AOL PICK from our Editors
Tex-Mex is still king and it's hard to go anywhere without running into some of the greatest Tex-Mex joints to be found anywhere in the Lone Star state. San Antonio also boasts a wide variety of cuisines from interior Mexican food and traditional German dishes to the finest steaks from Akaushi cattle, a Japanese import now raised in Texas. The city is also fast becoming a desired destination for celebrity chefs to showcase their culinary expertise, sometimes in multiple locations. The trend toward using locally and regionally grown ingredients, which can often be purchased at area farmer markets, is evident by the number of eateries that are members of The Texas Dept. of Agriculture’s Go Texan program, whose motto is “Go Out. Go Eat. Go Texan.” As the state gains renown as a wine-growing region, you’ll often see chefs pairing entrées with wines from Lone Star vineyards.
Neighborhood: Downtown/Grand Hyatt Price: Expensive
In a city famed for its Tex-Mex cuisine, Achiote, the Grand Hyatt’s restaurant, brings a little something different to the table. Named for the slightly musky-flavored seed of the annatto tree, those with inquisitive palates will want to sample the bold pan-Latino flavors that infuse executive chef Jeffrey Axell’s dishes, which incorporate Latin American staples like plantains and yucca. Step out of your culinary comfort zone and try a small-plate portion of tostones con yucca frita y salsa criolla (fried green plantains, crispy yucca, and sweet onions in garlic cilantro sauce). Dine on the patio and people watch along the River Walk. Step back inside and enjoy Latin jazz at the bar. Reservations are recommended and can be made by phone or online.
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Neighborhood: Downtown/River Walk Price: Expensive
Biga combines local favorites with a prime location on the river, satisfying not only your taste buds but your eyes. Owner and chef Bruce Auden’s restaurant sits on prime real estate and that’s only one of the draws to this award-winning establishment. The menu runs the gamut from Maine lobster to Texas Hill Country Axis venison chops, and the presentation is impeccable. Try an upscale twist on a local favorite and order the smoked salmon nachos. Five private dining rooms are available to as few as two people (talk about romantic!) and as many as 200. Three of the rooms have glass walls that offer breathtaking views of the river. Reservations are recommended and can be made by phone or online.
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Neighborhood: North/Castle Hills Price: Expensive
A perennial favorite with local food critics for “Most Romantic Restaurant,” the first of owner/chef Jason Dady’s five restaurants, The Lodge, opened in 2001. The gated entry, winding drive, beautifully landscaped grounds and mature oak trees are in keeping with the stately mansion, built in 1929, that The Lodge once was. Minimal renovations to the interior have preserved the ambiance, setting the stage for an intimate dinner. Four-course signature menus offer Chef Dady’s specialties such as locally-sourced Texas Bobwhite Quail grilled and served with Red Silk pear salsa or Cast Iron Seared Beef Tenderloin with bone marrow “pudding.” However, Dady is fond of changing the menus frequently—even daily—so the culinary muse may result in a different menu selection during your visit. (Check the website for menu changes.) Reservations are recommended and can be made by phone or online.
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Neighborhood: North Central/Stone Oak Price: Moderate
When Coco opened in July 2008, it was a bit of a novelty—after all, where else can chocoholics eat and drink guilt-free? But, it seems owner Philippe Placé has hit on a winner with chocolate-lovers and the indifferent alike. Wisely, not everything here contains chocolate. Presumably, though, you have gone to Coco to try some of the more exotic chocolate offerings, and you won’t be disappointed (they have 13 different types of chocolate martinis alone). It might seem odd that the beef short ribs have a hint of dark chocolate but most who try it seem to dig it. When the waiter comes to your table, not to ask if you’d like ground pepper on your salad, but white chocolate shavings instead, take them! The red and gold décor backs up its claim to “Las Vegas nightlife in San Antonio.” Closed Mondays. Open on Sundays for brunch only.
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Neighborhood: Northwest Price: Moderate
Take a short, leisurely drive down I-10W away from the city to this hideaway where Boerne Stage Road intersects Scenic Loop Road. Go at mid-afternoon in the lull between lunch and dinner and you might just have the place all to yourself. The menu offers a little bit of everything—burgers, seafood, Mexican food. Make a meal out of the appetizers—we recommend the Seafood Sampler and Shrimp Artichoke Dip. Take advantage of patio seating when the weather is nice. Live music (usually country or folk) on the weekends makes this a great place to relax with a drink, while avoiding the crowded downtown bar scene and traffic in the city.
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Neighborhood: Northwest/La Cantera Price: Moderate
Any preconceived ideas you might have about chain restaurants will go out the window once you savor the seafood at Kona. Yeah, it’s really that good. The Ahi wonton crisps topped with paper-thin strips of seared Ahi tuna make a fantastic starter even if you’re not a sushi fan. With fish flown in fresh daily, we recommend one of the seafood entrées. Eating light? It’s hard to beat the roasted asparagus salad with a generous number of spears. Happy Hour is not limited to drinks—ask about the sushi specials. Reservations accepted by phone and online auto-form. Afterward, take a stroll and browse the shops at La Cantera open-air mall.
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Neighborhood: Downtown/Market Square Price: Budget
Continuously in operation since it opened in 1941, the Cortez family’s Tex-Mex restaurant holds a special place in the hearts of San Antonio residents (in no little part because it’s open 24-hours a day and is known as the place to go when the bars close). An on-site bakery was opened in 1957 to make fresh bread and Mexican sweets. It’s worth the $5 to 10 to request a song from los trovadores, the musicians who stroll through the restaurant. Where else can you eat, drink, and be merrily serenaded anytime day or night?
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Neighborhood: Helotes Price: Budget
If you’re on the Northwest side of San Antonio, it’s well worth the 4.5-mile drive from Loop 1604 to El Chaparral on Hwy. 16. One of three family-owned restaurants (see website for details), this particular location is in the incorporated city of Helotes. El Chaparral will be on your left, but you can’t miss it; it’s the beige stucco building with a full parking lot and the overflow stretching almost to the street—and that’s on an ordinary day! (Reservations are not accepted, but if you call ahead, the restaurant will try to accommodate you. Avoid going at high noon and between 7-8PM.) The thin, crispy tortilla chips and rich, tomato salsa alone are worth going for. The complimentary serving of frijoles a la charra is a tasty treat. Any enchilada plate with a side of guacamole is recommended. For a twist on an old Tex-Mex favorite, try the shrimp nachos.
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Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget
With all the outstanding Tex-Mex and interior Mexican food eateries, it’s tempting to gorge on Mexican food, but San Antonio’s culinary heritage has also been influenced by its early German settlers. Opened in 1917, locals flock to this old-style German deli for the soups (go for the split pea) and sandwiches (have the Rueben or a bagel with lox). For root beer fans, the homemade root beer is a must! Beer drinkers will find German, as well as local beer, on tap. Closed Sundays.
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Neighborhood: Downtown/River Walk/Pearl Complex Price: Budget
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With a name that means “the heavens,” owner/chef Johnny Hernandez set high standards for La Gloria, which opened at Pearl in May 2010 and represents one of the few authentic Mexican restaurants in the city. While there seems to be a recent trend in San Antonio to offer “interior” Mexican food, Chef Hernandez, who has traveled extensively in Mexico, has the real deal. The menu features authentic street food like chicharrón (pork rinds) and shredded, not ground beef is used in the tacos and tlayudas (pizzas). We recommend the ceviche which is fresh and tangy. As Hernandez likes to say, “No hace falta morir para llegar a la Gloria.” (“You don’t have to die to go to heaven.”) Closed Tuesdays.
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