2195 NW Military Hwy., (210) 503-5121, clementine-sa.com
From the looks and tastes of the Clementine menu, John [Russ] spent the last year fine-tuning the restaurant’s concept of “seasonal Southern and American eats.”
Don’t visit Clementine expecting fried chicken or a burger or collard greens. Visit for some of the city’s best vegetable dishes (Fun fact: Elise is vegetarian, so John has had some practice). Start with the white mushroom salad with extra virgin olive oil, Valley Citrus, parsley, pecorino and pomegranate seeds. It’s rich, textured, and a new way to convert mushroom-averse eaters.
Then pivot to the buttered turnips — yes, turnips — tossed with greens, red pepper flakes for some heat, fish sauce and a sassy sesame streusel. Again, there’s texture, there’s playfulness and there’s flavor. Try the green cabbage and spring garlic, which is served with lots of butter, and the thinnest, crispiest garlic chips (kudos to kitchen for their knife skills). Definitely don’t miss the ricotta cavatelli, pillowy one-inch pasta twirls with broccoli pesto, Sichuan pepper and toasted pecans.
This is where I implore you to spring for the “Feed Me” option, which asks the diner to “entrust Chef Russ with your dining experience, he and his team will create a menu especially for you highlighting the flavors of the season. Starting at $54 per guest (based on entire table participation).”
African Village Eritrian
10918 Wurzbach Road, Suite 131, (210) 467-5102, ethiopianrestaurantsat.com
African Village is located in a commercially and culturally diverse shopping center at Vance Jackson and Wurzbach. Its neighbors include a donut shop, a bagel outlet, a tamal tienda, a pizza joint and a halal “fashion” store and grocery, among others. I swear that I have reviewed at least two different restaurants in the same location over the years. There is nothing about African Village’s marigold-hued décor that will especially set it apart from any of those; the excitement here is in the food and in the manner of its presentation. Almost everything is served either on or with teff-based injera bread. It’s springy in texture, lacy, slightly sour — and it serves as a kind of spongy spork. Yes, aided by injera, you eat with your fingers. Curry will linger there. Just saying.
By all means order the sambuusa. These tiny dough-encased triangles are similar to Indian samosas, the veggie-stuffed version was jalapeño accented, and the serving of six came with a warm lentil salad that was just as good as the flaky packets. At $2.99, this is the deal of the decade — and it is presented with spoons. Save at least one for later.
Another must-order is the tibis/tibs in its rendition with awazie/awaze, a spice mix using “false” cardamom. The warmly spiced sauce (we asked for it “spicy”) was anything but imitation, however, and the tender cubes of beef it bathed were excellent. We kept going back to this as the metal platter, lined with a full, flat injera, spun round and round.
All other entrées were served atop the injera on that same platter. The lightly curried alicha wot/wat, a beef stew with onion, ginger and garlic, utilized a slightly different cut of less-tender beef. Problematic at first, the dish grew on us as the subtle curry spicing began to more than make up for the chewy beef. Also of the challengingly chewy genre, the drumsticks forming the core of the traditional doro wot at first created a how-to-eat-it dilemma for diners unused to the subtleties of employing injera as a utensil. Problem solved by using that saved spoon to prize the meat from the bone in pieces. The easy-to-eat boiled egg that shared sauce with the chicken prompted one diner to speculate on which came first … In fact, the robust sauce with red onion, black pepper and more of the cardamom came first; it was different enough from the first two to be its own thing, yet similar enough to be family.
Dos Quality & Flavor
6511 Ingram Road, Suite 101, (210) 267-5143, dos-satx.com
If you want an example of how to be baller on a budget, look no further than Dos, a tiny but tight new burger joint that has its act together. Launched by two brothers (hence, ahem … ), Israel and Raul Armando Cepeda, the space has all of about 20 seats (and a drive-through window). Unless one of them is a graphic designer, in addition to being budding burger barons, the two bros hired somebody to do a simple but effective logo, the colors and style of which carry through into the restrained décor and a nifty little takeaway menu.
But these are just the visuals. Los hermanos have also developed a short but well-curated menu of burgers (quatro), one chicken sandwich, one taco plate, and empanadas (dos sabores). None of this would be especially distinctive if it weren’t for one unique factor.
Common to Northern and Northwestern Mexico, discada finds itself in the tacos and on the most opulent of the burgers. A blend of meats that, traditionally at least, is griddled on an agricultural implement, the chopped mix is named for the disc that’s pulled in series behind a tractor to till the soil. There being no signs of agricultural activity at Dos, we can assume that a more standard flattop is used to cook their custom, chopped and marinated blend of bacon, beef, pork, smoked sausage and chorizo. With that much flavor power, you might think that any beef patty would be overwhelmed. But no. Maybe “always fresh meat” accounts for part of it.
Bracketed by a just-crusty-enough potato bun from 4 Kings Bakery in Universal City, the Discada Burger’s equally crusty beef patty maintains a pink interior and holds its own with the assertive topping; chopped lettuce, a mantle of melty Monterey jack and a veil of creamy Ipanema sauce (mayo, cilantro and a hint of jalapeño) round out the presentation. An accompanying order of skinny fries didn’t rise to the same heights, but neither did it profane the package.
The Jerk Shack
117 Matyear St., (210) 776-7780, thejerkshacksatx.com
The couple’s story started in 2010 when they met while deployed in Iraq. After ending up in Hawaii, the now-veteran Lattoia decided to follow her passion for the culinary arts and apply to the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio.
