City Portrait

San Antonio’s Hot Spots

The Alamo isn’t the only thing in San Antonio worth remembering

photo: Buff Strickland

The bar is open at Hotel Havana.

Eat & Drink

The Luxury's shipping containers turned dining depot.

photo: Buff Strickland

The Luxury’s shipping containers turned dining depot.

Alamo Street Eat Bar
The DJ is playing early San Antonio Chicano funk on his turntable, friendly chefs work food trailers with names like the Institute of Chili and Where Y’At, and nearly everyone is watching the Spurs play on the big screen. Once the much-loved Acapulco Drive Inn, this outdoor “urban gourmet food truck park” is one of San Antonio’s favorite places to grab a beer and unwind. 609
 S. Alamo St.; alamostreeteatbar.com

Bite
With only seven tables and a menu of tapas-style dishes such as the succulent pato olivo and crostini piled high with Serrano ham, everything about chef Lisa Astorga-Watel’s bite-size restaurant is compact. Except for
the flavor. 1012 S. Presa St.; biterestaurantsa.com

Bliss
You might think this popular Southtown restaurant gets its name from the taste bud tap dance that accompanies the oyster sliders with candied bacon or the Duck/Duck/Foie Gras. But the upscale eatery is actually named for its owner and chef, Mark Bliss, whose delicious inventions have San Antonio foodies buzzing. 926 S. Presa St.; foodisbliss.com

The Brooklynite
The owners call this discriminating drinkers’ den a “cocktail parlor,” and certainly the antique sofas and damask wallpaper make it feel as cozy as your great-aunt’s drawing room. But chances are your great-aunt’s cocktails weren’t like those concocted by James Beard Award nominee Jeret Peña. With names like the Pork Chop Express, Mas Chingoni, and the Stinky Pig #2 (made with bacon bourbon, maraschino, Punt e Mes, and mescal), Peña’s inventions are every bit as bold as they sound. 516 Brooklyn Ave.; thebrooklynitesa.com

Cured
Organized by protein—bird, pig, beef, buffalo, goat, lamb, seafood—the menu at former Lüke San Antonio chef Steve McHugh’s new spot at the revamped Pearl Brewery complex takes a meat-centric approach. Expect house-cured charcuterie plates and dishes such as slow-cooked heritage hog with smoked andouille sausage and okra. There’s a daily veggie option too. 306 Pearl Pkwy., Ste. 101; curedatpearl.com

A bartender shakes things up at the Esquire.The Esquire Tavern
The bordello-like Esquire first opened its doors in 1933, and the party has hardly stopped since, save for a major overhaul from 2006 to 2011. With a balcony that spills over the River Walk and an upgraded cocktail menu, the new incarnation sees far fewer bar fights (and the metal detectors are gone) but stays true to the original Esquire’s gritty tavern roots. Its famous bar—“over 100 feet of beer-soaked wood rubbed smooth by the elbows of a zillion tipplers”—is reputed to be the longest in Texas. And that’s saying something.
155 E. Commerce St.; esquiretavern-sa.com

La Gloria
If there is any one restaurant in San Antonio that has the most folks shaking their maracas, it’s La Gloria, which means “heaven” in Spanish. Its coveted location at the Pearl Brewery, on the banks of the San Antonio River, might have something to do with the restaurant’s popularity. But it’s the addictive molcajetes, ceviches, and tlayudas—traditional street foods of interior Mexico—that really keep the tables turning.100 E. Grayson St.; chefjohnnyhernandez.com/lagloria

A spread at La Gloria.

photo: Buff Strickland

A spread at La Gloria.

The Luxury
Eating out of a shipping container shouldn’t feel this good. But San Antonians can’t get enough of the casual haute cuisine that emerges from chef Andrew Weissman’s two tricked-out metal boxes parked along a pretty, unpopulated stretch of the river. Snag a place at a picnic table at the all-outdoor venue, order a Weeping Tiger Thai salad (tender marinated steak heaped over a pile of Thai basil, mint, cilantro, and fresh greens), and rustle up a beer and a game of bocce while you wait. 103 E. Jones Ave.; 210-354-2274

Mi Tierra
If a piñata full of bright bits of Mexican kitsch were to burst, the resulting wonderland of color might look something like the interior of Mi Tierra, downtown San Antonio’s Mexican food landmark. The enchiladas are ultra-cheesy and the margaritas flow easily, but best of all, the kitchen never closes. 218 Produce Row; mitierracafe.com

The Monterey
With a two-toned vintage Mercury Monterey parked out front, this Southtown spot offers inventive food without trying too hard. There are daring little dishes with big names like “fried Brussels, chicken fat-mustard vin, honeyed pecans,” good affordable wines, and a list of sherries that shake off the drink’s old-lady rep. It’s hip but not too hip. 1127 S. St. Mary’s St.; 
themontereysa.com

Ocho lights up the night.

photo: Buff Strickland

Ocho lights up the night.

