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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Plants, Politics and Pop-Ups: Running Down the Trends That Defined San Antonio’s Food Scene in the 2010s

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 12:34 PM

  • Garrison Brothers Distillery
During the 2010s, San Antonio foodies saw restaurants come and go, chefs create and move on and culinary fads percolate and decline. Here are some of the trends, changes and movements that shaped our local food scene during the decade.

1. Food Politics: What and how we eat has always been political, but San Antonians became more aware of the larger implications of their culinary choices. That ranged from how and where our food is grown to the treatment of people who harvest and serve it. We learned that how we spend our hard-earned dollars makes a difference.

2. Cocktail Culture: The closing decade marked the era that bartenders became mixologists and cocktails weren’t just shaken but crafted. Local drinking establishments took pride in broadening our palates with exotic new spirits and house-made mixers. Meanwhile, those who imbibe were willing to pay a little extra for the experience.

3. Plant-Based Eating: In an age of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, one thing is clear: you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to eat or enjoy a plant-based dining. The last decade brought an explosion of veg-focused restaurants including La Botánica, Miss Chickpea’s Bakeshop and Earth Burger to name a few. The city’s first all-vegan festival even popped up, showing that plant-based eats and drinks can be both affordable and accessible.

4. Downtown San Antonio: Forget River Walk tourist fare. Downtown dining options have grown by leaps and bounds, offer thriving nightlife and independent coffeeshops, bars and restaurants. The area isn’t just for business conferences and tourists anymore. We’ve seen Hemisfair and Houston Street transform into hotspots that draw locals for shopping, food and sips. Count on La Villita’s transformation to be next.

5. Sustainability: This decade has been a strange one for food, especially when it comes to sustainability. That word has buzzed around everything from farm-to-table restaurants to organic foods to drinking-straw bans. We’re entering 2020 with consumers and business operators more mindful of their eco-footprint and looking for ways to leave positive impacts on their city and planet.

6. Dining-Destination Status: San Antonio has always had great food, but we’re seeing more recognition these days, thanks to innovative local chefs, new restaurant openings and even a UNESCO designation as a City of Gastronomy. “It used to be that chefs could graduate here but couldn’t stay in San Antonio; they had to move out to the East or West Coast to grow,” said chef Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks. “But [great chefs] have helped to change that. There’s great food happening here in San Antonio.”

7. Pop-ups: Need a way to test a new restaurant concept? Host a pop-up. Looking to create a unique cocktail experience? Host a pop-up. San Antonio saw a ton of food and drink pop-ups during the decade, including some like Pinch Boil House, 2M Smokehouse and Best Quality Daughter that evolved into successful food trucks or brick-and-mortar operations. It’s obvious the pop-up isn’t going away any time soon.

8. Specialty Coffee: The third wave of coffee began in the mid 2000s as new shops and roasters upgraded our experiences and expectations during the past decade. “Coffee lovers are now drinking better coffee than at any time in history, and that trend is sure to continue,” said Aaron Blanco, president of Brown Coffee Co. “I see the market actually somewhat shrinking in the next few years, and we’ll start to see more outlets of [fewer] companies. The trick will be whether those companies can scale their quality as they grow their quantity.”

9. Food Online: Technology disrupted how we see, learn about and interact with food. Yelp enabled anyone — even those who don’t know what they’re talking about — to share food opinions with the world. Twitter allowed us to scream those opinions. Instagram gave us #foodporn and offered a glimpse of food culture elsewhere. Meanwhile, delivery apps such as UberEats and Favor helped us order our favorites any time and from anywhere.

10. Working Conditions: San Antonio boasts a $15.2 billion tourism industry, and during the 2010s, we saw a growing awareness of the working conditions for employees who keep it thriving. #MeToo has yet to truly rock San Antonio’s industry, but we saw support for industry members who struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues. We also saw growing demands for improved wages and a better quality of life.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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