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San Antonio Restaurants: Tex-Mex and Beyond

Surprise your taste buds with San Antonio’s eclectic dining scene. Along with great Mexican fare, try top-notch Belgian food or macho burgers served in a historic landmark.

 

San Antonio celebrates food pretty much every chance it gets. Though Mexican food is ubiquitous in the city, San Antonio’s diversity brings a wider range of cultures than you might expect to the restaurant landscape. While restaurants in or near downtown tend to dress up décor for tourists, most locals have at least one local haunt where humble appearances belie phenomenal food.

But first, the best of the Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants.

Rosario’s

Rosario’s takes tourists a little south of downtown into the King William neighborhood, but for the consummate festive Tex-Mex experience, it’s worth the trolley ride, short drive or 20-minute walk from downtown (assuming you’re starting around the Alamo or the Convention Center).

In addition to superior versions of the enchiladas, flautas and chile rellenos you’ll find at a number of Tex-Mex places, Rosario’s also incorporates mole and rajas into some dishes, and features a range of parrillas (sizzling skillets) that expand upon another Tex-Mex staple, the fajita. The restaurant is particularly festive when full, so while not the best choice for quiet conversation, it’s perfect if you’re looking for a high-energy dining experience. 910 S. Alamo St., tel. 210-223-1806. Average entrée: Lunch, $7; dinner, $11. www.rosariossa.com

Acenar

Acenar is one of the few River Walk restaurants that manages both a River Walk view and spectacular food. Owner Lisa Wong, who made her reputation with Rosario’s, aimed for an even more upscale approach to Tex-Mex with Acenar. Recommendations include the guacamole (which is made tableside), the cochinita pibil (a traditional Mexican pork dish), the duck chalupas and a selection of tacos that include oyster, crab, and beef, chicken or pork with fresh pineapple. 146 E. Houston St., tel. 210-222-2362. Average entrée: Lunch, $10; dinner, $22. www.acenar.com

Mi Tierra

Though there are a number of Mexican restaurants on the River Walk, the downtown Mexican spot that many tourists consider a must-visit is Mi Tierra, open 24 hours a day since 1941 in the heart of Market Square. The Tex-Mex fare includes breakfast items like chilaquiles (eggs with tortilla strips, cheese and ranchero sauce), machacado (shredded beef), and a Campesino Special with your choice of two specialty meats, barbacoa (head meat simmered with spices) or lengua (tongue).

Expect to see musicians pass by your table offering to play for your dining entertainment—the suggested going rate is $5 per song. On your way out, stop by the panaderia, a traditional Mexican bakery featuring an assortment of pastries and cookies. 218 Produce Row, tel. 210-225-1262. Average entrée: Lunch, $7; dinner, $11. www.mitierracafe.com

La Fonda

La Fonda, just north of downtown, features spectacular Mexican food typical of the interior of the country—and providing the weather is nice, available inside a beautiful courtyard at the back of the restaurant. Though the selections may appear familiar—enchiladas, tacos (in soft flour or corn tortillas) and chile rellenos—the ingredients are slightly different than those used in Tex-Mex, making it an integral dining experience for those who wish to gather a fuller appreciation for the wide spectrum contained within the larger category of Mexican food. 2415 N. Main St., tel. 210-733-0621. Average entrée: Lunch, $11; dinner, $13.
www.lafondaonmain.com

Los Barrios

Los Barrios is one of the city’s most reliable standbys for Mexican food. The original location is several miles north of downtown, while the recently opened La Hacienda de Los Barrios is located off Loop 1604 in one of the fastest-growing parts of the city. Both feature the restaurant’s signature puffy tacos—Barrios family member and cookbook author Diana Barrios Treviño once beat famed chef Bobby Flay in a puffy taco cookoff aired on the Food Network.

