If you're a fan of Tex-Mex food, you'll find many spots to pique your palate in San Antonio. Here, if you so desire and your stomach can tolerate it, you can munch on tacos for breakfast, enchiladas for lunch, and tamales for dinner. Yet it's not the only fare in town. A burgeoning culinary scene, led by the Culinary Institute of America's San Antonio branch (one of only three in the country) and some talented chefs, is slowly transforming the city's menu from gloppy to gourmet. These are the restaurants to experience in San Antonio.
Dine Out for Less
Dine Out for Less
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1. Taco Taco
Named a top spot for tacos by Bon Appetit, Taco Taco is for couples on a budget. No menu item costs more than $6.99. After deciding whether you want corn or flour tortillas, regular or puffy tacos, choose your filling: Beans? Chorizo? Eggs? Potatoes? Side orders include rice, beans, onions, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, bacon, and country sausage. The house specialty at woman-owned Taco Taco is El Norteño, beans and cheese on a toasted flour tortilla with beef or chicken fajitas and avocado. Have a sweet tooth? Save room for sopapillas, crisp-fried tortillas drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch.
Hungry for a more traditional breakfast? The Guenther House, once home to the family that built the Pioneer Flour Mill company, has been converted into a quaint, tidy restaurant where hearty breakfasts and lunches are served. Every morning a pancake and waffle of the day are offered. Fortuitously, we arrived on pumpkin pancake day and devoured a stack along with scrumptious applewood smoked bacon. Texas traditionalists opt for country gravy and sausage over Pioneer buttermilk biscuits. The Guenther House is also available as a wedding venue. Ceremonies often take place on the lawn, beside the San Antonio River. Inside, on the third story of the house, there are round tables, a dance floor, and a small balcony overlooking the water.
3. SipAre you a morning-coffee-and-croissant kind of couple? Then you'll want to sidle into Sip, which is San Antonio's answer to Starbucks and has three downtown locations. The restaurant's signature beverage is the shakerato — coffee, milk, condensed milk, and espresso shaken and served over ice. The java joint also makes panini and salads. Those planning to tour outside of town, perhaps spending the day visiting San Antonio's magnificent missions, can have Sip prepare a box lunch for them.
4. Las Canarias
Should you find yourselves in San Antonio on a Sunday morning, head over to Las Canarias inside the Omni La Mansion del Rio. While some may find the dinner menu fussy and overambitious, most agree that the restaurant's Sunday brunch is worthwhile (and on holiday weekends, worth the crowds). Savor sushi, shrimp, smoked salmon and much, much more along with mimosas and margaritas.
As lunch time approaches, make your way to the San Antonio Museum of Art, reachable by streets or the River Walk. Damien Watel, a highly regarded local chef, opened Café des Artistes in the property's former hops house. Inside the informal, high-ceilinged room, diners choose from a small menu of uniformly high quality fare. From potato leek soup that tastes good rather than sinful to linguini with shrimp smudged with warm, sun-dried tomato paste, the food is excellent and the ambiance artful.
A family business that began generations ago, Mi Tierra grew from a three-table restaurant to a multi-room, vibrantly decorated place that seats up to 1,000 people and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Colorful murals and festoons of papel picado, ceilings clustered with piñatas, year-round silver cones of Christmas trees are all part of the phantasmagoria. The decor, the strolling mariachis, the block-long bakery counter have all helped to make it a San Antonio landmark. (Regulars may consider this heresy, but we found the food to be nothing special and the steak so fatty it was inedible.) Yet it's the place to go to recharge after shopping in Market Square or late at night, after other restaurants have closed.
The Tex-Mex is tastier at Aldaco's in Sunset Station, San Antonio's former Amtrak stop. Since the location is a little out of the way, Aldaco's offers customers a free shuttle to and from any downtown location. That's good reason alone to quaff a frozen margarita (the drink menu includes more than a dozen varieties.) While you wait for your quesadillas, flautas, fish tacos, or other house specialty at this woman-owned restaurant to arrive, munch on the warm chips and salsa delivered to your table. Aldaco's also offers fun private cooking classes once a month or so where couples can learn to prepare a complete meal and a cocktail and have the reward of consuming them that night.
8. Bohannon'sTexas, being cattle country, does owe it to San Antonio visitors to provide a steakhouse that takes its beef seriously. Forbes Four-Star winner Bohannon's does just that. Entrees from the mesquite grill include filets, rib-eyes, New York strip, and Chateaubriand for two. We started salivating over the Chateau Stack: sautéed crimini mushrooms, spinach, Maine lobster tail and tenderloin medallions topped with Béarnaise sauce. Vegetarians are also accommodated. And if you're looking for an intimate space for a rehearsal dinner, the Wheeler Room fits up to ten people and features a window on the kitchen and a table set with fine crystal and china.
Revolving restaurants aren't known for their fare, but the views are usually enough to distract diners from culinary lapses. San Antonio's Chart House inside the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas — a holdover from the 1968 HemisFair — is run by Landry's Restaurants and serves classic Continental fare at lunch and dinner. Menus include shrimp and seafood, steaks and lobsters. Desserts — chocolate lava cake made with Godiva liqueur or a raspberry, chocolate, or Grand Marnier souffle can end the meal on a sweet note.