Bianca: And now we’ve arrived at the main reason for our US trip, papa Squads had a bit of ‘hot-dog’ research for a potential business venture and I had a date with several restaurants and cafes. Serious stuff!
The city of San Antonio is the seventh most populated US city, with an interesting mix of old and new, all not too far from the main city CBD. If you ask a San Antonio native they’d tell you they never set foot in the city CBD, rightfully dubbing it the tourist zone. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its appeal. You just have to know where to go.
The main lifeblood of San Antonio downtown is the Riverwalk. Spanning many miles, with shop fronts, restaurants and cafes lining the main populated strips. With water taxis and boat tours, you could spend a few hours exploring the canals. Some may baulk at my comparison but it was very Venice reminiscent…you know, without all the Italians.
Once we got into San Antonio we instantly noticed the increase of Hispanic/ Latino’s. Both demographically and restaurant(ically). That’s a word… don’t google it!
All up we were in San Antonio for 10 days but mum and I had a three-day Houston segue, which ate into that time. Lucky really. I’d probably suggest a stay of 3-5 days, allowing you to check out the historical and natural sights and get a good amount of eating in as well. 10 days was kinda overkill.
Our base was the Riverwalk Plaza Hotel. We had a bit of an unfortunate situation with Booking.com, so were forced to search for alternative accommodation. The location is great but that’s really where the positives stop.
The Pearl Brewery is an old brewing district now lined with cafes, restaurants, shopping, a farmers market and a Hotel. Very much in the same vain as Central Park in Sydney.
I was on a mission for a good almond croissant and that was how I stumbled on BAKERY LORRAINE. A leisurely 25-minute stroll from our hotel up the Riverwalk, we arrived to a fairly busy brunch crowd on a Saturday morning. A decadent case filled with pastries, cakes, cookies and desserts greeted us. The Almond Croissant $4 was crispy and flaky but didn’t really stand up to my Margaret River Bakery/Baked Uprising/ Agathe Patisserie experiences.
Visit on a Saturday to check out the Farmers Markets, they had a live band and the vibe was pretty cool. The Chilli Chocolate cookie $3 had a nice bit of heat and the little specks of sugar gave it a nice crunch. This was bought as a shared cookie but because it made its way back to my hotel room I ate it all. #notsorryatall.
The Hotel Emma is super luxe and for those wanting to splurge, I’d encourage it. With one of the most impressive hotel libraries, I’ve ever seen!
The hotel’s bar is another drawcard, the STERNWIRTH exuded an old world charm, making good use of the brewery architecture and machinery.
The Alamo obviously has its place because of its rich history but for pure beauty and scale, I would suggest visiting the Mission San Jose. An old historic catholic mission and one of five missions in San Antonio given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO.
FRANK was pure research, I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest fan of your typical mystery meat hotdogs but when they are done well they can be very delicious. Set in a refurbed old church, they offer hot dogs, sides and beer. Service was a little patchy but it’s worth putting up with.
The Notorious P.I.G $9.50 had a spicy pork, bacon, jalapeno and sage sausage topped with mac n cheese. It was a little hard to get a dainty uniform bite but the sausage and the bun were top quality. I didn’t care for the Mac N cheese of which we also got a side serve at $4.75.
But I think I had the winner with the Chicago Dog $5.25 a classic for a reason. Perfect ingredient ratios and a hotdog I would happily eat again. Also for ‘research’ the Canadian Waffle Poutine $10.95, potatoes, gravy and cheese curds what else is there to say really?
And not so much a dessert and more out of sheer curiosity, the Chocolate Covered Bacon $2.25 pretty much as weird as you’d think it would be but surprisingly delicious. It was sweet, salty and bitter.
HOT JOY came in at a great time to break up the heavy ‘Americana’ meals we were enjoying up to this point. I feel like a little Asian and this was continually up the top of most searches. If you’re wanting run of the mill, mild flavoured Asian food your head is literally going to explode! Back in my favourite area in King William, the menu spans curries, noodles, fried rice dishes and a Korean Fried Chicken dish. The food is BOLD so be prepared for the sensory overload. The place is pretty cool, neat little private booths and an open bar, to make good use of those happy hour specials. Something we should embrace a little more in Sydney.
