The rich culinary heritage of San Antonio birthed several items that Americans hold dear, and the whole concept of “Tex Mex” started right here, about 250 miles north of our modern day border with Mexico.
Beyond what we consider traditional Tex Mex food, though, San Antonio has continued to push the boundaries of fusion cuisine in the 300 years since its founding, embracing elements of all kinds of cooking: Southern, French and Vietnamese—from the fanciest restaurant to the humblest food truck.
Best Breakfast: Supper
Attached to the showstopper that is the Hotel Emma, Supper offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in a space that looks like the restaurant incarnation of Restoration Hardware. Don’t miss the chocolate beignet at breakfast, marrying flavors of orange, strawberry, and lemon confit, or the Scotch egg, which is encased with green chili chorizo and sits on a brick of cornbread slathered with creme fraiche.
Best Lunch: Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar
The aroma of spicy fried food and long line of businesspeople at lunch time is your big hint that this unique southeast Asian/Cajun fusion restaurant ("bia" is Vietnamese for beer) is dishing up some seriously good eats. The Pinch Boil fries, topped with crab meat plus squirts of garlic-butter mayo and Sriracha, have become legendary among San Antonio foodies. The fast-casual restaurant also offers seafood boils and spicy fried chicken or shrimp prepared in a bowl with rice or in a sandwich on a bed of slaw.
Best Snack Stop: La Panadería
"Pan dulce" (Mexican pastry) may be relatively easy to come by in San Antonio, but La Panadería offers a next-level version, drawing from a repertoire of artisanal techniques from Mexico, France, and Italy. The result is buttery, flaky, and crisp croissants and original creations like the "croncha"—a hybrid of a Mexican concha and croissant. The tequila almond croissant has a warm, sweet gooey center and is dusted with powdered sugar—and flies off the shelves each day. You can also order a tres leches version with whipped cream and strawberries.
Best Date Night: Signature
Overlooking a hillside at La Cantera Resort and Spa on the northwest outskirts of San Antonio, this charming rustic French restaurant (where deer frolic outside the patio at sunset) sets the stage for a cozy date night splurge. The restaurant is the creation of San Antonio native Chef Andrew Weissman and spoils you with five-star service, from your choice of ice water garnishes to thoughtful amuse bouche and palate cleansers, a creative cocktail menu, and courses created from locally available meats and produce, such as the rabbit and gnocchi appetizer and pan-seared sea scallops entree.
Best River Walk Restaurant: Boudro’s
Visitors to San Antonio might get the impression that the River Walk area is stuffed with chain tourist trap-type restaurants and those that gouge diners for mediocre meals in exchange for a pretty view of the river. Boudro’s upends that notion by offering an experience that still feels special and memorable, as it has since its opening in 1986. The restaurant’s claim to fame is its tableside guacamole, which servers prepare using roasted tomatoes, fresh avocado, cilantro, red onions, and a squeeze of orange and lemon. Diners also love the prime rib and the Gulf shrimp and grits here, but for a change of pace, order up the mesquite grilled Texas quail, stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables, topped with a chipotle demi glace.
Best for Families: Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
This light-filled industrial chic restaurant is located in San Antonio’s hopping Pearl District, formerly the home of Pearl brewery. It returned to those roots when the restaurant and brewery opened in the same historic building in 2015. If you come for brunch, the aroma of biscuits and bacon greets you in this sophisticated yet comfortable space that is perfect for families. Order something freshly caught from the seafood menu, served with house-made sauces like Southern Comeback sauce (“the sauce that keeps people coming back,” a server told me) or celery remoulade. Kids can create their own pretzel shapes with dough from the kitchen, baked and dusted with cinnamon sugar just for them. Paired with chicken and waffles and a glass of one of the fresh brews, it makes for an easy Sunday morning.
Best View: Chart House
Topping the 750-foot Tower of the Americas, you’ll find Chart House, a steak and seafood restaurant with arguably the best view in San Antonio (on a clear day). Rather than paying for a separate ticket up to the observation deck, spend your money on a cocktail and a few appetizers during happy hour, such as the ahi tuna nachos and the hummus trio. This allows you to take your time enjoying the view—particularly ideal if you can time your visit to take advantage of a beautiful San Antonio sunset. It’s a great way to cap off a long day of exploring.
Best for Vegans: Pharm Table
It can be hard to find a restaurant that caters to dietary restrictions such as paleo, Keto, vegan, and gluten-free. But no matter where your cuisine allegiances lie, you’ll find something delightful at Pharm Table, whose unique Ayurvedic focus and approach to healing through local, organic, and gluten-free recipes translates into brightly colored and perfectly spiced dishes with a Latin flair, like the bright pink beet gazpacho or paleo green goddess salad, packed with sweet potatoes and beet noodles.
Best Happy Hour: The Frutería Botanero
Celebrated local chef Johnny Hernandez has created a variety of Mexican street food concept restaurants around San Antonio. The Frutería Botanero offers a variety of botanas (snacks) as well as tacos and sandwiches for big and small appetites. Time your visit for happy hour and order up a los pepinos margarita—popular for a reason because it’s a refreshing and pitch-perfect, slightly sweet cucumber and vodka concoction. You’ll receive a complimentary order of the Papas Bravas, house made potato chips with chile, lime, sea salt, and queso fresco for the ideal "merienda" (snack time).
Best Culinary Adventure: Clementine
This cheery, buttoned-up restaurant located in a strip mall in northwestern San Antonio features an open kitchen and an option called “Feed Me” at lunch and dinner, which gives the chef free reign to design a four- or five-course menu just for your table. Choosing this option takes the stress out of deciding from a handful of inventive Southern-influenced and seasonally based courses, like the Flame Tart made with bacon, bechamel, white cheddar, shallots, and shaved truffles, or the Agnolotti del Plin, soft pasta pillows stuffed with ricotta and arugula together with whey-braised lamb. It’s lovely to try dishes that you typically wouldn’t order, and in Chef John Russ’ capable hands, you have nothing to fear.
Best Experience: Mi Tierra Café and Panaderia
Located in the Mercado or Market Square district, Mi Tierra is a San Antonio institution, open since 1941. The decor, which sparkles and dangles from the ceiling of this 24-hour restaurant and bakery, is worth a stop in. While you dine, you might even be serenaded by a band of mariachis. After your meal, be sure to pay your respects to Latina pop sensation Selena (whose love of San Antonio ran deep) inside the restaurant’s shrine to her memory.
Best Barbecue: 2M Smokehouse
Lines that frequently wrap around the building are your cue that this is the best spot for ’cue in town. Among 2M’s specialties: fall-off-the-bone ribs, barbacoa, and brisket. And although meat reigns supreme at most of the legendary Texas barbecue joints, the sides here aren’t too shabby, either—try the Mexican street corn and the chicharrón macaroni and cheese with a crisp crumble of pork rinds on top.