WINNER: Bakery Lorraine
306 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 110 • (210) 862-5582
> Bakery Lorraine introduced SA to a new age of classy baking at their previous cottage location on Grayson Street. With the move to Pearl, the options have only increased — without any of the potential slip in quality that such a shift might imply. Multi-colored macarons still beguile, especially in unexpected flavors like Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate cassis. If you get there early enough (and who says you can't have full-on dessert at 9 a.m.), there are exotic muffins, classic pains au chocolat and not-your-toaster's-normal pop tarts to fall in love with. Cookies (sorry, we can't resist) are good at all hours. And bread pudding can be had in both sweet and savory versions. Get there early for desserts such as the raspberry lemon cake and a carrot cake with both lighter body and frosting that's not merely cloying cream cheese. Tarts will be gone early on, too, but order ahead for your next swell soirée. Your guests will swoon in appreciation.
207 Broadway • (210) 639-3165
3. La Popular Bakery
2. Bird Bakery
5912 Broadway • (210) 804-2473
3. Cake Crumbs
1218 W. Bitters Road • (210) 906-3783
TIE: Il Sogno
200 E. Grayson St. • (210) 223-3900
5146 Broadway • (210) 824-0055
> San Antonio, you sly dog. Turns out, you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want refined squid ink risotto on china, and you want old-school lasagna on a vinyl tablecloth. That's why we chose both Il Sogno and Sorrento as the best Italian in the city. Who can blame us for loving both the high brow and the low? Andrew Weissman's Il Sogno is where you go to rub elbows with some of San Antonio's finest and eat housemade pastas, charcuterie and delectable desserts. Anna Ciccone's Sorrento is where you can nosh on a damn fine vegetable pizza and all of the old-school pastas with meat and cheese in them.
In some ways, these restaurants couldn't be more different. Andrew Weissman is CIA-trained and a multiple James Beard Award nominee. The late Gino Ciccone immigrated from Italy to the United States and worked as an unheralded chef before coming to San Antonio. Il Sogno is housed in the ever-growing Pearl Brewery, has a wall of wine, a charcuterie browsing station and white tablecloths. Sorrento is in a strip center on Broadway between a liquor store and a bar and has metal chairs and a whiteboard full of daily specials.
But both are fiercely beloved and patronized by their respective clientele. Regulars at both restaurants are recognized and greeted warmly by staff. And those of us who follow the food scene in San Antonio agree that we love them both equally. If you'll excuse us, we're going to go stuff our faces now.
926 S. Presa St. • (210) 225-2547
Beyond the obvious draw of solid New American cuisine served in a stylishly restored Southtown filling station, chef Mark Bliss' namesake restaurant boasts one of the city's most unique and wide-ranging wine lists. Curated by manager/maître d' Daria Kossowska — who's originally from Poland and studied at the American Sommelier Association in New York — the selection is sourced from up to nine different distributors and represents wine-producing regions across the globe. Approachable, eclectic and periodically updated with unusual new finds, the Bliss list runs the gamut from $8 and $9 glasses (an Italian rosé and Spanish rioja among them) to bottles that span from $31 (for a 2013 Nortico Alvarinho from Portugal) to $210 (for a 2012 Napa cab out of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars). Heavy hitters like Opus One ($475) and Cristal ($440) top a small reserve list focusing on European and California wines. Thanks to its handy Le Verre de Vin Tower (a device that extracts air from bottles of still wines and injects CO2 into bottles of bubbly),
the restaurant can serve higher-end offerings by the glass, including Veuve Clicquot for $26 and a Penfolds Bin 407 for $25. In keeping with Bliss' relaxed approach to fine dining, the snug bar area and low-key patio set the stage for sipping wines and sampling new things. As Kossowska puts it, "Glasses of wine are like grandma's cookies, you can never have just one."
