Eat, See, Stay: San Antonio, Texas
Howdy! Recently, I went to Texas for the very first time to experience San Antonio. Growing up with a cowgirl obsession, I didn’t quite know what to expect for a modern day visit. It was only when I realized that our time would dovetail perfectly with La Gran Tamalada, a 10 year-running tamale festival, that I was about to experience such a rich tapestry of cultures (primarily via food) in just a short visit. In San Antonio, there appears to be a central trifecta of food from Texas, nearby Mexico and then Tex Mex, a fusion of the two places. On this trip, it was fascinating to meet people from all walks of life to see how their experiences lead them to Texas, and in turn, influenced what ended up on our plates.
San Antonio is also a simply pretty, well-preserved city with a small town feel - a huge feat for being the second oldest city in America and one of the largest cities! We were there for three nights, so here’s where to eat, what to see and where to stay in the great San Antonio, TX…
Food Chick’s Tex Mex Tour - WHAT AN INTRODUCTION TO SAN ANTONIO. After a few hours with Julia Rosenfeld, we couldn’t help but say with similar all-caps enthusiasm that, “YOU SHOULD RUN FOR MAYOR!'“. Julia is a food authority about town, having lived and written about the edible landscape in San Antonio for decades. She took us on a never-ending tour that astounds the senses and brings you to city staples that true food-lovers will appreciate. From snatching a hot tortilla off the assembly line at Sanitary Tortilla Company or getting to the bottom of a creamy, buttery, spicy corn cup at the roadside Fruteria La Mission - these are not experiences one takes lightly. We also stopped by at Don Martin’s Coffee Co. (check out the unique homes as you drive around King William and Southtown), Carnitas Lonjas (lovingly named “Love Handles” and recently made Esquire Magazine’s list of best New Restaurants in America, 2018 and Eater’s List of the 18 Best New Restaurants in America!), Mission San Jose - a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a must see!), La Michoacana grocery store (for those who love grocery stores in new places), Los Barrios Restaurant (enchilada party! A true establishment of Tex Mex cuisine by the warmest family) and Hargrove’s Fine Wine and Spirits (picked out some great big Texas red wines and a bottle of Seersucker Gin!). While I’m sure the list of spots changes a little bit from group to group, it’s a guarantee that wherever Julia takes you is worthwhile. Tap the right side of the photo bar below to see more of what we ate….
La Cantera Resort & Spa - More details about our stay here are below, but the food deserves it’s own mention! At La Cantera, relaxing temptations are everywhere. Perhaps most known around town is their restaurant Signature, a standalone on the property with an upscale, Southern apres-ski chalet vibe. There, we dined on apple cinnamon cocktails, seafood bouillabaisse with table-side broth pouring and a sinfully tart yet sweet raspberry tart. For a sports fix, Grill 254 is the perfect place to be with it’s sleek interior and fun takes on the classics like a modernized wedge salad, a monster 3/4 pound meatballs and baby back ribs that slip off the bone. Mornings at Sweet Tomato entail a never-ending breakfast buffet with charcuterie stations, freshly shucked seafood and hot tables to suit all your breakfast needs. Prior to our massage, we munched on green apples and teas flavoured by miniature pots of local honey. After our couple’s massage, fresh smoothies were sipped at Quench. Since it was my birthday, cupcakes and mini champagne bottles were delivered to the room. Essentially, where there is an experience to be had, there’s an equally impressive food offering within arms reach.
The Pearl - We loved The Pearl! Imagine if Toronto’s Drake Hotel had free reign on the Distillery District. This is like that. The creators have paid direct homage to the history (read all about it here) by utilizing all of the old brewery equipment to create one-of-a-kind features for the grounds, like giant water fountains or semi-private booth areas in Hotel Emma, where you can drink curated cocktails in an converted grain silo. There’s also a weekly farmer’s market and steps away are the chances try local favourites like snapper throats at Southerleigh or pristine baked goods at Bakery Lorraine. Literally, everywhere you pick is going to be great thanks to the strict approval process it takes to even get assigned a space in Historic Pearl. Topping it off, The Culinary Institute of America also has a huge campus building on site, frequently serving food at their outdoor post and changing up the themes. The Pearl was “an architects’ dream” to build and today, it’s a food-lover’s paradise to enjoy.
