Where to Eat Right Now: 12 Restaurants We Love 

303 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 111, (210) 670-7684 botikapearl.com

A little more than a year ago, San Antonio lost one of its first Pearl complex eateries, and the vacant space once occupied by Arcade Midtown Kitchen had its fair share of speculation swirling around it.

Though even Geronimo Lopez had heard whispers of Tyson Cole’s Uchi maybe, sorta, kinda in talks to fill the void, we’re pretty sure the chef is more content with what currently fills the spot.

Botika, announced in March and opened in July of 2016, is Lopez’s take on two new-to-SA ways of cooking. He blends Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) methods to winsome results. Think fresh sashimi-grade fish meets comforting South American classics. Lopez’s opening menu, executed effortlessly with a staff mostly developed during his days as executive chef at the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio’s NAO, features familiar dishes to the San Antonio palate. The picaderas (appetizers) feature duck confit and potato empanadas, tuna tartar and crackers, and anticuchos, though these aren’t the same one you’ll find while stumbling around NIOSA during Fiesta.

The Peruvian-style ceviches — available in Nikkei, classic and Chifa — are worth exploring, while the sushi rolls keep with the restaurants fun and funky theme.

Whispers of Arcade remain, but they’re just that. The industry-chic look designed by Urbanist Design (now part of Clayton & Little’s San Antonio office) contains flurries of color as orchestrated by Courtney + Co design firm. Touches of teal velvet dot the bar stools along with pairs of Peruvian pom poms, while a chandelier of baskets works the main entrance. The open kitchen, pushed forward to add a sushi bar, which is guarded by a fierce Hilmy-designed dragon.

You’ll want to take it all in over cocktails, which Botika also nails. Pisco sours, anyone? -JE

  • Photo by Sarah Flood-Baumann

Baan Esaan
1035 S. Presa St., (210) 354-3772, baanesaan.com

Baan Esaan’s Albert Smith is a cocky, confident guy. Half Anglo, half Thai, he handily spins tales about trekking through Thailand’s vast Esaan province, learning about the cuisine and culture and teaching the locals a thing or two about cooking. The rest of us need to learn a thing or three, at least.

Esaan (sometimes spelled Isaan — or simply Isan) is the kingdom’s easternmost region, bordered on three sides by Laos and Cambodia. It’s poor, little visited, and, from most accounts, not necessarily high on one’s Asian bucket list (though locals and expats would doubtlessly disagree). The hardscrabble cooking that results from what The Rough Guide has called “appallingly infertile soil” is nevertheless both vibrant and subtle, qualities that are equally on display in Baan Esaan’s dining room.

At the head of Baan Esaan’s menu is somtum, the spunky-spicy salad of green papaya that is an Esaan specialty. As served here, the salad – laced with shredded carrot and presented with romaine leaves that accompany many dishes – is a marvel of limey, fish-sauce flavors played against the papaya’s clean crunch. The rendition with slivered Granny Smith apple is, surprisingly, a more-than-worthy alternative.

Laab, also known as larb, is another northeastern favorite, one that also happens to be the national dish of neighboring Laos. It’s available with minced beef, pork or chicken, and I have to assume that all three are treated equally as I’ve never made it past pork; it’s just too good. Lime, lemon grass and mint dominate, and the heat level can vary depending on the aggressiveness of that day’s chiles. My advice: stick to medium heat but be prepared to tolerate variances.

Outright great is the kaw moo yang, which translates as marinated and grilled pork shoulder. This is traditionally made with pork neck (but, hey, the neck bone is connected to the shoulder bone) and is sometimes presented with a spicy fish sauce, lime, chiles, traditionally a little palm sugar and toasted, cracked rice. Best of all, however, may be the Baan Esaan sausages, cured, fried and bursting with lemongrass flavors. In a display of naked confidence, they are served only with lime and Thai bird chiles. Yes, you must. -RB

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRYAN RINDFUSS
  • Photo by Bryan Rindfuss

Brigid/Francis Bogside
803 S. St. Mary’s St., (210) 263-7885, (210) 988-3093

Change is hard for some people. Uncertainty, newness all swirl around menu and staff changes, but at its core, the changes happening at Brigid/Francis Bogside, Stephen Mahoney’s restaurant/bar concept have been generally appealing.

The menu, currently a collaborative effort by Justin Richardson, Halston Connella, Evan Martinez and Noel Hallagan, features Continental fare as executed by the foursome and their staff. Brigid has retained that level of fine dining first found during its opening, but the guys are having more fun with the specials board, often filled with creative takes on duck, the occasional bouillabaisse lobster spaghetti, elegant and flowery charcuterie boards and a popular brunch spot come weekends.

If technique and elegance are part of the formula for Brigid, then skill and whimsy are what’s in store at Francis Bogside, where the chefs' South Texan upbringing blends to create elevated bar fare. A standard menu applies here, with standouts like the Thai fried chicken and green chicken curry, but the specials are where the staff really lets loose with clams and bacon, a nacho bar come Tuesdays, pork belly quesadillas, and grilled oysters. It’s great, locally sourced, inventive food sans the stuffy setting.

Don’t get too familiar with this menu as Martinez and Richardson make their way to Hanzo, Mahoney’s next venture, a Japanese-style Izakaya or gastropub opening in the Lincoln Heights area. And there’s more change on the way as Connella, who’s known for his Rebel Pizza concept, tweaks the recipe for his already popular pies. The oven’s on. Are you ready for the next menu? -JE


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