Food & Drink

50 Things You Need to Eat in San Antonio Before You Die

Published On 11/03/2015 Published On 11/03/2015
Courtesy of Hot Joy
Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

1. Puffy tacos

Ray’s Drive Inn

Address and Info

Westside

As iconic as the Alamo itself, puffy tacos are SA’s undisputed signature dish. The debate about who does them best will never die, but those singing Ray’s praises make a solid case for the version served up at this Westside landmark.

2. Texas quail

Bella on the River

Address and Info

River Walk

Not everything has to be bigger in Texas. A well-prepared quail is proof that size doesn’t matter as much as flavor. Bella’s is wrapped in pancetta, stuffed with Italian sausage, and pan-roasted to pack a punch into every bite.

Courtesy of The Cove

3. Sweet potato fries

The Cove

Address and Info

Five Points

Plenty of places serve sweet potato fries these days, but few do them justice. As with everything put out by its kitchen, The Cove delivers a sweet potato fry with some thought behind it. Ideal sweet/salty balance, crispy outside and soft inside, and served with a dynamite Sriracha mayo.

4. Chilaquiles verdes

Regio Cafe

Address and Info

Tobin Hill

The key to superior chilaquiles verdes is the salsa in which the corn tortillas are soaked, and Regio’s has a nice level of heat. Throw in the consistently friendly service, and hangovers don’t stand a chance against this Tex-Mex breakfast staple.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

5. George’s Bank sea scallops

Bliss

Address and Info

Southtown

Mild and buttery in flavor, with a smooth, firm consistency, the scallops at Bliss are a crowd favorite for good reason. Served with pepper jack grits, sautéed spinach, avocado mousse, and cilantro-lime-jalapeño beurre blanc, this is a pretty dish whose artistry is first and foremost about the palate.

H.Anderson

6. Bread and butter

Restaurant Gwendolyn

Address and Info

River Walk

Everything at Gwen is thoughtfully prepared by hand and in line with the restaurant’s ‘Local, Seasonal, Handmade’ tagline. While the menu is ever-changing, the warm, thick bread with seeded butter is thankfully always available and a great testament to why the eatery’s cook-like-it’s-1850 concept makes dinner an experience for the senses instead of just another forgettable meal.

7. Chicken fried steak

DeWese’s Tip Top Café

Address and Info

Balcones Heights and North Central

The perfect chicken fried steak must meet four criteria: ideal ratio of meat-to-breading; gristle-free beef that doesn’t require the use of your back molars to chew; a crispy crustiness that doesn’t fall off the meat in chunks when the gravy comes callin’; and a generous size that extends past the edges of the plate. Tip Top has been delivering just such a CFS since 1838.

8. Pozole

Cascabel Mexican Patio

Address and Info

Southtown

Making truly amazing pozole -- spicy, but not so hot that the flavor is lost; rich but not too greasy -- is trickier than most soups. Cascabel’s version is spot-on.

9. Sashimi

The Sandbar

Address and Info

The Pearl

Newcomers to the Alamo City are usually surprised and delighted by the number and variety of truly outstanding restaurants here. Standout sushi, unfortunately, is a bit more elusive, which is what makes the uber-fresh, texturally layered sashimi at The Sandbar so exciting and welcome.

Panifico Bake Shop

10. Pan dulce

Panifico Bake Shop

Address and Info

Prospect Hill

From conchas and orejas to sweet empanadas and pan fino, Panifico’s bakery is a fiesta for your taste buds.

11. Esquites

Mezcaleria Mixtli

Address and Info

Olmos Park

There’s corn, and then there’s Mexican street corn. Revel in the simple blending of sweet corn, spicy mayo, lime and cotjja -- perfection when paired with a traditional paloma cocktail.

