Best of San Antonio 2004 — Food Part 2

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Best Takeout & Best Eclectic

Readers' & Staff Pick: The Cove

606 W. Cypress, 227-2683

The Cove came from obscurity to sweep this year's Best of, taking home the title of Best Eclectic, Best Takeout, and very nearly winning Best Vegetarian, Best Mexican Seafood, and Best Place to Take Your Kids. Co-owner Lisa Asvestas shows off one reason why: the Lisa Special, two grilled tilapia tacos topped with cilantro coleslaw and a spicy poblano cream sauce, and served with a baby spinach salad on the side. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
The Cove has certainly had an amazing year - from the viewpoint of the Current's Best of voters. Last year, the Cove didn't register on the charts, but this year, our readers selected it as the Best Takeout and the Best Eclectic - and the joint was only votes away from winning Best Vegetarian, Best Mexican Seafood, and Best Place to Take Yer Kids. Why is everybody talking about the Cove? We'd like to think that it has something to do with our favorable review, but the plain, honest truth is that the Cove is surprisingly great. It boasts a fantastic variety of dishes from standard bar appetizers, deli subs, burgers, and chicken sandwiches to an amazingly nuanced selection of vegetarian-friendly dishes, gourmet salads, and fish and shrimp creations. The variety is incredible - but the quality is what has us going back. For a Laundromat/carwash/bar combo that seems like a stoner's dream-come-true, we'd be happy to get a decent burger. But to get a thick slab of steak in the Philly cheesesteak, wrapped in a well-browned sub decked with cheese, hearty cuts of moist turkey and bacon inside a house special sub, and an honest-to-goodness all-beef hot dog under a mound of chili and cheesewell, that is just outstanding. And the prices ensure that you'll still have plenty of quarters for the laundry machines - or even money left to tip the many musical acts that rock the Cove on a regular basis. Imports are three bucks, people! How can you not love this place? LMF

Best Place to Have Lunch While on Jury Duty

Staff pick: Bill Miller's Bar-B-Q

101 W. Commerce, 229-9519

Many aspects of jury duty in the Bexar County justice system remain a mystery. Why all the hurry-up-and-wait? Why won't your cell phone work worth a damn in the holding room? Why are the chairs so uncomfortable? And why do they give you such a long lunch break? You've already spent your $6 honorarium on parking, so you may as well spend the generous 90 minutes or so of halftime enjoying the downtown street scene. Shop for a pair of cheap cheap shoes at Melrose, read the historical plaques describing the history of the San Antonio River at the River Walk entrances at the corner of Soledad and W. Market, or better yet, stroll down the way a little and get some Bar-B-Q Beef Brisket and a bucket of ice tea at Bill Miller's. There are many pleasant diversions from the alternate tedium and tension of jury duty, but for counteracting the vagaries of civil service, nothing beats the familiarity and comfort of Bill Miller's. The jail-jumpsuit orange of the BM logo may inspire a philosophical approach to sentencing, while the "Delicious Sausage Links" encourage reflection on how we are all links in the chain of antisocial behavior. Don't forget to refill your bucket on the way out - a long afternoon awaits you, and the bathrooms are just down the hall from the prospective juror holding pen. EW

Best soul food

Readers' pick: Mr. & Mrs. G's home cooking

2222 S. WW White, 359-0002

The Readers' Pick for Best Soul Food is Mr. & Mrs. G's Home Cooking. Above, chef Charles LaFond spices up a batch of pork chops before they head to the fryer. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Nathaniel Jones travels thousands of miles as a bus driver for Greyhound. And for the past 25 years, he has eaten at many, many restaurants.

So, why does he make a beeline for Mr. and Mrs. G's Home Cooking when he returns home to San Antonio?

"I love it. It's good, real good. It will bring you back," he said recently as he cleaned his plate, and ordered one to go.

Albert Morgan, a pest control specialist for San Antonio's health department, was chowing down an order of meatloaf with corn, rice, gravy, cornbread, and Will and Addie Garner's special recipe lemonade. "The food is good, it's reasonably priced, and it's a nice environment," he says.

The Garners started the restaurant 14 years ago when Will retired from military service. Addie worked in retail, and when they retired, they just fell into it. "If God has something for you to do, you just get stuck with it," says Addie.

The standards, such as fried chicken, fried pork chop smothered in brown gravy, sausage, smothered steak, ham hocks, and meatloaf, are offered from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Don't forget the other standards on the menu: Cream corn, white rice, black-eyed peas, candied yams, green beans, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and an awesome okra gumbo. Dessert includes peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, pecan, and buttermilk pie, and chocolate cake, all made from scratch.