Maverick Texas Brasserie - Is it really a visit to Texas if you don’t try some BBQ? We went pretty fancy for our version of the state’s most celebrated meal! Maverick Texas Brasserie is the pinnacle of wood fire grill usage and the mains coming off the grill can be ordered in small and large sizes. Double down on your proteins, or get a very nice selection - it’s up to you and your group! This restaurants has multiple areas with unique rooms and alcoves to arrange private dining experiences within. For a small group, here are my hot takes off the menu: green chili mac and cheese (watch the video here!), green lentil salad, grilled quail and grilled salmon with crispy skin.
La Gran Tamalada - A once-a-year affair! If you’re planning to go to San Antonio around the holidays, definitely consider this over 10- year old festival to be the anchor of your trip. During the holiday season, it is an important tradition for families to get together and make tamales. There are several steps and components, so some say once you are anointed a role (for example, spreading the masa on the corn husk), then you are stuck with that job in the assembly line for life! First, we watched a mariachi band, then a demo by the esteemed Cortez family and then the Mayor of San Antonio and his family arrived to join in on the fun. Check out @tofoodies to watch our interview with Carino Cortez on IGTV! In the end, we ended up sampling tamales con carne from La Familia Cortez, a barbacoa tamale from Celorio Tortillas, a finale round from La Familia Cortez with a del mar tamale (shrimp, crab, and fish with Acapulco sauce) and a chicken mole tamale, and then a sweet finale from Maria Falcon with a dulce tamale of coconut, almonds and raisins. Oh, tamale!
The Alamo - Remember the Alamo? Visit, and now you’ll understand why this was said! In most simplified terms, The Alamo is a historic site in downtown San Antonio where a seriously devastating battle took place that went on to inspire another serious battle that eventually helped establish the state of Texas. “Remember The Alamo” was a rallying cry in reference to the hard battle fought before. When you’re in town, pay respect to this place.
The Alamodome - A bit surprisingly, a visit here was one of our favourite Texas experiences! A semi-final championship football game was playing between the San Antonio and Austin high schools: Judson vs. Lake Travis. As a Canadian, it was incredibly interesting to experience something so local and it really brought to life how “everything is bigger in Texas”! We sat amongst parents of the Judson team and could really feel the spirit. It honestly appeared as though both high schools’ student bodies had shown up! For each side, there was a football team, a b-level football team waiting in the wings, a cheerleading squad, a kick-line, a dance team, full video crew with instant replay capabilities and even water girls & boys! Definitely not something we’d ever see in Toronto.
The Riverwalk Cruise - Another fine way to see the city! Go Rio organizes a lovely boat cruise of the Riverwalk snaking all through San Antonio and it can be picked up at multiple locations. The boat travels in a perfect circle so where you get on is where you get off - easy! The tour gives you a bit of a history lesson (full of puns) while you take in the city from a new perspective - out on the water! We got super lucky in finding a sweet spot to line up for the cruise at 5:30, just before it was getting dark so we got to see a bit of day AND nighttime, all lit up with dangly fairy lights for the holiday season.
La Cantera Resort & Spa - I feel like I had a relationship with La Cantera. They cared for me, nurtured me, massaged me, bathed me, celebrated me and I walked away a better person. As I mentioned, it happened to be my birthday week while we stayed here and they wouldn’t let me forget it! A mimosa at the spa, champagne and cupcakes delivered to my room, special greetings at the restaurants. As a “birthday month” kind of gal, I appreciated this a lot. Gorgeous lobbies and our room was spacious with a perfect view over the main pool area with golf course in the distance, beckoning us daily. Every request was filled promptly and kindly. In the first paragraph I have listed all the details on the restaurants we ate… all on the same property…Need I say any more?
Loma De Vida - This spa is nestled away from any of the resort’s excitement with a secluded entrance and pool unto itself, allowing for ultimate relaxation. We took in to the namesake couples massage and boy, were we impressed. It included, “a unique blend of coconut oil, passion flower, shea butter and probiotics provides food for the skin” that smelt and felt perfectly Texas! Come an hour or more early so you can get into the vibe, pre-treatment. With separate male and female areas that allow nudity, you can really dive into the experience and forget the outside world. On my own time, I spent time in the hot sauna and steam rooms and there was also hot tub- nay- hot pool to swim off the salt scrub. For those colder or rainier days, it’s the perfect activity and even in sunny weather, I know we’d find ourselves by the pool and/or taking in an indoor or outdoor massage.
San Antonio, we will be back soon! XO, Danielle
In partnership with Visit San Antonio.