WINNER: Two Bros BBQ Market
12656 West Ave. • (210) 496-0222
> Let's be real — barbecue in San Antonio is not hard to come by. But barbecue that is consistently juicy, mouth-watering, perfectly seasoned and all the other good things barbecue should be, well, now, that's a different story. Two Bros BBQ Market, opened by brothers Jason and Jake Dady in 2008, serves up barbecue family style, putting it in the top spot to take someone who's visiting the Alamo City. Pit Master Laura Loomis won't disappoint.
The restaurant's menu consists of the classics: brisket, pulled pork and turkey, as well as Two Bros' famous cherry-glazed baby back ribs, a crowd pleaser your guests will surely enjoy. With smoked stuffed jalapeños and deep fried mozzarella "logs," this is not a place to skip out on the sides. And let's not forget the deep fried strawberry pie or purple cow grape soda float for dessert.
The barbecue joint's shaded patio is spacious and great for large parties with a playground and sandbox for the kiddos. Enjoy live music on the weekends, or challenge your friends to a bocce ball match. Or, if you just wanna hang out, you can do that, too. A second location is in the works, but, until then, get there early because "when it's gone ... it's gone." Really. Two Bros has been known to sell out, so you'll want to be the first in line.
This place has everything you need to make your guests happy, so if you're not taking them to Two Bros, you're not showing them what SA barbecue is all about.
306 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 101 •(210) 314-3929
There's a lot to love about Cured — the historic venue, the fine dining but relaxed level of service, the varied and seasonal menu, the thoughtful wine list and Cicerone-picked beer selection are all definitely part of what makes dining here, in the hands of James Beard Awards Foundation finalist Steve McHugh and his staff, an experience. But that experience wouldn't be complete without a spread of meats, pickles and jams prepared by the kitchen and cured anywhere from 30 days to 12 months. These perfectly plated platters — available in your choice of three, six or nine meats at $18, $26 and $34, respectively — are a must-have during any visit. Choose from more than 15 options (this obviously means you'll have to come back to try all of them at least once more) including apple jalapeño pork rilletes, currywurst, smoked duck ham or 60-day Coppa, or let your server decide for you. Though it means letting go of any ounce of control you may want with regard to the board, the wave of relief/joy that washes over you once your charcuterie hits the table is palpable. Our latest excursion featured the (for a small up-charge) fierce lamb culatello, subtle pork jowl and the always-heavenly chicken liver mousse. Though the meats stand tall (or hang from the see-through cooler, rather) all on their own, the house-made pickles, jams, jellies and thin Brewer's Crackers all help make this the best charcuterie board in San Antonio, regardless of who's choosing the meats.
WINNER: Pharm Table Restaurant
106 Auditorium Circle • (210) 802-1860
Leave any inhibitions at the door when entering the Radius Building. No, this won't look like your typical restaurant, and that's a good thing. Instead, Pharm Table adds rustic tables and homey touches to a decidedly funky space that serves as the near-perfect ambience for chef Elizabeth Johnson's foray into Ayurvedic healing and feeding. Now, before you turn up your nose, have a look at the menu.
Even most well-versed foodies will struggle to identify half of the items listed. Johnson and her tiny staff use as many local ingredients as possible, while trying to replicate dishes and flavors found in the world's blue zones, or areas where people tend to live longest. You won't find dairy, sugar or gluten in any of the starters, soups, salads, combos, plates or bowls, but you will find new ways to enjoy beets, jicama, carrots and more, served using techniques you might never have imagined. The kitchen is essentially vegan (Pharm Table uses only nut milks for creamy dressings and desserts), but this is Texas and Johnson knows animal proteins will keep her growing clientele sated. Stop in for a kitcheri bowl of sprouted rice, lentils and spices commonly used in Indian and South Asian cooking or load up on roasted veggie tacos on corn tortillas with carrot salsa, but not before noshing on the (optional and $2) Ayurvedic meal starter of pickled ginger, lemon juice, raw honey, mineral salt and fresh herbs. You'll be glad you did.