Will is originally from Alabama, and Addie hails from Mississippi, although she grew up in Kansas City. All menu items are from family recipes, and the couple developed their own recipe for lemonade, or "Kool-Aid." The customers go crazy for it.

You might have to dodge a CPS truck, or race to the cafeteria line ahead of a squad of soldiers, or even cut in line with the locals, but one thing is for sure, once you've tried Mr. and Mrs. G's Home Cooking, you'll never want to eat at home again - or least you won't mind taking a detour for some of the finest soul food in the country.

"We love cooking," Mrs. Garner says. "And they come from miles around to eat it." MC

Best Mom n' Pop

Staff pick: Triangle Café

6733 Bandera, 509-3262

The Triangle Café is our favorite for Best Mom 'n' Pop Restaurant, with entrées such as catfish served with tropical mango sauce mixed with coconut slivers, a tomato basil sauce with a hint of tequila; and a roasted turkey sandwich on Focaccia bread. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Mom 'n' Pop are fast disappearing from American restaurant culture - at least in cities. San Antonio boasts several restaurant families, but the single café with Pop in the kitchen and Mom at the cash register (or vice-versa, of course) is definitely an endangered species - which is what makes the two-person show at the Triangle Café so unique. The place is even more distinctive by virtue of its cuisine: Breakfast may stick to Mexican classics (with some variations on the theme), but dinner is where Mexico City native Gabriel O'Farrill reveals his Cordon Bleu training in dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella and napped with a sauce of feta, sunflower seeds, and poblano, and a combo plate of New York strip and panko-breaded shrimp, both in a chipotle-cranberry sauce. Gabriel and Lorena, who holds down the front of the house, decorated the tiny restaurant themselves as well, and the whimsical murals that accent the sponged, coral walls are testimony to a team that has pooled their talents - in the kitchen and in life - to very good effect. RB

Best Chorizo Con Papas Taco

Staff Pick: James' Café

517 E. Woodlawn, 734-0043

James' Café serves up San Antonio's Best Chorizo con Papas Taco. (Photo by Laurie McKenzie)
It's an amazing creation, this chorizo con papas. It has torn at my conscience, my waistline, and occasionally, when it's not cooked well enough, at my intestines as well. Intellectually, I know the dangers: It's incredibly fatty, and it's a prime breeding ground for Mad Cow, and a host of other diseases due to its variegated mixture of organs and animals. Out of desperation, I've resorted to soyrizo - and while it's good, it can't fool me for long. It is chorizo I love, and it is chorizo I must have. And no place in town makes a better chorizo con papas than James'. Other places make 'em bigger, like Rolando's Super Taco, which turns out a hefty plateful of my favorite meal, with appealing disks of crispy potato. And many places make 'em less fattening, like Chella's Café, whose chorizo tastes more like Jimmy Dean's than Garcia's. But it is James' Café that gets it right: tangy, spicy, salty crumbles of meat melding with crispy cubes of potatoes, in a pillowy flour tortilla sodden with bright orange grease. Some-times it's too greasy, and sometimes it's not quite big enough, but sometimes it's - to quote Goldilocks - just right. LMF

Best Service

Staff pick: Las Canarias

112 College, 578-1000

Las Canarias takes the prize when it comes to Staff Pick for Best Service - and it's due to servers like Kirsten Gault. She's pictured here holding a plate of lightly dill-cured salmon epazote, epazote house-smoked salmon tartare with three caviars, resting on a pool of vodka crème fraiche. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
This is a category that could easily be broken down into various levels, the most obvious of which are white tablecloths and a paper napkin. You can easily imagine the waitress at your favorite Casa de la Cocina Mexicana (the one who always recognizes you and who keeps your iced tea glass full) as being worthy of consideration. Most of us think of Best Service with capital letters and capital expenditures, and that narrows the selection substantially.