13. Charcuterie plate

Cured

Address and Info

The Pearl

Regional meats cured on-site form the backbone of Cured’s thoughtful menu. Pick nine delicacies from a list that includes such delights as apple jalapeño pork rillettes, smoked duck ham, and Texas-raised 90-day pork belly; add a craft beer or creative cocktail, then sit back and revel in your carnivorous existence.

14. Guacamole Olmeca

Paloma Blanca Mexican Cuisine

Address and Info

Alamo Heights

Guac is as easy to find in SA as bad drivers in big trucks, which makes finding one as memorable as Paloma Blanca’s a real dining triumph. A squeeze of citrus elevates Paloma Blanca’s traditional version, which is prepared table-side and served in a molcajete.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

15. Pastrami short rib

The Granary ‘Cue and Brew

Address and Info

The Pearl

If you’re going to forgo your usual light lunch just one day a week, make it Tuesday. That’s the only time you can find this pepper-crusted short rib that’s so delicate and flavorful that to sauce it would be a sin. Go early; once they’re gone, they’re gone for six days.

16. Grilled pimento cheese sandwich

The Esquire Tavern

Address and Info

River Walk

Anyone who grew up eating cold pimento cheese on white bread will be pleased to discover that Esquire’s more nuanced and evolved version has only a passing resemblance to its country cousin. PS: your waiter will likely recommend that you add bacon to your sandwich, and you should listen.

17. Twice-fried chicken wings

Hot Joy

Address and Info

Southtown

Made with crab fat caramel, peanuts, and cilantro, these aren’t like any wings you’ll find elsewhere. Crispy, salty, spicy, and a crowd fave at this Asian fusion hotspot.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

18. Ahi tuna tartar

Feast

Address and Info

Southtown

Most of Feast’s items rotate on and off the menu, at the mercy of the seasons and the whims of the chef. With its bright, fresh flavor, the tuna tartar has earned a permanent spot, though, and we’re all the better for it.

19. Tamales

B&B Tamales and Food To Go

Address and Info

Southside

Don’t wait for the holidays to try the sublime tamales at B&B, a hole-in-the-wall joint that has perfected the masa-to-filling ratio and delivers on flavor without a grease overload. In fact, don’t wait too long on any given day. Like any tamaleria worth its salt, B&B runs out quickly.

Courtesy of Kimura

20. Shoyu

Kimura

Address and Info

Downtown

If foil packets of artificial flavoring sprinkled over noodles as dry and tasteless as their plastic wrapper is your idea of ramen, do yourself a favor and let Kimura re-educate you. Chicken broth forms the base for this simple yet elegant dish featuring a soft-boiled egg, nori, marinated shiitakes, spring onions, and bean sprouts.

21. Ceviche de camarones

El Bucanero

Address and Info

Far Northwest

If you believe that we eat with our eyes first, El Buc should be on your Top 10 list of SA eateries. Like everything on the menu at this Northwest-side gem, the ceviche is fresh, authentic, and thoughtfully composed. Portions are generous as well.

22. Vanilla flan

Mi Tierra Café Y Panaderia

Address and Info

Downtown

This tourist mecca -- which also draws its fair share of devoted locals -- is known for its lively décor, beloved bakery, and Tex-Mex served 24-hours a day. Mi Tierra’s flan is smooth and substantial without being clunky, with a just-sweet-enough caramel sauce.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

23. Clams Casino pizza

Barbaro

Address and Info

Tobin Hill

Flavors are bold on this salty, garlicky pie -- best enhanced with the accompaniment of a nice, strong stout or porter, or perhaps one of Barbaro’s serious cocktails. Made with clams, Calabrese sausage, bacon, white wine, and pecorino cheese, it’s a serious pizza for hardy appetites.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

24. Cauliflower hot wings

Green Vegetarian Cuisine

Address and Info

The Pearl (& Other Locations)

Think you hate cauliflower? Think again. You might not be able to close your eyes and truly believe you’re eating chicken wings, but we promise you won’t care.

25. Breakfast tacos

Pete’s Tako House

Address and Info

Downtown

It goes without saying that homemade tortillas are a make-or-break ingredient in a worthy breakfast taco. Pete’s are top-notch. Prices are great at this 40-year-old family joint, which offers 20 varieties of tacos to a faithful clientele.

Courtesy of Boudro's 

26. Filet and lobster tail

Boudro’s Texas Bistro

Address and Info

River Walk

You’re hitting peak surf & turf with steak and lobster, and Boudro’s knows that quality ingredients prepared perfectly don’t need heavy sides or a fussy presentation. This is that rare dish that your mom and your boss and your out-of-town visitors will all love equally.

Le Frite Belgian Bistro

27. Mussels

La Frite Belgian Bistro

Address and Info

Southtown

You’ll forget we’re three hours inland when you taste these fresh, flavorful mollusks in an unexpected, creamy broth. Like all great seafood, they’ll remind you of the ocean without ever tasting fishy.

28. Chicken-fried oysters

Silo

Address and Info

Alamo Heights (& Other Locations)

Served with sautéed spinach, braised pork belly, apples, and mustard hollandaise, Silo’s signature dish soars thanks to the quality of the main ingredient. Fortunately for diners across north SA, it’s one of the few dishes served at all three Silo locations.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

29. Chips and salsa

Rosario’s

Address and Info

Southtown

You can taste the peppers and deeply roasted tomatoes in Rosario’s salsa. But close your eyes and take another bite, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to also taste the love. That’s courtesy of Angie, who’s been making her secret recipe for Rosario’s for 20 years.

30. Mango ice cream

Menger Hotel Colonial Room

Address and Info

Downtown

There’s no proof that Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed this unique concoction as he was forming the Rough Riders in the Menger Bar back in 1898. Then again, there’s no reason to believe he didn’t. They’re still making it like they did at the turn of the (last) century, and it’s still absolute perfection.

Tre Trattoria

 

31. Nutella x3

Tre Trattoria

Address and Info

Alamo Heights

Nutella mousse, Nutella cake with Nutella fudge sauce. That’s Nutella three ways, and it’s genius.

32. New Orleans BBQ shrimp

Cookhouse

Address and Info

River Road

This dish is just what it sounds like -- huge, head-on shrimp basking in a tangy homemade sauce. One taste and the 543.3 miles between SA and NOLA fade away to nothing. Laissez les bon temps roulez.

33. Whole grilled chicken

Pollos Asados Los Norteños

Address and Info

Southeast Side

Follow your nose and your eyes to the Southeast Side, where you will find Pollos Asados by its amazing smell and smoke billowing off the grill. Cheap, family-owned, and usually crazy-busy, it’s a casual place where chicken is serious business.

Michelle Burgess/Thrillist

34. Lamb cigar

BITE

Address and Info

Southtown

This tangy stogie is filled with a lamb and goat cheese mixture that in less deft hands could get gummy or greasy. Served with chimichurri and a spicy aoli, it is a great choice for happy hour when you don’t want the food to be simply an afterthought to the alcohol.

35. Enchiladas

The Original Blanco Café

Address and Info

Beacon Hill (& Other Locations)

If you can’t make primo enchiladas, you have no business calling yourself a Tex-Mex institution. Sure, the OBC’s motto is “Breakfast All Day,” but for lunch or dinner sometimes you just want to mush up a big pile of rice and beans and corn tortillas filled with cheese and covered with more cheese and some spicy salsa verde.

36. Meatloaf

Mr. & Mrs. G’s

Address and Info

Southeast Side

It’s the quintessential comfort food, best when it holds its shape without being dry. The Gs have made an OG meatloaf that stands up to their soul-food sides and puts the South in South Texas.

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana

37. Napoletana

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana

Address and Info

Castle Hills

The pizza by which all others in the Alamo City are judged and usually come up lacking. Fresh ingredients, prepared thoughtfully and consistently, set Dough apart.

