas’ Battle of Flowers Parade.
Mary Lou Beltran has worked at Ray’s Drive Inn for 14 years and takes pride in knowing that she is part of the history and the future of the restaurant. “The atmosphere, it feels so nice. People come here and they say that they feel like they are at home. It’s a family environment,” says Mary Lou.
Ray’s Drive Inn will always be the historic Westside San Antonio icon that has proved throughout the decades that tradition, quality, and love are the cornerstones of delicious food and that making people feel at home. “These cooks that I have back there have been here over 37 years. Same hands, same cooks. The traditions have stayed. From when they first started, until now,” says Norma, General Manager.
Along with other San Antonio staples, Ray’s Drive Inn was recently listed as one of the top 25 restaurants to try before you die by the San Antonio Current. In addition to their Puffy Tacos that come with a variety of fillings like picadillo and carne guisada, Ray’s Drive Inn offers savory crispy dogs along with a full menu of options you can pair with a cold beer of your choice.
There has long been rumors of a rivalry between Henry’s Puffy Tacos and Ray’s Drive Inn, but to my surprise and honor, I had the privilege of seeing Henry himself walk through the doors of Ray’s Drive Inn and sit down for a meal as I concluded my interview with Norma and Mary Lou.
Despite numerous celebrity visits and national attention, Ray’s is humble true to its roots. They know their customers and their customers know them. Norma adds, “Arturo never changed anything and stayed true. Ray’s is where everything started. This is the original.”
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