The campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in San Antonio, Texas has quickly become a center of advancement of Latin American culinary professionals and the exploration of various culinary trends within the region. At the same time the city of San Antonio is stealing some of the spotlight away from Austin as one of the preeminent food towns in Texas.
Much of the new development centers on the blossoming Pearl Brewery complex, a 22-acre development on the River Walk that is anchored by the historic Pearl Brewery, once the largest brewery in Texas. While two new hotels are under construction (a 146-room Kimpton and a smaller boutique hotel) the project is still expanding and new shops, bars, restaurants, and residential complexes are opening regularly.
The largest tenant is the CIA, sophisticated, 30,000 square foot research center with state of the art kitchens opened in late 2010. It was made possible by a $35 million dollar donation from a salsa kingpin. Their 30-week Culinary Arts Certificate Program in Latin American Cuisines was added in 2011 and it just celebrated its first graduates.
Most of San Antonio’s good eating and drinking spots are spread out around town. You won’t find them mixed in with Hooter’s, Dick’s Last Resort, and other tragedies that take over the tourist trail near the Alamo. You need to know where to go. Here are my recommendations:
THE PEARL BREWERY
NAO – New World Flavors: Run by the Culinary Institute of America and helmed by Venezuelan chef Geronimo Lopez, opened in mid-2012 and focuses entirely on small plates, all $9 each, from around Latin America. You’ll find Peruvian tiraditos, a Caribbean corbullon, mollejas, duck mole, and even Brazilian Xingu beer and pisco based cocktails. Highly recommended. 312 Pearl Parkway, naorestaurant.com
La Gloria Ice House: CIA grad and San Antonio native chef/owner Johnny Hernandez takes on Mexican street foods at this indoor/outdoor space that piers out over the River Walk. The focus is on bites from the interior, so think in terms of tacos, tortas, talyudas, and even a few ceviches. 100 East Grayson Street, lagloriaicehouse.com.
The Granary: Being a long way from Hill Country, San Anotnio has lacked a great place for brisket and pork ribs. This microbrewery and Central Texas focused BBQ joint that opened in November looks to fill that gap. 602 Avenue A, thegranarysa.com.
CIA Bakery Café: Run by the cooking school, come here for light fare like soups and sandwiches, as well as expertly poured fair trade coffees and French inspired pastries. 312 Pearl Parkway.
Il Sogno Osteria and Sandbar: These two restaurants from James Beard nominee Andrew Weissman focus on seafood and the trattoria fare of Rome/Florence, respectively. A third restaurant outfitted from four recycled cargo containers, The Luxury, is in development. 200 East Grayson Street.
Mary Ann’s Pig Stand: While this is not in the Pearl Brewery complex, just walk under the highway overpass and it’s there. Come tot his 50’s style diner that has been open for 90 plus years for their famous BBQ pig sandwich. 1508 Broadway, maryannspigstand.com
Lüke: Chef John Besh opened an outpost of his New Orleans restaurant to the River Walk. Besh’s first restaurant outside of Louisiana, Lüke offers up hearty German/French/Louisianan Cajun/Creole fare like Fried Oyster sliders & Peeler chicken and dumplings. 175 E Houston Street, lukesanantonio.com.
SOUTH TOWN & KING WILLIAM
The Monterey: This gastropub inside of an old Sunglo gas station is one of the most inventive dining options in San Antonio. Pick from a long list of craft beer and a dozen or so creative small plates (Foie Gras toast, Smoked Brisket Spaetzle, sweet chile Brussels sprouts). Highly recommended. 1127 S St Mary’s Street, themontereysa.com.
Alamo Street Eat Bar: This food truck park at the old Acapulco Drive Inn is home to ahandful of rotating food trucks and one draft beer truck with mostly local craft brews. Highly recommended.
609 S. Alamo,alamostreeteatbar.com/.
Feast: Stefan Bowers’ eclectic New American and Mediterranean restaurant, which opened in mid 2011, breaks its small plates up between oceanic, heat, chilled, grilled, crispy, and hearty. You’ll find everything from Jack cheese Mac with chorizo oil to Texas Bobwhite quail. 1024 South Alamo Street, feastsa.com.
Taco Haven: Good, sloppy Tex-Mex. 1032 South Presa Street, tacohaven.info.
WHERE TO DRINK
The Brookynite: James Beard nominee Jeret Pena, who made a name for himself at the Esquire, launched his own bar in the north side of town in late 2012. This is the most serious cocktail joint in town. Ginger beer, chamomile infused pisco, peanut bourbon and fall-spice gin are all made in-house and pair with an endless combination of rotating tipples. There’s no grub, but they schedule food trucks to swing by on a regular basis. 516 Brooklyn Ave, thebrooklynitesa.com.
The Esquire: Home to the longest wooden bar in Texas, this historic downtown bar and restaurant has one of the best bar programs in San Antonio. The saloon like spot has a long list of Texas craft brews and original cocktails that average about $11 a piece. 155 East Commerce Street, esquiretavern-sa.com
Ocho: This atmospheric lounge and restaurant at the Hotel Havana has a superb food (mostly tortas and tapas), cocktail and wine menu that is rooted in the hotel’s pan-Latin cultural influences. Tequila is especially emphasized. Great for brunch too. 1015 Navarro Street, havanasanantonio.com.
Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market: One of the best Latin kitchen stores I’ve ever seen, cookbook author Melissa Guerra’seponymous shop sells hard to find items like La Chamba clay bean pots from Colombia and Dia de los Muertos sugar skull molds. 200 East Grayson suite 122, melissaguerra.com.
The Farmer’s Market at Pearl: producers-only farmers market. All Pearl Farmers Market vendors are located within 150-mile radius of San Antonio, Texas, providing fresh, local, and seasonal products that they themselves planted, raised, and harvested.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.