When you return home from a trip to San Antonio, you may remember the Alamo… but you certainly won’t forget the fabulous food. With an assortment of influences from Mexican to Southwest steakhouses, from South American to Italian, savoring the city’s cuisine is a mission all its own. Here’s a dozen of our favorites, listed alphabetically:
- Bella on the River – It’s ike walking into a small Spanish bistro or Italian grotto with natural limestone rock walls, candle-lit tables and a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. Chef Sean Fletcher leads his kitchen crew in creating, developing and producing an outstanding menu – featuring southern European, mostly Mediterranean dishes – focused on creativity, balance, quality and value. When in town, we can’t resist starting with the Arancini Bolognese (risotto fritters), before moving on to the Pasta Alla Norma (with eggplant and hot Italian sausage) – though the seafood lovers in our party would happily opt for the Pasta Bella, with shrimp, clams, mussels, artichoke and asparagus. For dessert, Virginia’s Pistachio Cake is a definite treat.
- The Big Bib – A full-service, family-friendly experience that has continually been voted the best barbecue and brisket in town. In true Texas-style, the meat is slow-cooked for up to 14 hours every day with aged oak and mesquite woods. This time-consuming process gives the meat a pink tinge called a “smoke ring” and is a prized attribute in barbecue meats. All the meat is primo – especially the Baby Back Ribs and the Jalapeno Sausage; most options are available either by the pound or on a sandwich. If you and your crew bring your appetites, you can get your fill with one of the Big Bib’s platters, with six different kinds of meat and two sides. And if you can manage to save room for dessert, there’s banana pudding and three kinds of cobbler.
- Biga on the Banks – Setting the standard for fine dining and relaxed elegance on the Riverwalk. Owner and chef Bruce Auden is well-known for his innovative approach to New American cuisine. The menu is updated daily, but a few favorites stand out: Chicken Fried Oysters with squid ink linguine in a mustard hollandaise; Mustard Crusted Texas Lamb Rack, with herbed goat cheese polenta; and the Close-to-Bouillabaise with a veritable seafood menagerie including three types of fish and five types of seafood in a martini rouille.
- Bliss – With a goal toward creating a relaxed yet elegant dining experience in a genuine and comfortable environment, Bliss offers an intimate dining room of just 52 seats, with a true chef’s table in the kitchen for up to 10. The diverse and oft-changing menu inspires patrons to create a unique dining experience with each visit, pairing experimentation with reward. We suggest kicking things off with East Coast Oysters on the Half Shell, and completing the seafood feast with George’s Bank Sea Scallops, served with pepperjack0white cheddar Anson Mills grits. If you’re in the mood for something meatier, the Short Ribs and the Beef Tenderloin are incredibly succulent and satisfying.
- Boudro’s on the Riverwalk – Whether you enjoy your experience nestled among the limestone walls inside the restaurant, at a table along the river or on a barge while floating on the river itself, you’ll see how Boudro’s transforms a meal into a dining event. It would be a sin not to start off with one of their signature Prickly Pear Margaritas. And while it’s not exactly a Texas thing to opt for vegetarian fare, the Wild Field Mushrooms (with polenta, goat cheese and a chipotle-thyme demi-glaze) is just too good to resist. We make up for it with a big splash – the Gulf Shellfish Platter, complete with scallops, blue crab seacake, shrimp, lobster tail, fried oysters, and crawfish pot pie. Landlubbers can definitely dig in to the Niman Ranch Double Rib Pork Chop, served with sweet potato, pineapple hash with chorizo and a stack of onion rings. Yum! The desserts are likewise to die for, especially the Double Chocolate Brownie and the Lime Chess Pie.
- Cappy’s Restaurant – Just a short drive from downtown San Antonio and the airport, Cappy’s offers casual fine dining and warm hospitality in a relaxed setting, serving contemporary American cuisine, thoughtfully executed. A starter after our own heart – Gulf Shrimp Nachos – is tops on our list, though the Gumbo offers a perfect taste of the bayou (it’s also available as an entrée). For our main course, the Mustang Chicken has plenty of oomph, while the Fried Shrimp and Oysters continue the Cajun-inspired theme. And for a sweet finale, the Sticky Toffee Pudding in butterscotch brandy sauce will punctuate your meal with a bit of British flair.
- Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse – Chama – meaning “flame” in Portuguese – is the essence of an authentic, Brazilian steakhouse. This “flame” also describes the “passion” the gauchos, Brazilian cowboys, have for their culture and tradition. At the end of the day, they gather around the churrasco, the fire pit or grill, to eat and share stories. As you might imagine, the specialty is meaty fare, such as the Frango e Linguica (chicken drumsticks and pork sausage) and the flavorful Fraldinha (bottom sirloin).
- Cured – A name that describes not only the cuisine – a series of cured meats – but also the chef’s personal triumph as a cancer survivor. This gastropub is housed in the century-old building that once belonged the president’s headquarters of the famed Pearl Brewing Company. The house specialty is the Charcuterie – with items cured from 30 days to 12 months, made in house and displayed in a humidity-controlled locker. Among the selections are Apple Jalapeno Pork Rillettes, Chicken Liver Mousse, Jalapeno Sausage and Smoked Vealwurst. The smoky quality also carries over to the entrees, such as Cured Fois Gras, Shrimp Pastrami and Smoked Pork Gumbo.
- Dough Pizzeria Napoletana – Pizza made with local, farm-fresh ingredients and true Neapolitan techniques. At the heart of the pizzeria, “Il Cuore,” the wood-burning oven cooks pizzas to perfect in 90 seconds at over 800 degrees. It’s all about balance, simplicity and top-quality ingredients. Start with the Cicchetti (small bites), such as Shrimp Spiedini or Piccolo Antipasto, then move on to selections from the Mozzarella & Burrata (buttery Italian cheese) Bar. The main course, of course, is pizza. We suggest the Braised Prosciutto & Gorgonzola, the Signature “Pork Love” and the House Made Sausage, Peppers & Red Grapes. And for dessert, while we’re certainly partial to the Tiramisu, the sweet-and-savory Polenta Cake (with white chocolate) is a wonderful surprise!
- Esquire Tavern – Originally opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition and a beloved San Antonio watering hole ever since, the Esquire is the quintessential downtown bar: dark, cool, redolent with history and serving cold beer, swanky cocktails and excellent food. For a change of pace, get the meal started with the Fried Pickled Beets or the Sweet Potato Croquettes. The main menu is a smorgasbord of comfort foods: macaroni and cheese (with chorizo!), fish and chips, chicken and dumplings, burgers and terrific sandwiches. For dessert, you can’t beat the Fried Apple Pie (although the Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich, on a corn cookie, comes close).
- La Fonda on Main – Casual fine dining and warm hospitality in a relaxed setting, serving contemporary Mexican cuisine, thoughtfully executed. Tex-Mex, as well as an extensive selection of interior Mexican fare, is the focus of the brunch, lunch and dinner menus. We can’t resist the Diablitos (bacon-wrapped chicken bites with serrano peppers), and you can get them by themselves or as part of the Botana Platter, along with beef fajita skewers, flautitas, chorizo and guacamole. A savory start. Enchiladas dominate the main selections, such as the Enchiladas de Espinicas (spinach, mushroom and sun-dried tomato) and Enchiladas Callejeras (chicken, ancho chile sauce, chorizo and ancho potatoes). As for dessert, we only have to see two words on the menu and we’re good to go: Tres Leches. This cream-soaked cake with toasted almonds and cajeta drizzle is simply divine.
- Rosario’s Mexican Café Y Cantina – Incredible food. Contemporary surroundings. Loud and fun atmosphere. The menu at Rosario’s (pictured above) combines traditional south-of-the-border dishes with authentic house specialties, all prepared with a contemporary twist. While we’re tempted by the choice of Nachos to start, we instead chose the Chorizo Quesadillas and were instantly rewarded. The Carne de Puerco en Chile Cascabel (pork tips in chile sauce) was remarkable, as were the Parrillas – specifically, the Fiesta Special with grilled shrimp and beef or chicken fajitas. A sidebar Favorites menu makes it easy to pick out the most popular entrees, including Griselda’s Tacos Callejeros, Flautas Especiales and Tacos Suaves.
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