Ocho
Like the smooth Cuban rums on its impressive drinks list, Hotel Havana’s Ocho is both dark and light. The moody downstairs bar is lined in low leather chairs and lit with hundreds of candles, while the glass-walled upstairs dining room, with gigantic crystal chandeliers and a gorgeous view of the river, is as bright and fresh as its now famous mint mojitos. 1015 Navarro St.; havanasanantonio.com

La Tuna Grill
Before Texans had refrigerators, they had icehouses—tavern-like shops that distributed blocks of ice used to cool down neighbors’ iceboxes. Beloved by locals, La Tuna, named for the cacti that dot its patio, is one of the few remaining originals. With good pub grub, a great beer selection, and plenty of outdoor seating, it’s an ideal spot to sit by the bonfire on a cold night, or beneath the shade of a pecan tree on a hot one. 100 Probandt St.; latunagrill.com


Shop

Fiesta on Main
Walking through the doors of this unassuming old Victorian house is
like taking a quick trip south of the border, only you don’t need a passport. Stock up on everything from Día de los Muertos decor to cascarones (brightly hued, confetti-filled eggs) to affordably priced embroidered blouses. 2025 N. Main Ave.; alamofiesta.com

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market
There’s no better way to get to know a city than to meet the people who grow its food. Every Sunday (except Easter), rain or shine, eat-local devotees flock to this outdoor market to scoop up field-fresh fruits and veggies along
with artisan meats, honey from fifth-generation Texas beekeepers, hand-churned butter, organic tamales, prickly pear cactus pies, you name it. Not sure what to do with those Mississippi purple hull peas? Vendors are more than happy to share recipes and cooking tips. 255 E. Basse Rd.; quarryfarmersmarket.com

Pottery at the Tiny Finch, located at the Pearl Brewery.

photo: Buff Strickland

Pottery at the Tiny Finch, located at the Pearl Brewery.

Shops at the Pearl Brewery
In a wonderful stroke of civic ingenuity, many of the city’s best locally owned boutiques are now clustered together at the overhauled Brewery. Hit the Tiny Finch for gorgeous high-end gifts, from letterpress cards to ikat pillows. Browse the shelves at the Twig Book Shop, the city’s longest-running indie bookstore, for titles by local authors. Then head to Dos Carolinas for handsomely crafted custom guayaberas. 303 Pearl Pkwy. #300; atpearl.com


Sleep

Hotel Havana
Renovated in 2010 by Texas hotelier Liz Lambert, this classic 27-room inn sits on the sleepier section of the River Walk and exudes old-world charm à la cubana. A 1914 Mediterranean Revival, the building has Bastrop pine floors that may creak, but its wrought- iron beds, low lighting, and lush landscape nab it the prize for the city’s most seductive stay.1015 Navarro St.;

havanasanantonio.com

Hotel Valencia
Sleek without being slick, the Valencia proves that a modern boutique hotel can be both streamlined and supremely comfortable. Stone and raw wood surfaces are softened by rich details—oversize leather chairs, monogrammed sheets, and faux mink throws—that pamper without being fussy. And you can’t beat the location, deep in the heart of downtown. 150 E. Houston St.; hotelvalencia-riverwalk.com


The restored Mission San José.

photo: Buff Strickland

Mission Statement

The restored Mission San José.

See & Do

Blue Star Arts Complex
The oldest contemporary art space in town, the nonprofit Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum anchors this creative center, which is also home to some of the city’s best galleries. Stop in Cinnabar, a new space founded by daring young curator Susan Oliver Heard. The first Friday of the month, Blue Star residents host an all-out arts bash, spilling into the surrounding Southtown streets. If driving, get there early to avoid the parking mayhem.1414 S. Alamo St., Ste. 117-2; bluestarartscomplex.com

Charreada
Clad in traditional garb—silver belt buckles, close-cropped jackets, and wide-brimmed hats—charros compete in roping and riding events as rodeo teams rather than individuals. Old vaqueros cook tacos, and señoras peddle Mexican beer for a dollar. To say that this is just a rodeo is like saying the Spurs are just a basketball team. No, the Charreada surpasses; it is a pachanga, a Mexican-cowboy party that springs from the depths of this city’s fun-loving soul. sacharros.org

The Mission Historic District
In the 1700s, when the Spaniards were taking over Texas, Catholic missionaries didn’t just build churches; they built compounds—beautiful stone architectural feats unlike anything else in Texas. Thanks to the recently completed Mission Reach River Walk extension, you can start out by the Alamo and walk to the edge of the historic Mission District, just over eight miles from downtown. If you prefer to pedal, take advantage of the city’s B-cycle bike rental program. nps.gov/saan


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