WINNER: Ray's Drive Inn
822 SW 19th St. • (210) 432-7171
It's been an emotional six months for everyone at Ray's Drive Inn. Last October, patriarch Arturo H. Lopez, the man behind the puffy taco, passed away. Since then, his daughter Maria "Lali" Rambo, and son, John Louis Lopez have been running things at the West Side eatery. Rambo says they're doing it to honor their father. "We want to keep it going because it's part of the culture and is my father's legacy," she said. "There is also a lot of nostalgia here. I always hear people saying, 'I used to come here when I was little.'" This year, the restaurant celebrates its 60th anniversary in San Antonio. While Ray's features a nice assortment of menu items, it's definitely the puffy tacos that keep patrons coming back for more. These stuffed pockets of deep-fried tortilla heaven can be packed with beef, chicken, carne guisada, fajita, beans, avocado or fish, not to mention all the fixings like lettuce, tomato and jalapeños. It's safe to say Austin won't be trying to steal this taco from San Antonio anytime soon. Just as the restaurant's neon sign proclaims, Ray's is the "home of the original puffy taco." And what better way to eat some Tex-Mex comfort food than listening to a little Sunny and the Sunliners on the jukebox and drinking some freshly squeezed lemonade? Call us old fashioned, but we even love the fact that Ray's doesn't accept debt/credit cards. You don't got cash? You ain't eating!
WINNER: Niki's Tokyo Inn
819 W. Hildebrand Ave. • (210) 736-5471
> When you combine its odd location on a grubby strip of Hildebrand and its decidedly unfussy facade, there can be a slightly ominous, David Lynchian vibe to one's arrival at Niki's Tokyo Inn. But once inside, the space reveals itself as a quirky, inviting and entirely authentic Japanese establishment. Proudly "San Antonio's first family-owned Japanese restaurant," Niki's offers three distinct seating options — an L-shaped sushi bar equipped with pink Naugahyde swivel chairs, a classic "American" dining area and a traditional Japanese tatami-style room where guests sit on cushions on the floor. If you're dining with a date or group, definitely opt for the relaxed confines of the tatami room (no shoes allowed, so wear cute socks).
But if you're flying solo, it's hard to beat the view from the sushi bar. Not only do you get a glimpse of what's being prepared, you'll be privy to friendly banter between the mother and daughter sushi chefs. Don't expect the bells and whistles of "modern" and "fusion" sushi. No cream cheese, fruit-topped rolls or caterpillar-shaped creations to be found here; this is strictly the real deal. Consider starting with a cucumber and octopus salad or a tempura appetizer before moving on to impossibly fresh sashimi, simple but satisfying maki, or one of many combination dinners (the 10-course meal for $18 is hard to beat). On slower week nights, you might even be lucky enough to be taken care of by head waiter Pat, a wealth of knowledge who's both a San Anto original and a highly amusing storyteller.
300 E. Travis St. • (210) 352-3171
It makes sense for this year's Best Chef to helm this year's Best New Restaurant. As Rebelle opened its doors late last year, Stefan Bowers had to have known the stakes were high. How does one nonchalantly open a new American eatery that'll retain fans of sister restaurant Feast while luring a healthy number of Downtown diners and tourists to a 107-year-old hotel? Well, you cherry-pick an ace team of kitchen rebels and let them deliver a tight menu under the direction of Bowers. Dinner at Rebelle is an intimate affair as you navigate the dim lighting while noshing on delicate seafood plates, luxuriously seared and buttered steaks and thoughtful "slow and low" plates like the cassoulet Rebelle or duck confit.
Five months into its tenure at the remodeled hotel, Rebelle's launched an abridged lunch menu — if you don't order the green curry chicken you're not doing it right — that happens to be one of the best deals in town come noontime for all those power lunch meetings you keep meaning to have. And if the brunch line at Feast on Sundays exacerbates your hangover, Rebelle's new brunch (think double burger, Belgian waffles, lemon-lime crepes and herb-infused four-egg omelette) inside the same dimly lit interiors should become a refuge from the glaring sun — Ray-Bans are optional.