To warm up to this a little, I've had exceptional service at Boudro's, where much of the staff has been there for years. Making guacamole tableside with flair and finesse counts, too, and so does the ability to cope coolly with both hordes of tourists and legions of faithful locals. Where knowledge of the menu counts and it should count for more, Biga wins major points, and a single diner, male or female, can be very well attended at the bar with just a bowl of Bruce's exotic noodles and a glass of white wine. But for overall classiness, exceptional wine knowledge and yellow-rose-on-the-table service, the nod goes to Las Canarias. Here, too, many members of the staff get longevity honors, the table top is impeccable, wine service is polished, and you will feel well cared for without excessive and annoying "Hi, my name is" and "is the meal to your satisfaction?" intrusions. It's all about balance, and concern vs. discretion, and Las Canarias gets it right. RB

Best Sushi

Readers' Pick: Sushi Zushi

203 S Saint Mary's, 472-2900; 9867 W IH 10, 691-3332

The Best Sushi in town can be found at Sushi Zushi, as our readers are quick to point out. Above is a plate of the sushi, sashimi, and speciality rolls that earned them this distinction. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
"The joy of sushi," indeed. With a menu that boasts more than two pages worth of small bites, it would be hard to find someone who couldn't find something they love at Sushi Zushi. With a selection and authenticity that is absolutely unrivaled in San Antonio, the restaurant does a great job of keeping locals trim with its healthy and artistic morsels. It's all in the presentation, goes one theory - and here Sushi Zushi excels, bringing out delightful tidbits that excite the aesthete as much as the ravenous. Hamachi Sashimi - slices of raw yellow tail tuna - is the ultimate harbinger of quality when it comes to sushi - and SZ's delicate, soft-as-a-lover's-tongue sashimi melts into one's mouth as though it belonged there. More Californian-style rolls are available, like the delectable Dragon Roll with Unagi Eel and Cucumber, rolled in avocado. For Texans unable to go a meal without meat (and we know you're out there), the scrumptious Beef Yakitori puts other local beef skewers to shame. SZ doesn't shy away from the esoteric, and their menu includes such delicacies as the Agedashi Tofu - a moving creature of fried tofu topped with bonito shavings, resting in a shallow pool of soy. The heat from the tofu causes the strips of bonito to writhe about in a most alarming fashion, like live worms feasting on a rotting carcass. You can't find that any place else. LMF

Best tripe - not tripas

Staff pick: Rios Meat Market

8030 S. Zarzamora, 923-4251

No, tripas is not tripe. Menudo is made with tripe, not tripas. Although both foodstuffs are hugely popular in this town, one is available and the other has gone the way of the Mad Cow.

"There hasn't been any tripas around here in a long time," growled a surly employee at Pilgrim's Pride, a national meat distributor with a local office.

Brian Haifa, proprietor of Rios' Meat Market No. 4, was more civil about dumb questions concerning the difference between tripas and tripe. Tripe (menudo/soup) is stomach, tripas (tacos) are small intestines. "We don't carry tripas anymore. Slaughterhouses stopped processing tripas after the Mad Cow disease happened," Haifa explains.

If you want tripas, you'll have to find them on the black market, or get acquainted with someone who raises cattle, and butchers his or her own beef.

Haifa says Rios Meat Market sells from 500 to 600 pounds of tripe per week to its neighbors on the South Side. Not restaurants - residents! "Menudo is popular on a cold, rainy day, that's when people make it," he said. Try some tripe in your menudo, it's only 89 cents per pound. MC

Best Pizza

Readers' Pick: Main Street Pizza

1906 N. Main, 732-8861

Main Street Pizza, always a contender, wins this year's Readers' Pick for Best Pizza. Their infamous special - a personal pizza, small salad, and drink - rests on the picnic benches that face San Antonio College. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)
The readers have spoken: Main Street Pizza is king. As a regular patron, I couldn't agree more. Sure, there are classier joints in town, with specialty ingredients, and all that jazz. But no one makes 'em like Main Street - personal-sized, fresh, and damn cheap. The ubiquitous special, the personal pizza with salad, foccaccia, and drink, has maintained more than one student's ability to focus through classes. Main Street also satisfies with a robust selection of home-style pasta favorites, like spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna, and the always-recommended pasta with garlic butter, green olives, and sliced chicken. No one is accusing Main Street of being gourmet - but sometimes gourmet isn't what you need. They've got a respectable collection of the ingredients we love best: pepperoni, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, and ricotta - plus enough veggie-friendly toppings like broccoli, mushrooms, green olives, and pineapple that even the strictest veggie among us could make peace with their meal. The always-helpful cashier is ridiculously friendly - sometimes I think this guy never has a bad day. But hey - if I were surrounded by pizza all day, I'd be in a good mood, too. LMF


RB:    Ron Bechtol
MC:   Michael Cary
LMF:  Laura Fries
LS:    Lisa Sorg
EW:   Elaine Wolff

Art    Food Pt.1    Media    Music    People & Politics    Places


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