San Antonio has long been a tourist destination for the momentous Alamo and River Walk entertainment district, but the quickly developing city is now becoming known as a top culinary destination — and for good reason. In the past several years, San Antonio has exploded with new restaurants, bars and hotels that breathe new life into the city.
Where to stay
At the center of the downtown revitalization is The St. Anthony Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which opened its doors in 1909 and quickly became a stomping ground for San Antonio’s socialites, celebrities and politicians.
A recent multimillion dollar renovation returned the hotel to its original grandeur by uncovering Venetian tile mosaics and Italian marble floors; restoring original tapestries, chandeliers and murals; and recovering the original Steinway concert piano that graced the hotel in the 1930s.
The St. Anthony’s luxurious rooms stay true to the hotel’s jewel-box design while incorporating modern creature comforts like 300-thread-count Fili D’oro linens, pillow-top mattresses, Bose speaker systems, plush robes and sleek bathroom facilities featuring walk-in showers and spacious bathtubs.
During your stay, be sure to book dinner at Rebelle, home to chef Stefan Bowers’ creative, globally inspired menu in an ultraviolet wonderland of a dining room.
Where to eat
Located just a short stroll from the hotel and set on the cypress-lined River Walk is Restaurant Gwendolyn, the city’s only 100-percent-sustainable restaurant. Chef Michael Sohocki sources only hyper-local ingredients that have been raised or produced using pre–Industrial Revolution methods. Without the use of electric appliances, he crafts the entire prix-fixe menu in house, right down to the cooking oils, which are rendered from animal fat or from the crushing of seeds.
Further down the River Walk, The Esquire Tavern, San Antonio’s oldest bar, is one of the best options for lunch in the downtown area. Enjoy well-done comfort food (like bison burgers, shrimp toast and fried pickled beets) with a view of the water before tucking away to the brand new wine- and cider-focused bar downstairs.
The Esquire, which opened on Repeal Day in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, was revitalized in 2011 and played a big role in pushing San Antonio’s craft cocktail scene forward.
Soon after, the city was consecrated as the site for a serious symposium of sipping, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, an event that annually draws bar professionals and spirits enthusiasts from across the globe each January to take master classes with top distillers and bartenders and clink glasses at events around town.
Though brunch is an embarrassment of riches in San Antonio, there’s no leaving the city without a proper Tex-Mex spread. Southtown landmark El Mirador was recently renovated by restaurateur Chris Hill (of The Esquire Tavern) and reopened this winter, serving original owner Doña Maria’s signature items, like chilaquiles and enchiladas, plus new dishes and cocktails.
La Fonda on Main, located in upscale Alamo Heights, takes pride in being the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant. Enjoy both Tex-Mex and interior Mexican dishes (plus brunch all weekend long) on the beautiful oak-tree-shaded patio.
Where to drink
Located just a few blocks from the River Walk is The Last Word, an underground bar opened by cocktail whisperer Jeret Peña and The Boulevardier Group after their first bar, The Brooklynite, made a huge splash. While The Last Word prides itself on having the most craft cocktails on tap in Texas, nearby Juniper Tar creates intricate drinks on the spot using fresh squeezed juices and handmade bitters and syrups.
Just north of downtown is Paramour, San Antonio’s first rooftop craft cocktail bar. There’s certainly nowhere else in town to hit the dance floor with a high-end drink-in-a-bag and a twinkling view of the city.
When to visit
There’s really no bad time to experience this temperate Texas city, and there are plenty of colorful celebrations (Fiesta San Antonio, April 20-30) and culinary draws throughout the year.
San Antonio Restaurant Week occurs over the course of two weeks in both January and August. Roughly a hundred local restaurants participate, offering special menus and donating a portion of their proceeds to Culinaria, a non-profit that hosts the 5K Wine and Beer Run (March 18) and the eventful Culinaria Wine and Food Festival (May 18–21).
In addition to fostering the city’s culinary arts, the organization raises money for scholarships at San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America, and is launching an educational community farm this spring as well.