“Tapas in SA is like McD’s in France. You can, but why?” So commented a Facebook friend-of-a-friend, incensed that we’d checked in at a Spanish restaurant called The Bin during our long weekend in San Antonio, rather than a classic Mexican spot.
We took the bait, going back and forth with him for a couple of rounds and attempting to explain that, just like Houston—which of course boasts good things to eat beyond Tex-Mex and barbecue—San Antonio is a diverse city with an exploding food scene, and offers interesting options beyond rightly beloved spots like La Fogata (where we’ve dined many times).
“When in Rome, don’t eat Chinese,” the man said. Fine. Philip M., this account of our long weekend in San Antonio is not for you. For everyone else, here are the five most interesting new food discoveries we made over three days in the nation’s seventh-largest city:
The (Aforementioned) Bin Tapas Bar
Can we please pick this place up and move it to Houston? Opened last year and housed in a converted bungalow on up-and-coming Grayson Street, with a sweet patio, a rock soundtrack, a coolly casual aesthetic, and inexpensive, tasty tapas, this place would kill here. We’re still thinking about chef Jason Dady’s better-than-dessert serrano-ham-wrapped dates, custardy tortilla española, cinnamon-infused meatballs and blistered shishitos, which we paired with the house-special G&T.
Last summer, San Antonio got its first food hall, known as The Bottling Dept. We went for lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon, making our way to the door through the Pearl’s absolute maze of happy kids and dogs and farmers market vendors. Inside, our companion got a burger and fries from Fletcher’s, while we hit the ramen stand from chef Quealy Watson (Hot Joy). After some deliberation, we went for the spicy miso tantan-men with ground pork, scallions, ginger, sesame seeds, Sichuan peppers and extra garlic. We’re always jealous of people eating burgers—and Fletcher’s was indeed excellent—but this time, we reflected as we happily slurped flavorful pork-studded noodles, ours was the order to envy.
Honestly, thank God Houston has nothing like this cheerfully hip new “Pan Americano” spot, because there’s no way we’d be able to keep away from the flaky, buttery, lightly sweet, impossible-to-put-down tequila almond croissant. In fact, we’d make the three-hour drive down I-10 in a second for just one more taste of that absolute delicacy, along with a cup of real, cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate and an El Favorito—gorgeous, brioche-like golden bread with ham, swiss and a fried egg. Gah!
This beautiful new Italian restaurant located inside an old fire station on South Alamo—the third from chef Stefan Bowers—fairly brims over with personality, even before you notice that the fireman’s poles from its past life that remain intact in the dining room. While we enjoyed the reasonably priced pastas and chicken parm, it was the light-as-air house-made ricotta appetizer with pears, olive oil and rosemary, the three-cheese meatballs, and the warm spinach salad that we couldn’t quit.
You can go so many ways when you’re having dinner in a Chinese-Japanese-Peruvian restaurant. At this chic, airy spot, which chef Geronimo Lopez opened last year, we opted for bun filled with melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, along with spicy pork gyoza, avocado-topped tostones, charred-rice nigiri, poke, and unfiltered Momo Kawa Pearl sake, all of which we heartily recommend. We also recommend capping off the night with a walk over to The Sternewirth—located inside the Pearl’s newly renovated, gloriously steampunk, impossibly cool, circa-1883 Hotel Emma—for expertly made margaritas on the rocks.
Stay the night
The recently renovated Hotel Valencia manages to feel both old-world and modern at the same time. Its downtown location, right on the Riverwalk, turned out to be ideal. Each morning of the trip, we wandered the beautifully maintained paths along the San Antonio River for miles, trying to avoid returning to Houston 10 pounds heavier. Rooms from $170.
The opportunity to get in more carb-fighting steps is just one reason to explore the San Antonio Zoo, a pretty great zoo where we were charmed by a white-cheeked gibbon and her adorable baby swinging around their enclosure. We also hit the pretty San Antonio Botanical Garden, where we bought duck food but never found any ducks. No matter: Their loss was the Riverwalk ducks’ gain.
Other Area Destinations
It’s easy to work up an appetite exploring Boerne, whose City Lake Park offers hiking, biking and paddling opportunities aplenty. Stop at the Creek Restaurant, right on Cibolo Creek, for fish tacos with a view before checking into the historic August House.
For a Bandera dude ranch experience in one afternoon, book a river ride through Historical Rides and explore the Medina River by horse. Afterward, hit Cowboy Capital Pizza (830-796-9996) and the popular 11th Street Cowboy Bar. Stay at the quaint 12th Street Crooked Antler (830-688-1383), just a couple blocks off Main Street.
Tubing the Comal River in New Braunfels is a Texan rite of passage, as is paying a visit to the Gruene Historic District, home to antique shops, the famous Gristmill, and Gruene Dance Hall. For something different, stop for a tasting at the Winery on the Gruene, around the corner from the waterfront Gruene Mansion Inn.