You have to see the Alamo, of course, and stroll the River Walk. But you would be remiss to end your San Antonio visit there. This city of more than 1.3 million has an up-and-coming cosmopolitan cultural scene. Museums and galleries are opening—the San Antonio Children’s Museum, the Briscoe Western Art Museum, the forthcoming Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. And like all great cities, San Antonio is giving rise to world-class restaurants. The Culinary Institute of America opened its third U.S. campus here a few years ago, and eateries keep arriving on the scene. You can still get your barbecue and Tex-Mex fix—but you’ll also find “saviche,” a cross between seviche and sashimi; Moroccan chermoula chicken; and stellar macarons. Here, a guide to San Antonio’s latest culinary attractions.
PEARL'S DINING VILLAGE
“Your wish has been granted,” says the voice of Zoltar from the slot machine at Arcade Midtown Kitchen, in the Pearl Brewery neighborhood. And for at least one San Antonian, the fortune-teller speaks the truth. Eleven years ago, investor Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury embarked on a mission to save the historic Pearl Brewery complex—a collection of sandy brick warehouses and a smokestack. A food-loving billionaire, Goldsbury envisioned a dining village made up of independent chef-driven restaurants and peppered with shops, apartments and plenty of green space. Today his vision is becoming real.
The 135-seat Arcade Midtown Kitchen is one of a handful of recent openings in the revitalized Pearl Brewery district, aka Pearl. Chef-owner Jesse Perez has playfully incorporated Pearl history in Arcade’s lofty interiors: Look for salvaged bottle crates, metal door handles and conveyor belts in the light fixtures, wall hangings, booths and entryways. Comfort foods—skirt steak and frites, mussels with chorizo—are served on galvanized metal tables, and you can request a seat at the kitchen table to watch the chefs at work.
Around the corner, Granary ’Cue & Brew, in a historic clapboard house, churns out lunch and dinner on a 4,000-pound wood-fired smoker. You’ll find giant beef ribs, tender pork belly and peppery sliced brisket on the meat-focused menu. Co-owner and brewer Alex Rattray also makes four types of beer in a back-room microbrewery—order a flight so you can sample them all.
Some of Pearl’s first restaurants still rank among its best. James Beard–nominated chef Andrew Weissman is behind both Il Sogno Osteria, serves Florence- and Rome-inspired dishes, and SandBar Fish House & Market, which joined the Pearl dining scene the same year. At the latter, nautical-blue walls and crisp white tiles set the scene for fresh seafood dishes, such as barramundi with black-truffle foam, wild-caught salmon and “saviche,” that cross between seviche and sashimi. It’s an easy walk from Pearl to Weissman’s next venture, the Luxury, via the latest, 1.3-mile extension of the River Walk. There craft beers and heavenly sandwiches are served from repurposed shipping containers overlooking the water.
Once dominated by dilapidated houses, the streets surrounding Pearl are also starting to change. Exhibit A: the new Bakery Lorraine, run by Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell, pastry chefs who cut their teeth at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. Their refined tarts and buttery croissants have already attracted a devoted local following. Good luck leaving without a box of delicate macarons for the road.
SOUTH TOWN and KING WILLIAM
Chef Johnny Hernandez spent months sampling the offerings of street carts across Mexico to perfect the recipes for his first San Antonio restaurant, La Gloria. Now comes Hernandez hot spot number two: the Frutería–Botanero, in South Town, a neighborhood of old industrial buildings that are morphing into condos, shops and restaurants. Like La Gloria, the Frutería is already being hailed for its authentic south-of-the-border flavors. Daytime highlights include jugos and licuados—fresh-pressed juices and smoothies made with yogurt or milk—and the sincronizada: a Mexican sandwich of scrambled eggs, ham, Oaxaca cheese, avocado and soft, salty bread.
Come evening, the Frutería converts into a botanero, a casual Mexican bar serving small, tasty plates. Snack on pan-fried chipotle peppers and chiles rellenos stuffed with roast pork while you peruse the tequila sipping menu, about 50 names strong. Fresh fruit cocktails are also on offer, or just go with a michelada—beer with lime juice and hot sauce.
In the nearby King William neighborhood, colorful lights twinkle over tables in the backyard of the Monterey. While the menu changes weekly, Gulf shrimp and oysters and the Frito pie po’boy—pulled pork and green onions tucked into a soft bun slathered with jalapeño mayo—regularly make the cut. Down the street, diners at Feast settle into see-through chairs by Philippe Starck for dishes like grilled lamb with red curry and coconut milk and chermoula-marinated chicken.
DOWNTOWN'S EDGY SIDE
The heart of San Antonio’s historic downtown district is littered with chain restaurants that cater to tourists looking for a quick bite. But some of the city’s best bars are popping up around its bike- and pedestrian-friendly outskirts. Ocho, overlooking the River Walk from the back of the Hotel Havana, serves food but is best known for its hip design (blue velvet couches, glass garage doors, candle chandeliers) and haute cocktails (try the Hemingway Daiquiri, made with Mount Gay Silver Eclipse, grapefruit, lime and a maraschino cherry).
At the new Brooklynite, owner and mixologist Jeret Peña makes cocktails behind a long bar under a pressed tin ceiling. Go the classic old-fashioned route or try something adventurous, like the lemon-rhubarb Julius (bourbon, Aperol, lemon curd and honey). This bar signaled a new era for San Antonio’s scene when it opened its doors this past fall (“Serious cocktails have arrived!” one headline proclaimed)—and it promises more cosmopolitan flavors to come.
Arcade Midtown Kitchen: 303 Pearl Pkwy; 210.369.9664; arcademk.com
Granary ’Cue & Brew: 602 Avenue A; 210.228.0124; thegranarysa.com
Il Sogno Osteria: 200 E Grayson St; 210.223.3900
SandBar Fish House & Market: 200 E Grayson St; 210.212.2221; sandbarsa.com
Luxury: 103 E Jones Ave; 210.354.2274
Bakery Lorraine: 511 E Grayson St; 210.862.5582; bakerylorraine.com
Frutería–Botanero: 1401 S Flores St; 210.251.3104
Monterey: 1127 S St Mary's St; 210.745.2581; themontereysa.com
Feast: 1024 S Alamo St; 210.354.1024; feastsa.com
Ocho: 1015 Navarro St; 210.222.2008
Brooklynite: 516 Brooklyn Ave; 210.444.0707; thebrooklynitesa.com