Guenther House

38. Guenther’s Favorite Breakfast Platter

The Guenther House

Address and Info

Southtown

The historic restaurant is the restored 1860 home of SA-based Pioneer Flour Mills’ founding family, so of course the recipe calls for Pioneer flour. These light, fluffy biscuits are topped with a white sausage gravy and served with fruit, bacon, and preserves. Breakfast perfection.

39. Barbacoa

Rios Barbacoa

Address and Info

Medical Center

Weekends between 6am and 1pm are the only times to score this near-perfect menudo -- miraculously grease-free and served with outstanding tortillas from a family-owned local chain.

40. Pan Frances

La Panadería

Address and Info

Alamo Heights

Time to carbo-load on some sweet pan Frances at this authentic Mexican bakery owned by a pair of brothers. You can choose from orange, chocolate, or cinnamon, with fresh berries, whipped cream, and Texas honey. It’s only available until noon, so drag your butt out of bed before it’s too late.

Stella Public House

41. Lamb meatballs

Stella Public House

Address and Info

Southtown

These are bold in flavor and delicate in texture, and, if you’re not used to lamb, unexpected and unlike other varieties of meat when it comes to its singular taste profile. Pairing this dish with anything other than red wine would be a grave injustice.

42. Homard eggs

Cappy’s

Address and Info

Alamo Heights

Eating truffled scrambled eggs, lump crab, and butter-poached lobster tail on Cappy’s patio for brunch will definitely be the highlight of your weekend.

Schilo’s Deli

43. Split-pea soup

Schilo’s Deli

Address and Info

River Walk

We don’t get enough cold days here to truly appreciate a rich, filling soup such as Schilo’s famous split-pea. Substantial and not too salty, it’s a tasty way to eat your veggies or go meatless for a meal or two without feeling deprived.

44. Tiritas de Atun

La Frutería

Address and Info

Southtown

This light and crispy tostada is topped with sashimi-grade tuna marinated in lime juice, roasted habaneros, avocado cream, shredded vegetables, olive oil, and cilantro. Pair it with a nice juice -- perhaps the cantaloupe-centric Texan licuado.

Thai Dee Restaurant

45. Red curry pumpkin

Thai Dee

Address and Info

North Central

Thai red curry with fresh pumpkin, basil leaves, lime leaves, and sweet & hot peppers, simmered in coconut milk with shrimp or pork. Thai Dee is far from fancy, but this family-owned eatery sets the standard for Thai in the Alamo City.

Courtesy of Biga on the Banks

46. Sticky toffee pudding

Biga on the Banks

Address and Info

River Walk

Biga’s signature dessert is a nod to the chef-owner’s London childhood. It’s a very sweet but nuanced dish, with a depth of textures and flavors that will surprise you.

47. Akaushi

Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood

Address and Info

Downtown

Bohanan’s is a special-occasion restaurant, so why not try a truly special steak? The pampered Japanese cattle producing this incredibly tender meat are the Bill Gateses of cows -- accustomed to the finer things. Worth the splurge.

48. Empanadas

Beto’s

Address and Info

Uptown Broadway

The key to a great empanada is dough that is substantial without being heavy, and able to hold up to its filling without getting soggy or falling apart. Beto’s devoted following of empanada aficionados is a testament to its dough perfection.

49. Tostada Bean Burger

Chris Madrid’s

Address and Info

Beacon Hill

The portions are massive at Chris Madrid’s, which is a good thing, since the burgers are addictive. The tostada bean burger is iconic and begs the question, “Why aren’t there homemade refried beans on every burger served everywhere?”

50. Fish tacos

The Clean Plate

Address and Info

Tobin Hill

This mesquite-smoked mahi-mahi served on organic corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, roasted poblano aoli, and cilantro tastes simple and fresh, like the fish taco you would make if you were camping on the beach and caught the fish yourself -- provided, of course, you were a skilled chef committed to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. It’s BYOB, so don’t forget the beer.