Review: New Marla Restaurant shines tiny light on vegan, Tex-Mex, Mexican food classics on San Antonio’s West Side

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This is a full Taste Test review, with a star rating based on multiple visits.

Barbacoa breakfast tacos or a vegan tofu scramble? Churro pancakes or matcha-kale waffles? Menudo or a meatless mushroom cheeseburger?

These are actual choices you’ll make at Marla Restaurant, the Mexican, Tex-Mex and vegan breakfast and lunch spot that opened on the West Side in November. What’s crazier than all that healthy and hedonistic food cohabitating in this tiny space is that chef and owner Griselda Muñoz does a good job bringing them together in this second location of her Laredo restaurant.

The word’s already out, and it’s created chaos inside a dining room no wider than a hospital hallway. There’s nowhere to wait, barely room to pay, and your neighbors are practically sitting in your lap in a room with 32 seats and hardly room to breathe. It doesn’t help that there’s generally just one person doing the greeting, seating, feeding and credit card reading.

Everything showed up, eventually. And the rewards stacked up fast, starting with breakfast tacos on fresh flour tortillas. They were filled with spicy chorizo and potatoes, big pieces of carne guisada in tawny brown gravy like Sunday at your abuelita’s house, velvety barbacoa and scrambled eggs supercharged with potatoes and pico de gallo.

More Information

Marla Restaurant

510 Old Highway 90 W., Suite 101, 210-462-9505, Facebook: @MarlaRestaurantSA

Quick bite: Small cafe with Mexican, Tex-Mex and vegan breakfast and lunch options

Hit: Vegan Brekkie Tacos, alambrito plate, fish taco

Miss: Chicken mole enchiladas, Tampiqueña plate, shrimp and grits

Hours: 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Price range: Biscuits and breakfast tacos, breakfast plates, $7-$13; $1.50-$6; lunch tacos, $2.50-$6; lunch plates, $6-$11; soups, $4-$8; vegan menu, $8-$15

Alcohol: None; BYOB allowed

**** Superior. Can compete nationally.

*** Excellent. One of the best restaurants in the city.

** Very good. A standout restaurant of its kind.

* Good. A restaurant that we recommend.

(no stars) We cannot recommend this restaurant at this time.

Express-News dining critics pay for all meals.

Marla makes one of the city’s best fried fish tacos, with two fillets in feathery beer batter with chipotle aioli and cole slaw on a handmade corn tortilla for just $3. The same light touch on the fryer produced a chile relleno in a delicate egg batter shell filled with beef picadillo that was anything but delicate, piled strong with potatoes, onion and spice.

The kitchen sent out a full-on feast with the alambrito plate, an iron sizzle platter of beef and chicken fajitas, bacon, sausage, peppers, onions and Oaxaca cheese flanked by pico de gallo, guacamole, tortillas, rice and charro beans that could buy happiness for two at just $10.

If I’ve laid it on thick with the carnivore trip, forgive me. Please understand that Marla’s world means two pages of vegan options and 10 pages of everything else. But that doesn’t mean it’s an afterthought. The dream is real.

Vegan Brekkie Tacos incorporated soy chorizo, peppers, spinach and onions with a steaming tofu scramble that needed no apologies or qualifiers. Waffles made with matcha green tea powder and kale — yes, kale — rose crispy and light with parapets of green decorated with berries.

And Marla found the sweet spot between plant-based ethics and the juicy glory of a burger with a vegan mushroom cheeseburger using a Beyond Burger patty that bled righteousness beneath gooey vegan cheese, caramelized onions, jalapeños and mushrooms.

The good news, too, is that the vegetarian afterglow spilled over to the rest of the menu. How many Tex-Mex cafes need a line item on the budget for microgreens and edible flowers? They showed up on fortifying eggs Benedict with barbacoa and green chile hollandaise on homemade corn sopes. They showed up on a pork al pastor taco with big achiote twang.

And they turned out like crazy on something called a Beast Bowl, a Crossfit fantasy of egg whites, quinoa, sweet potatoes, avocado and lean grilled bison that tasted like a breakfast of champions and not just weightlifting fuel.

Breakfast can be sweet at Marla, with over-the-top confections like thick, fluffy pancakes dressed out like churros with cinnamon sugar, Mexican chocolate syrup and dulce de leche, as well as a French toast turned up to 11 with a coating of crushed cereal and two layers of Nutella.

Dialing it back down, Marla baked and toasted good biscuits, then filled them with grilled steak, bell peppers, Oaxaca cheese and an egg cooked sunny-side up. Migas struck a familiar, comforting note, incorporating freshly fried tortilla chips with scrambled eggs, pico de gallo and a blanket of melted cheese.

Marla misfired a few times, in particular with a subset of the menu I call One of These Things Ain’t Like the Other. In this case, it was a side trip to New Orleans that produced beignets like powdered sugar paperweights and a pan of shrimp and grits with sad little popcorn shrimp and grits like grainy yellow Spackle.

Rubbery grilled steak put the hurt on a Tampiqueña plate, a hurt that extended to chilaquiles Tehuacan that otherwise might have worked if the beef hadn’t stepped all over the tortilla chips and tart salsa verde. And I’m not sure how mole poblano could come off like chicken peanut butter enchiladas, but there they were.

The kitchen’s steady command of Tex-Mex rendered solid versions of menudo with clean flavors and lots of hominy and caldo Tlalpeño with chicken and zucchini with sidecars of fried tortilla strips, Oaxaca cheese, chipotle peppers and avocado. Satisfy your cheese enchilada craving with the Enchiladas Americanas, filled with cheddar cheese and blanketed with proper chili gravy.

In a city where a party of four might include a taco hound, a fitness junkie, a dedicated vegan and that one guy who just wants bean and cheese, Marla might just be the right restaurant for the right time. Now if they can just find a place to sit.

Mike Sutter is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site,, and on our subscriber site, | | Twitter: @fedmanwalking