50 Things You Need to Eat in San Antonio Before You Die
The bad news: you’re not immortal. The good news: you’ve still got this lifetime to eat your way through the most iconic, innovative, can’t-miss dishes in San Antonio. And you really should, because while our brilliant chefs don’t often receive the props they deserve on a national scale, SA is an awfully legit food town. See for yourself, beginning with these 50 menu items representing the best of the Alamo City.
1. Puffy tacos
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
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.
3. Sweet potato fries
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
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.
5. George’s Bank sea scallops
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.
6. Bread and butter
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
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.
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.
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.
10. Pan dulce
From conchas and orejas to sweet empanadas and pan fino, Panifico’s bakery is a fiesta for your taste buds.
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
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
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.
15. Pastrami short rib
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
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
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.
18. Ahi tuna tartar
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.
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.
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
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
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.
23. Clams Casino pizza
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.
24. Cauliflower hot wings
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
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.
26. Filet and lobster tail
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.
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
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.
29. Chips and salsa
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
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.
31. Nutella x3
Nutella mousse, Nutella cake with Nutella fudge sauce. That’s Nutella three ways, and it’s genius.
32. New Orleans BBQ shrimp
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
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.
34. Lamb cigar
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.
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.
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.
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.
38. Guenther’s Favorite Breakfast Platter
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.
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
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.
41. Lamb meatballs
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
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.
43. Split-pea soup
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
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.
45. Red curry pumpkin
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.
46. Sticky toffee pudding
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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Michelle Burgess lives and writes in San Antonio, heavily favoring assignments that somehow incorporate any or all four of the major food groups of Texas: chili, Tex-Mex, deep-fried, and barbecue.