By Cynthia Guido
For many of us, what and where we eat can become a delicious obsession, flavoring life, seasoning our experience and tempting exploration wherever we may be. Virginia Woolf summed up our philosophy perfectly when she said “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Who could be blamed for wanting it all?
If “dining well” ensures the rest, then rest easy fellow foodies! San Antonio is unquestionably an idyllic nirvana right here deep in the heart of Texas.
Simply or sophisticated, cosmopolitan or cozy, eclectic or elegant, whatever your culinary cravings and cultural curiosity may be, just pull up a chair and you’re sure to be charmed at San Antonio’s tables. Though options for any enchantment are endless, let’s explore the obvious first.
Temples to Tex-Mex, Mex-Mex and even Tex-Mix are abundant, alluring and certainly not to be missed here. But let’s retire any notion that San Antonio is all about sipping long necks, spooning up fiery chili con carne and eating tacos. There’s a whole world to savor here. Don’t misunderstand; we suggest you indulge in all of the above as soon and as often as possible.
While strolling the banks of our beautiful and renowned San Antonio River Walk, take a picturesque break. Spice up the gorgeous scenery with some chili con carne at Casa Rio, the first and original grande dame of all River Walk restaurants. It’s the paradigm “bowl of red,” no beans of course, and has been a local favorite since 1946.
Great tacos can be found, almost literally, on every corner. Just to get you started, it’s truly hard to go wrong at any Panchito’s, Taco Haven or Taco Taco. Honestly, there are way too many more that deserve mention. Explore all possibilities. Order your favorite filling wrapped in a freshly made corn tortilla. Then, close your eyes, take a bit and be transported across the Rio Grande.
Los Barrios, Hacienda de Los Barrios, La Gloria, Aldaco’s in Stone Oak, Guajillo’s, Rosario’s, La Fonda on Main, Paloma Blanca in Alamo Heights, and El Jarro de Arturo all shake up preconceived palate prejudices, along with sublime margaritas.
Go beyond the ‘tourist special’ combo plates and you’ll discover why Mexico’s kitchen is recognized as one of the most sophisticated on the planet.
In the Mood for something totally Texas
We’d bet you’re conjuring up visions of smoky beef on a spit, or beef in any guise for that matter. Rudy’s and The County Line consistently deliver barbecue that’s finger-lickin’ great. The Smokehouse off Roland, Augie’s Barbed Wire Grill, Two Bros on West Ave, and Blanco BBQ are all places to write home about.
Do try sausage, chicken, ribs, lamb, duck, or cabrito (baby goat) if they’re on the spit when you visit. Also remember that in San Antonio the sauce is incidental, it’s that pink smoke ring on the meat that’s the real credential.
Prime cuts and primo service are always on the menu at Bohanan’s, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s Kirby’s, and The Palm, along with swimmingly fresh seafood. The Barn Door and Josephine Street Café are homegrown venues where grilling has been an art form for decades.
If words like “crispy” and “golden brown” quicken your pulse, get yourself to Tip Top Café, Lulu’s Café, 410 Diner, or Good Time Charlie’s as fast as you can and order your steak “chicken-fried.”
Seeking Global Adventure
No need to leave the city, just travel with your taste buds for pan-Latino perfection on a plate. Turquoise Grill, Pasha and Taste of Malabar purvey Middle Eastern delights that would tempt Aladdin. And at La Frite Belgian Bistro, the sensational “moules frites” (mussels and fries) and cozy European vibes will keep you coming back for more.
San Antonio is boot country, so top to heel, Italy’s boot is welcome on our table any day. Good manners be darn, we favor great Italian flavors. You’ll find them, for sure, at Aldo’s, Aldino’s, Tre Trattoria, Piatti, and Luce Ristorante e Enoteca. And don’t forget Paesano’s, around these parts an “institution” since the early ‘70s.
We’re wondering how one says “many, many choices” in Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, or Japanese. Just a few favorites include Taipei, Mencius, and PF Chang. Thai Chili, Chaba Thai, Van’s, Asia Kitchen, Godai Sushi Bar and Restaurant, and the many locations of Sushi Zushi.
Start any downtown day with breakfast at The Guenther House. It’s tucked into a sublimely scenic bend of the San Antonio River at the historic Pioneer Flour Mills. Or, if you choose bagels and cream cheese with lox, Chicago Bagel, Einstein’s or Boss Bagels kick off a day nicely. Or for any meal, almost any hour, there’s Max & Louie’s Jewish Deli on Bitters, where you can get authentic corned beef, pastrami or tongue on rye bread with a side of potato salad or coleslaw.
Head to Liberty Bar or Bliss and don’t forget the old, now new Pearl (Brewery) where you’ll find an array of restaurants that will tempt your every taste bud. We make hamburgers to beat the band and speaking of homegrown, two San Antonio-created burger joints are BIGZ and Chris Madrid. Cappy’s is a long-time favorite in Alamo Heights that includes hamburgers, but goes well beyond when it comes to lunch and dinner delights.
For the health conscious in you, Green is just the ticket; no meat here, though substitutes for it are tasteful and healthy.
Shopping for the Home
And while we’re talking food, many supermarkets in San Antonio are of a special kind, catering as they do to an international crowd.
First off, however, homegrown supermarket chain H-E-B is the largest in the city with over 30 stores. Whole Foods, developed in Austin but now national in nature is a health conscious chain as are Sprout’s Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s and Natural Grocers. Finally, WalMart is also in San Antonio and the surrounding metro area.
And in addition to the aforementioned markets, there are grocers and supermarkets that cater to international crowds, especially those that stock European and Middle Eastern varieties. Sasha is of the Middle Eastern / European variety, Ali Baba and Man Pasand, both International Markets are mainly Indian and others, including Dahlia Thai Cuisine, JNG Food Mart, Las Americas (Mexican) and Himalayan Bazar catering to south Asia.