The Shrimp Dumplings $11.99 had that potent tell-tale sign of Szechuan chilli, sort of that dry heat that gets caught up your nose. Wonton was the perfect thickness and a nice amount of juicy filling. Phat Se Ew $13.99 is mum’s go-to Thai dish, very similar to a Pad Se Ew. An addictive mixture of pork shoulder and gelatinous rice noodles. Green Green Curry $12.99 incidentally was a vegetarian dish, unbeknownst to my dad but he loved it. An earthy milder curry with tofu, green beans and jackfruit.
And clearly, the small flame icon near my chosen Barbeque Dan Dan Noodles $13.99 should have been a giveaway. An intense heat permeated the whole dish and once you mixed through the Cotija cheese (a Mexican cheese similar to feta) it became a uniform clumpy delight. Interesting to have the fusion ‘Mexi-Sian’ flavours. But I clearly can’t cope with the heat and I felt like I was having mini heart palpitations at the end of the meal because it was so intense. Which of course wasn’t helped by our last dish, the Hot Fried Chicken $13.99 hands down a must order. Crispy chicken thigh nugget bites coated in a fiery Sichuan chilli oil. Genius touch with the blue cheese but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s going to make it less spicy, totally worth the pain!
Again back in the King William district, we made good use of the tree-lined Riverwalk path for a leisurely stroll to GUENTHER HOUSE. The Former residence of millwright Carl Hilmar Guenther and now operates as a restaurant and museum. It’s quite a sight to see the historic house with the towering Pioneer Flour Mill behind it.
It’s quaint and all very civilised but it’s not exactly life-changing. The Breakfast Platter was a behemoth with the standouts being the two large Buttermilk biscuits (scones) and preserves. It was quite the mish mash of ingredients and I didn’t exactly care for the fact my bacon was touching the grapes. Is that weird? The Applewood smoked bacon was crisp and the sausage gravy mixture was a delicious but heavy addition to the fluffy biscuit. And I don’t think I ate a single piece of fruit in Texas that stacks up to ours.
Clearly, I found my niche in King Willian District, this time around we were at ROSARIO’S. A popular Mexican restaurant. I’d say it’s more in line with traditional Mexican opposed to Tex-Mex and dining on a Tuesday night at 6pm, they were packed. Clearly a favourite with the locals.
Complimentary corn chips and dips are always appreciated, I particularly loved the spicy salsa. The Large Guacamole $8.95 was in serious need of some salt and pepper. And I didn’t appreciate that they packed more than half the bowl with lettuce, that’s just cheating guys.
The Chicken Chipotle Quesadilla $6.95 were particularly tasty, tender chicken with a great ‘cheese pull’ totally a thing… Enchilada’s de Mole $10.95 was really all about that well-developed peanut mole sauce. I chose one beef & one chicken for my Tacos Nortenos $9.25. I enjoyed the smokiness of the beef and made good use of the salsa brought out with the corn chips, it’s called being resourceful. Got to say I’m starting to pick up the fact that I enjoy corn based tortillas over the flour.
Mum and I then had our 3 day interlude in Houston Texas which I will cover in a separate post. But back in San Ant dad was ready for a big dinner and we happily obliged. Making it the fifth meal in a row in King William district, we sidled on up to B & D ICE touted as ‘Southtown’s first true Texas BBQ’. Outside there were picnic tables and the identifiable waft of slow cooking meat. I ordered a mixed platter and we got to eating. We got ourselves some Salt & Pepper Brisket, Big Red Baby back ribs, Smoked Turkey breast, Sausage link, Green Chilli Mac N cheese, creamy coleslaw and some pickles. Which worked out to around $47. After Austin we were seriously spoilt, I’ll say that upfront. The brisket had a nice flavour, seasoning was prominent with a nice crust but it wasn’t juicy and it was a little chewy. Ribs were also on the dry side and you could really tell they were lacking that juicy melt in the mouth ‘wetness’ you get with good ribs. The turkey was probably the best thing on the plate, incredibly moist and along with the BBQ sauce, it was a winner. There was a nice smokiness to the sausage link with a great snap. The coleslaw was a good side to break up the heaviness and the Mac N Cheese was one of the better one’s we had, with a subtle heat from the green chilli. Loved the set-up and from what I heard, one of the better more authentic BBQ joints in San Antonio.
Acai Bowls are pretty hard to find in San Antonio which makes me VERY VERY happy, I hate the damn things but mum loves them. We walked 20 minutes only to arrive at URTH JUICE BAR and told that they were out of bananas, a key component of an Acai bowl… “Umm go to the store guys?” Mother was livid.