Both also feature El Mofofo Grill, an impressive variation on fajitas marrying pork, beef, olives and spices, served on a sizzling platter that remains lit on your table for the duration of the meal. If Tex-Mex is what you’re looking for, Los Barrios should be your destination. 4310 Blanco Road, tel. 210-732-6017; 18747 Redland Road, tel. 210-497-8000. Average entrée: $15. www.lhdlb.com

Biga on the Banks

Biga on the Banks is one of the most celebrated of the River Walk restaurants, bringing haute cuisine to a level that places it in conversations about the best restaurants in Texas. Though a number of the menu items change at chef/owner Bruce Auden’s discretion, the overall menu reflects both Asian and Texan influences, and exotic fare like venison and quail typically makes its way into the Biga equation. 203 S. St Mary’s St., Suite 100, tel. 210-225-0722. Average entrée: Dinner only, $30. www.biga.com

Azuca

Azuca a pan-Latin restaurant in the heart of Southtown, is relatively new on the scene, but has helped expose diners to Cuban and Caribbean flavors. It starts with fresh, slightly sweet cornbread brought to your table rather than the seemingly ubiquitous chips and salsa. Lunch options include Cuban-style sandwiches and hearty salads, while dinner options include a Latin version of the Spanish paella dish, as well as a number of grilled meat and fish dishes, many incorporating chimichurri. As you might expect, the lively bar specializes in mojitos. 713 S. Alamo St., tel. 210-225-5550. Average entrée: Lunch, $8; dinner, $20. www.azuca.net

Paesano’s River Walk

Though Italian food might not be what San Antonio tourists initially gravitate toward, Paesano’s River Walk is a fabulous option for those who get the urge for pasta, vino and romance. The River Walk restaurant, like its two cousins across town, features a menu full of solid, hearty, conventional choices, as well as some adventurous takes on seafood dishes.

As with most River Walk restaurants, dining options include an outside patio for those who want to take in the sights, and a more secluded indoor section for those who value air conditioning. And, as with most River Walk restaurants, when busy, that decision can be made for you by first availability. 111 W. Crocket St., tel. 210-227-2782. Average entrée: Lunch, $13; dinner, $25. paesanosriverwalk.com

La Frite

La Frite, another relative newcomer to Southtown, is even more unexpected—it’s a Belgian bistro that specializes in mussels, steak au poivre, Dover sole and elegantly-presented fries. La Frite also offers a connoisseur’s beer and wine list. Closed Sun. and Mon. 728 S. Alamo St., tel. 210-224-7555. Average entrée: $18. www.bistrovatel.com

Liberty Bar

Liberty Bar, just north of downtown off Broadway, is one of San Antonio’s most unusual landmarks. Built in 1890, the massive two-story house leans precariously, and inside the restaurant and separate bar room, the floor slopes so noticeably that revelers should factor in one extra drink for the effect the room has.

Aside from the novelty of the building, Liberty Bar is a favorite hangout of local foodies who come for a mix of exotic meats (including quail, wild boar sausage, and venison sausage), pasta dishes and steaks. The restaurant also boasts one of the best wine selections in town, and if the meal’s not enough to satisfy you, you can also take home a pie or cake (provided you give 24 hours notice). 328 E. Josephine, tel. 210-227-1187. Average entrée: Lunch, $12; dinner, $20. www.liberty-bar.com

Chris Madrid’s

Chris Madrid’s, which opened in 1977, has gained legendary status in San Antonio for its burgers, which come in regular and macho size, the latter inspiration for the restaurant’s signature bumper sticker, allowing customers to boast “I ate the Macho.” Though the burger selection includes a tostada burger which incorporates refried beans, and several burgers utilize jalapeños, the menu is by and large uncomplicated, rounded out with fries, nachos and chalupas. As in its beginnings, orders are still relayed from the cash register to the kitchen via paper, clothespin and string. Closed Sun. 1900 Blanco Road, tel. 210-735-3552. Average entrée: Lunch/dinner, $6. www.chrismadrids.com


Destinations: San Antonio

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Eat


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