The gigante selection of fine Mexican restaurants in San Antonio is overwhelming; fortunately, there’s an ideal combo plate for everyone. The fun part is the discovery.
A great place to start is Rosario’s Mexican Cafe (910 S. Alamo St., 210/223-1806, www.rosariossa.com, $7–19) on the edge of the King William Historic District. The food here is a bit more contemporary than traditional cheesy enchiladas and tacos, and that’s what’s so appealing about it. Instead of greasy beef, there’s fresh avocado. Many dishes contain pleasant surprises (diced cactus, exotic peppers, a touch of cinnamon) rather than bland standbys (rice, beans).
The deliciously smoky roasted-pepper salsa that comes to the table with the tortilla chips is a good indication of the quality to come. The spectacular chile relleno contains a tantalizing blend of flavors—a slight bite from the ranchero sauce is tempered by the sweet raisin undertones—and the chile itself is perfectly breaded. You’ll eat it all the way to the stem. On weekend nights, Rosario’s becomes a hot spot for the singles scene, with salsa, merengue, and jazz bands playing for enthusiastic dancing crowds.
More traditional yet similarly compelling is Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery (218 Produce Row, 210/225-1262, www.mitierracafe.com, $8–19), the legendary 24-hour Market Square restaurant. The scene here is worth the visit alone—the ceilings are decked out with Christmas lights, and mariachis stroll the grounds crooning their canciones. A lot of people come here just for the tasty dulces (sweet breads) and impressive tequila selection, but the food is worth sticking around for too. The homemade tortillas are soft and flavorful, and the standard combo plates with enchiladas, tacos, and tamales are an ideal way to get a classic Tex-Mex fix. Be sure to get a to-go pastry for a tasty late-night snack.
Azuca (713 S. Alamo St., 210/225-5550, www.azuca.net, $10–24) specializes in Latin-American and Caribbean food, a nice change of pace for those fed up with the typical Mexican dishes. Located in the King William Historic District, Azuca is a busy spot that consistently ends up on annual “best-of” lists. Locals and out-of-towners drop by regularly for the contemporary take on Latin classics such as the mixed meat grill (chicken, beef, pork, and sausage), pork loin, and just about anything with plantains and coconut shrimp. Stick around for the salsa and merengue bands on weekend nights.
Another local Tex-Mex institution is La Fonda on Main (2415 N. Main Ave., 210/733-0621, www.lafondaonmain.com, $8–18). Be sure you go to the Main Avenue location, since other (unaffiliated) La Fondas in town don’t offer nearly the same quality of food. This excellent restaurant is located in a historic building on the near-north side of town, and it’s an ideal place for people who want to explore the Mexican food scene without getting too adventurous. The menu features standard Tex-Mex, albeit with a slightly more upscale approach (fancier tortillas, sauces in zigzag patterns), and classic interior Mexican fare (mole dishes, black beans). The margaritas are some of the best in town, and if the weather’s nice, be sure to grab a spot on the patio.
One of the most distinctive restaurant experiences you’ll ever enjoy awaits at Liberty Bar (328 E. Josephine St., 210/227-1187, www.liberty-bar.com, $10–25). Things are off-kilter here—the walls and floor are slanted, and the story behind the restaurant’s warped perspective remains a mystery, although irreparable damage caused by a major flood during the 1920s is a popular theory. Fortunately, the food is straight-up tremendous, with a focus on sauced and seasoned meats (pot roast, lamb sausage, herbed chicken). The Liberty draws its largest crowds on Sunday morning for its legendary brunch (served from 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m.), with sumptuous egg dishes and the perfect piece of French toast.
The stunningly sweeping views are the main course at Chart House (600 HemisFair Plaza Way, 210/207-8615, www.toweroftheamericas.com, $10–28), the revolving restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas. Normally, these eateries in the round aren’t known for their top-notch food, but the selections here are impressive. Since the restaurant is owned by Landry’s, a respected seafood establishment, most of the menu options are of the surf and turf variety, including the tasty shrimp dishes. Incidentally, the tower is 750 feet high, and was built in 1968 especially for the HemisFair. A “4-D” multi-sensory theater is located on the ground level.
It may be a Midwestern chain, but when it comes to preparing a perfect steak, Texans and visitors from across the globe line up for Morton’s the Steakhouse (849 E. Commerce St. #283, 210/228-0700, www.mortons.com, $15–38). Morton’s looks, smells, and tastes exactly like an upscale steakhouse should—dark wood, tuxedoed waitstaff, clanging steak knives, and delectable cuts of prime beef. Highlights include the porterhouse, double-cut filet mignon, and the bone-in prime rib.
You can’t subsist on Tex-Mex dinners and hearty steaks alone, so make a point of checking out a few of San Antonio’s unique lunch and brunch spots. The funkiest of the bunch is Madhatters (320 Beauregard St., 210/212-4832, www.madhatterstea.com, $4–9).
A teahouse turned lunch locale, this Alice in Wonderland–inspired café is a little warped, but more in the traditional sense as opposed to physically slanted like the Liberty Bar. The incredible variety of teas is still the focal point here, but the healthy salads and tasty sandwiches are causing customers to avoid being late for an important date at Madhatters.
Seemingly better suited for Austin than San Antonio is the organic-minded Twin Sisters Bakery & Cafe (124 Broadway St., 210/354-1559, $5–15). Although it has a strong veggie focus, carnivores can still find some meat to devour at this comfy spot near the Alamo. Favorites among the herbivore crowd include a tasty avocado sandwich and Greek salad, while meat eaters enjoy the enchiladas and stews. Omnivores will love the fresh-baked items, including muffins, breads, pies, and cookies. On weekends, Twin Sisters transforms into a mellow hangout with live acoustic music.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition