San Antonio, Texas is a great city for sampling margaritas and mojitos and local brews, but it’s also fun to sample regional food specialties—and not just the obvious ones. Sure, you’ll want to try Mexican food and BBQ here, but don’t forget about the famous Gulf seafood and German food (thanks to the region’s German heritage). Despite being on a tight food budget for this trip (luckily, I booked a hotel that offered a lot of free meals), I wasn’t about to miss out on trying the local cuisine. I had a couple of meals with friends, and several solo, and overall, only had one major disappointment. Here’s my quickie review of where I ate in San Antonio:
For a Visual Mexican Feast: Mi Tierra at El Mercado
I can’t say it was the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, but it is a must-see restaurant when you’re visiting San Antonio. Read my full review here.
For Inexpensive Seafood: Landry’s Seafood Restaurant
Landry’s is a southern U.S. restaurant chain specializing in Gulf seafood. It’s located right on the Riverwalk and was within walking distance of my hotel, which made it perfect for me. Their regular menu looks absolutely drool-worthy. I saw a handful of other solos sitting at outdoor tables along the river, feasting on fish with a glass of wine on the side, which looked like a peaceful and lovely way to end the day.
I chose to dine a bit more casually and socially at the bar off the happy hour menu, which had a fair bit of variety and outstanding prices. (I’m a light eater, so when I’m looking for a cheap dinner, a well-rounded happy hour menu is a perfect fit.) The bar area was comfortable and the staff friendly.
I had two dinners here, both $13 or less before tip. Everything was excellent. I can recommend the fish tacos (beer-battered fish wrapped in tortillas with pepper jack cheese and avocado sauce, two for $6, definitely on the spicy side); the coconut shrimp with plum sauce (perfectly crispy, $5); pecan-roasted vegetables (oven-roasted vegetables tossed with candied pecans and lemon butter, a $2.99 side item, not on the happy hour menu); the pomegranate mojito ($5.50); and the locally-brewed Lone Star draft ($2.50), which gets a thumbs up from me for its smooth, light flavor.
I also overheard some very entertaining conversations in the bar at Landry’s, but to protect the privacy of all involved, will keep those to myself. 😉
For German Food: Schilo’s Deli
You might be surprised to hear that my best ethnic meal in Texas wasn’t Mexican, but German. Schilo’s is an old-fashioned diner founded and currently owned by German families. The menu is populated with wursts and potato salad and strudel, all at inexpensive prices. There’s a sense of “home” here: The staff seem like a close-knit group as they joke around with each other and customers.
I had a hot dog with sauerkraut and German potato salad, root beer and a slice of strawberry cheesecake ($13 before tip). The food was fine, but the root beer was the best I’ve ever had. It’s homemade and tastes like a cross between root beer and cream soda—creamy and delicious.
I raved about it to one of the young waiters, Vincent.
He gave a wistful smile and said “Yeah, every day I come in and have to tell myself ‘I am NOT going to have any of the 500-calorie rootbeer today.’”
I stared at him, then looked down at my second mug of rootbeer in horror. “500 calories?” I repeated in shock.
He smiled. “Yeah, it’s pretty much all sugar.”
Which probably brought my lunch to 3000 calories. Thank God for all the walking I did on this trip.
For Historic Flavor: The Guenther House
The Guenther House is a restaurant, bakery and retail store in a beautiful 1860 house located in the King William Historic District. It overlooks a less hectic area of the Riverwalk and is located next door to a flour mill that was owned by the founding family. The pastries in the bakery are gigantic; a single pastry could have fed four people, I swear. The house has some lovely features, such as a beautiful stained glass window featuring wheat shafts on the door to the ladies’ bathroom. So if you eat here, make sure you leave time to tour the house.
I had lunch here with a new friend, Teresa, who lives in San Antonio. It was a beautiful day–sunny and in the 70s—so we chose to eat outside in the tent at the side of the house. Teresa had strawberry waffles, and I had the half chicken salad sandwich. The food was good and the service even better. Teresa convinced Martin, our waiter, to have his picture taken with us.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take any food photos. This happens to me all the time when I eat with other people. See? I have to travel alone. I’d be a lousy blogger if I had a companion all the time. I have no idea what this meal cost, since Teresa treated me. (Thanks, Teresa!)
For the Best View in San Antonio: The Chart House, Tower of the Americas
The Chart House is a revolving restaurant at the top of the Tower of the Americas, the second tallest freestanding tower in the U.S. (after the Stratosphere in Las Vegas). The restaurant and the Flags Over Texas Observatory offer spectacular 360-degree views of the city. I met my friend Lorna here for lunch one day.
The primary objective was to catch up with each other, since we hadn’t seen each other in person since 2007. So that was a great treat. We had fun joking around with our waitress and the guy running the elevator (who had a great smile and was very charming).
Lest you think the only reason to come here are the views, let me assure you the food was fabulous. Lorna had the lobster bisque and the chopped spinach salad (I had a taste and truly wished I’d ordered it myself).
I had the lobster grilled cheese with a dipping cup amount of the bisque on the side. The sandwich was stuffed full of finely chopped lobster meat (they did not skimp!) and came with the best skinny fries ever. The Chart House can be a bit pricey ($20 before tip for lunch), but it was worth every penny when you factor in the views.
(Tip: If you tell them at ground level that you’re eating at the restaurant, you don’t have to pay the normal admission fee for the Tower.)
For the Comfort of the Familiar: The Hard Rock Cafe
I ate at the Hard Rock one night when I couldn’t get in to Boudros (I’m still devastated about that). I think we tourists turn to the Hard Rock Cafe when we travel because we know what to expect when we eat here. The food will be good, if not great, and we’ll be surrounded by good rock music videos on TV.
My dinner, though, was so much better than I expected: I had the cajun shrimp and poached pear dinner salad, which had goat cheese crumbles, candied pecans and bacon, and was tossed in the most delicious sweet Dijon pear dressing. It’s very rare that I get excited about eating a salad, but this one was terrific. I also taste-tested my second local brew, a Shiner Bock, a Bavarian beer with a deep amber color. It was much darker in color than I am used to drinking, but the taste was fairly mellow. I liked it a lot. Good meal at a decent price ($20 before tip) and good music. You can’t go wrong with that.
My Disappointing BBQ Experience: The County Line
I ate here on my first night in town. It was after 9pm, I was tired from traveling all day, and I was about three hours past my dinner time. So I stopped at the first casual restaurant I encountered along the Riverwalk. It seemed like a good opportunity to try some famous Texas barbecue. What a disappointment this place was.
I paid $16 for the app size ribs (6 ribs) and a very small side of coleslaw. In my book, ribs are supposed to be so tender the meat falls off the bones and you should be able to easily split the bones apart. I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t even hack the meat off the rib bones, let alone split the bones apart! Also, the coleslaw wasn’t shredded cabbage, but chunks of cabbage. Ugh. Even though I was starving, I left most of the food on the table.
My waiter tried to overcompensate for the food’s shortcomings by acting like he was working in a fine dining restaurant, acting oversolicitous to the point of being comical. He even told me this was his favorite meal. I should have asked him how the hell HE gets the meat off the bones.
Photo credit: Photos of the stained glass door and the three new amigos at Guenther House courtesy of Teresa Vincent, The Joyful Journeyist.