San Antonio should be on every foodie’s bucket list. Home to the infamous Alamo, the city also boasts one of three American campuses of The Culinary Institute of America, this one focusing on Latin American flavors. Graduates hone their skills in local restaurants and influence the dining scene with innovative dishes and flavors. Of course, you’ll still find satisfying comfort food and local cuisine in San Antonio, too. Here are five restaurants not to be missed:
The student-staffed restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America pays homage to the dishes of Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries. Expect to find fresh fish, meats roasted in banana leaves, and vegetarian options on the menu. Small plates allow you to sample new flavors such as yucca, papaya, nopal (cactus), and turmeric root, so bring a friend and be a little adventurous. Another reason to come? Profits earned at Nao (pronounced "nay-oh") benefit the school’s students.
2. La Gloria
Just a few feet from Nao, chef Johnny Hernandez celebrates the street foods of Mexico at La Gloria. The menu is based on his extensive travels throughout Mexico and includes tacos, quesadillas, tlayudas (Mexican pizza), fresh ceviche, and tortas. If some of that threw you, don’t worry – the menu comes with a glossary, so you’ll know you’re getting grilled, chopped beef when you order bistec. For a special treat, follow the restaurant on Facebook and watch for limited invitations to the brunch at another Hernandez venture, Casa Hernan.
3. Bin 555
It may take a little effort to find Bin 555 – the restaurant is tucked in a shopping area called "The Alley" – but it’s definitely worth it when you do track it down. Executive chef and owner Jason Dady is a culinary rock star, cranking out creative small plates. (I salivate at the thought of his take on street corn: a corn puree shooter dusted with chile powder and cheese served on a fresh lime.) The menu constantly evolves, but you can always order a wood-fired pizza.
4. DeWese’s Tip Top Café
Gourmet is good, but sometimes you just want something simple and homey and DeWese’s Tip Top Café fits the bill. Opened in 1938 by Winnie and Pappy DeWese, the family-run restaurant serves Texas-sized portions of chicken fried steak, onion rings, and fried shrimp. Notice a theme? The deep fryers work overtime here, but what comes out is always light, crispy and oh-so-good. Save room for the pies, if you can: chocolate, banana meringue, apple, and coconut, are a few of the highlights.
5. Old Smokehouse
How can you visit Texas without a little barbecue? And if you’re looking for the best, look no further than Old Smokehouse. Although the restaurant has been in the same strip mall for the last 30 years, the interior has the look and feel of a rural roadhouse. Order your meal at the counter, and watch as the staff slices a hefty portion off a mesquite-smoked slab of brisket or pork. You also have the choice of sausage, chicken, and lamb. Yes, lamb! Food is served on paper plates with your choice of potato salad, beans or coleslaw.
What's your favorite restaurant in San Antonio – did we miss it? Tell us!