LUPE TORTILLA was jam packed on a Friday night and after waiting over an hr and a half for a table we were seated at 9pm. I liked the theatrical nature of the Tableside Guac and it was the best version we had the entire trip. My Carnita Tacos were amply filled with crispy pieces of pork tenderloin, the accompanying spicy serrano salsa was way too hot. So I found myself adding guac and queso for some moisture as the tacos were dry. I’d happily go back if I was a local, I just wouldn’t wait over an hour for a table, that’s all.
Pancakes are an American staple and it was fast becoming a crime I hadn’t any up until this point. So I made it a mission the rest of the trip to eat as many as I could. Breakfast at MAGNOLIA PANCAKE HAUS, should be on anyone’s list with a sweet tooth. I’d say they’re in the same vein as Pancakes on The Rocks but much better quality. My Apple Cinnamon shortstack $6.99 were very light and fluffy, with chunks of cooked apple. Heady hints of cinnamon and smothered in maple syrup, I liked the fact there was still some resistance to the stewed apple.
ESQUIRE on the Riverwalk instantly reminded me of an old moody speakeasy. It was atmospheric and the vibe electric. Dark wood panelling and booth seating made for an intimate experience, probably not one you’d want to be sharing with your parents (love you…..).
We went a little OTT with the booze and my warm Slayer of Jack Harris $11 – was an interesting mix of rum, pineapple juice, lime and butter was perfect for the cold night we were experiencing. If there’s alcohol to be had, guaranteed the accompanying food HAS to be greasy and heavy, it’s the law!
The Fried Mac & Cheese $11 were made all the better by the light beer batter. Not overly sickly despite being a block of fried cheesy carbs. My new obsession is Fried Pickles $6, sour and crunchy, very tasty.
My Bacon Cheeseburger $13 was everything I could ask for in a burger! An extra slice of cheese and a side order of Chilli Salt Fries $3 and I had myself a feast. The Patty was a perfect medium rare, they do know how to cook their burger patties in the states, juicy and seasoned well. The double cheese wasn’t over the top. Crispy moreish bacon. The lettuce was unnecessary and fell out the sides anyways. I wasn’t a fan of the simple sesame seed white roll, a little too hard and crumbly for my tastes. Strong recommendation from me for this one, 4.3/5 pickles.
Mum and Dad’s Wildcat burger $14 was probably the more adventurous burger with pineapple, jalapenos, habanero aioli, red pepper jelly on a brioche bun. The combo of the sweet pineapple and the spicy chilli and jalapenos was a real winner. They should totally stick to the sweeter bun across the board, so much better 4.4/5 pickles.
Our last day in San Antonio was full of food and last minute Walmart shopping (I’m obsessed). Brunch on Sundays at FEAST is a bit of King William district staple and at 10:30am a fairly sizeable queue had formed. But what makes them stand out from the crowd? A DJ pumping dance/ trance so early in the morning is pretty damn entertaining…. And a little loud might I add.
Mum’s Eggs in Hell $12 had a kick of spice with two perfect poached eggs. The creamy polenta was an interesting touch, something I wouldn’t necessarily think to pair with the dish.
Dad’s Fried Egg Sandwich $12 had all the elements you could possibly want in the morning. Especially after a big night! With generous pieces of chorizo, tomato and the real winner, truffle aioli.
But I think I had the winner with the Blueberry Pancakes $10 firstly, the price… my heart bleeds for my Sydney wallet. Two large/ thin pancakes, light and airy and accented by a hibiscus maple syrup. But really just tasted like plain ol maple syrup, soz. But what made all the difference? The orange butter. Pancakes are life!!
We had to indulge my dad, he’d been harping on about THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY since we got to San Antonio and I knew there was no way I’d be able to avoid it. He’s a creature of habit and always orders the same dish every time he goes. The Chicken Bellagio, chicken schnitzel atop basil pasta, a jillion calories but really, who’s counting?
Mum’s Filet Mignon was tender and is priced at the upper end of the scale.
Ever the burger fiend the Americana Cheeseburger had my name all over it. Two types of cheese and potato crisps made the burg a little more texturally interesting. The top bun had been toasted, so some bites were crunchy but ultimately I didn’t mind. The patty had been cooked medium rare with a nice exterior char. Honestly, it was a burger I’d be happy to eat again. 3.8/5 pickles.
And most disappointing of all? The Red Velvet cheesecake, not worth the calories!
There’s a good deal to experience in San Antonio, so I’d absolutely recommend a visit but I’d probably keep it to 3-5 days max.
Keep an eye out for Houston!!