San Antonio Dining

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San Antonio Dining
San Antonio's food scene is influenced by a multitude of cultures and the presence of the Culinary Institute of America’s campus. From local Tex-Mex to haute cuisine and food trucks to cantinas, diners are sure to find a meal to remember.
By Lara Dalinsky, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Texas-Style Barbecue
    Barbecue is a big deal in the Lone Star State. Ribs, beef brisket, chicken, pork, or sausage are smoked slowly over coals until tender and seasoned with sauce or dry rub. Texans like things big, so barbecue is ordered by the pound here. With so many restaurants, a good way to sample the city’s many options is to attend an area cook-off. If that’s not possible, local favorites like Rudy’s or Conger’s Smoke Shack are always a good bet, with Granary 'Cue & Brew a more modern take. Remember: No barbecue is complete without tasty sides dishes like potato salad, coleslaw, cream corn, or pinto beans.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Puffy Tacos and Other Tex-Mex
    There’s no shortage of Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants in Alamo City—there are hundreds of area taco joints and taquerias that serve traditional favorites like enchiladas, flautas, quesadillas, and tamales. One delicacy that is native to San Antonio and should not be missed is the puffy taco. This dish is made of masa dough that is deep fried until it bubbles and puffs into a light and flaky shell that can be stuffed with filling. There’s much debate over who serves the best: Ray’s Drive Inn, Henry’s Puffy Taco, Oscar’s, Jacala, or Taco House. The only way to decide is to sample them all.
    Photo courtesy of Henry’s Puffy Taco
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    Food Trucks
    Like its neighboring city of Austin, San Antonio’s food truck scene is flourishing and offers some of the tastiest fare in the city at affordable prices. With a diverse range of cuisines, there’s a little something for everybody: Tex-Mex, Pakistani street food, Korean, seafood, tapas, grilled cheese, and even chocolate. Fans can usually track the location of their favorite vehicles online. A couple of food truck parks—like Alamo Street Eat Bar, The Point Park and Eats, and The Block SA—have popped up in the area, making it easier for diners to sample the specialties of more than one truck at once.
    Photo by Nan Palmero
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    Craft Breweries
    San Antonio is gaining ground as a top destination to experience craft beers. Over the past several years, the area has become home to nearly a dozen breweries. Enjoy a beer by the river at the city’s oldest operating brewery, Blue Star Brewing Company, or try ambers, ales, and IPAs made from regional ingredients at Branchline Brewing's open houses. Enthusiasts wishing to sample a variety of all the area's brews should head to local hangouts like Stella Public House (which also serves great pizza), kid- and pet-friendly The Friendly Spot Ice House (a kind of open-air bar), or take a craft brewery tasting tour led by the Spoiled Palate.
    Photo by Rey Madolora
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    Dining on the Patio
    With average high temperatures that range from the mid-60s into the 90s, San Antonio has the perfect weather for eating "al fresco." Patio restaurants are a popular pastime along the River Walk and the surrounding neighborhoods. The best time to sit outside is in the late afternoon, when the hot sun begins to retreat and the cooling evening breezes kick in. Try The Cove for an offbeat patio restaurant that exemplifies San Antonio’s unique outdoor dining culture. Ocho Lounge, another popular San Antonio spot, features a swanky patio on the river.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Chili con Carne
    Chili con carne is so treasured in Texas that it was designated the official state dish in 1977. This version of chili originated in San Antonio in the mid 1880s as a spicy stew of chili peppers, beef, and spices. By the end of the 19th century, commercial stands were set up in the city’s plazas and bowls were sold by charismatic Mexican women, popularly referred to as “chili queens.” Nowadays, this fiery dish can best be savored on the banks of River Walk at Casa Rio or grabbed to go at the revered Institute of Chili food truck. Purists can eat chili on its own, while the more adventurous may order it in delectable dishes like Frito pie and chili-cheese dogs.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Hill Country Wine Trail
    Texas is one of the largest wine producers in the United States. Hill Country, the region between San Antonio and Austin, has soil conditions similar to northwest Italy and there are over 40 wineries to explore along the area’s wine trail. At the top of the list are Alamosa Wine Cellars, known for its tempranillo, and Becker Vineyards, a scenic spot to sample fruity rieslings and rich cabernet blends. Tours and tastings are available all year long, but the best times to visit are in May for the Culinaria wine and culinary arts festival and in October for the Texas Wine Month Trail.
    Photo by B. Bourdages/age fotostock
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    Local Cantinas and Dive Bars
    Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than the simple pleasure of walking into a restaurant in a T-shirt and jeans to enjoy strong drinks and satisfying food in a colorful atmosphere. A laid-back culture and casual vibe makes San Antonio a prime locale for cantina and dive bar culture. Festive cantinas like Rosario's Mexican Cafe y Cantina and Tito’s are a short distance from downtown, with good reputations for serving fresh margaritas and Tex-Mex fare. Alternatively, neighborhood bars like Texas T Pub, The Texan II, and Bar America are no-frills joints where it’s easy to unwind with cheap drinks and good company.
    Photo by Danny Hooks/age fotostock
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    Contemporary American
    The River Walk and downtown areas of San Antonio are home to a growing scene of chefs who are putting a creative twist on American regional cuisine. This increase in fine dining options is due in part to the presence of top talent who studied at the Culinary Institute of America campus at the Pearl Brewery complex. Restaurants like Cured, the Fig Tree Restaurant, and Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden elevate menu classics like hamburgers, seafood, and steaks through the use of locally sourced, top-quality ingredients and innovative preparation techniques.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Crawfish Boils and Oyster Bakes
    San Antonio is within two hours of the Gulf Coast, which means ready access to fresh seafood. Springtime is high season for two of the city’s favorite shellfish—crawfish and oysters. In April, the Fiesta Oyster Bake is a popular weekend-long celebration where more than 100,000 oysters are featured baked, fried, and raw, with continual live music complementing the feast. Crawfish boils take place weekly at local restaurants like Lüke and Where Y’At food truck, and also pop up at neighborhood events. This succulent crustacean is also available at several Cajun-inspired joints, including Acadiana Café and Dry Dock Oyster Bar.
    Photo by age fotostock