Billed as “San Antonio’s first artisan Caribbean restaurant,” The Jerk Shack is a quaint and polished open-air restaurant similar to Dignowity Meats. The menu features meats by the pound, starters, Chef’s Specials, and sides. The jerk chicken and pork aren’t to be missed, and if you need amore conventional vessel, try the jerk tacos, jerk shrimp and grits with maque choux, or jerk wings and mac. For those wanting a taste of the big island, try the steamed fish, braised oxtails and curry goat.
The shack will be BYOB (it neighbors a KIPP Academy campus), but Jamaican sodas and set up mixers will be available for purchase.
Meadow Neighborhood Eatery + Bar
555 W. Bitters Road, Suite 110, (210) 481-4214, meadowsanantonio.com
Chef couple John and Elise Russ gifted us Clementine (“seasonal Southern and American eats”) late last year, with a menu that tweaked Southern standards and introduced new classics such as heretical hush puppies. And now we have Meadow, bought to us by another culinary couple, San Antonio natives PJ and Lindsey Edwards, she formerly with the Jason Dady Restaurant Group, he most recently culinary director of Austin’s Contigo. “Seasonal, Texas, Southern” is their mantra.
There are references to Texas products on the menu — pecans, apples and beef among them, but plates seem to suggest more “I Suwanee” than “boy howdy.” Wood oven cornbread with jalapeño pimento cheese and honey lard butter both reinforced that impression and started us out with a bang. OK, the cornbread was a tad crumbly, but its smoky-savory flavor played beautifully against both irresistible honey-lard butter (you could slather this stuff on almost anything) and exemplary pimento cheese that had the sort of snakebite heart that is often masked by Southern politesse. ‘Nduja, a spiky/spreadable Calabrian sausage, enlivened the savory marmalade that gave a nestful of crusty creamed corn fritters a needed boost; they were good, but the pudding-like filling needed a little more textural push-back. Individually house-pickled green tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers, or their seasonal counterparts, are a must-order, no matter what else you’re having.
2805 N. St. Mary’s St., facebook.com/singhsvietnamesetrailer
Louis Singh was born in the ’80s, and he’s wanted to share his family recipes since he was 15. He teamed up with high-school friend Eric Treviño after dabbling in bands and sound-editing and catering, and Singhs was born.
Don’t go expecting to find your favorite pho – you won’t find it at Singhs. But do go to find great, 10-hour braised brisket atop vermicelli noodles or bún, paired with fresh cucumbers and lightly pickled daikon and carrots to help cut through that unctuous meatiness. There’s also fried chili-oil ribs if you’re feeling particularly ravenous, and Saigon egg rolls, rolled by hand — at times by Mama Singh as she shares her story. They’re the most labor-intensive menu item, but worth the cost for its crisp and delicate casing.
You’ll also enjoy Singh’s take on bánh mì, served on a buttery roll instead of a crusty baguette but just as good, with each protein somehow more tender than the next.
Opening a brick-and-mortar location (they sold the original trailer) on a new side of town means favorites have shifted. Those now include noodles and goi, a shaved cabbage salad, nearly perfect with shrimp or chicken, dressed with a light drizzle of aioli.
And then there’s the Mama’s jasmine rice, a fragrant number with turmeric, ginger and coconut topped with your choice of meat or seasonal veggies. It’s Singhs’ answer to arroz con pollo. It’s the result of Singh growing up in the heart of Texas, and sharing his Vietnamese mother’s recipes – and it’s a welcome addition to the St. Mary’s Strip fare.
South BBQ & Kitchen
2011 Mission Road, (210) 437-0070, southbbqkitchen.com
Green beans at a ‘Q joint, though they may taste just fine, are normally cooked to military mush in color and consistency. But South has presented a perky salad of crisp beans with halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled cotija and slivered almonds; it’s worthy of a white tablecloth establishment. The garlic butter roasted green onions also stray notably from the norm. Try them, too.
The “loaded” tater tot casserole, seemingly tarted up with tiny bits of meat and other seasonings, comes across almost like orthodoxy — at least in comparison to the above. Here’s where I confess to an unnatural fondness for tater tots, and accordingly would like to see a few crunchier bits in this mashup. But otherwise, aces. Same goes for the deeply satisfying borracho beans; they are among the best in town.
A scattering of sliced scallion is about the only unexpected component in the otherwise catholic South Texas potato salad; it’s mustardy, yet mild, and might serve as a perfect foil for some of the house’s pickled, roasted jalapeño with carrot. And it also serves as an appropriate introduction to the barbecue itself. There are no canonic deviations to be expected in South’s chapter-and-verse renditions.
Starting, where one must, with brisket-by-the-quarter-pound (there are no combo plates), South’s Angus is sourced from Colorado, and it’s supremely tender. There’s not a lot of difference between the lean and the fatty, and some folks might prefer cuts with a little more tooth to ‘em. But there’s no faulting the simple salt-and-pepper prep, the just-smoky-enough flavor, and the classic bark-with-a-bite.
Southerleigh Oyster Bar
136 E. Grayson St., (210) 455-5701, southerleigh.com
Suddenly, you can enjoy the afternoon propped up on one of their comfy stools, reaching down to pet the Pearl pups that cruise on by. Designed by Clayton & Little, the 100-foot bar was a long time coming, and will make for fun afternoons as next spring comes around. Definitely try the house punch that grows boozier and brighter as the recipe is tinkered with by the staff, or explore the line up of Southerleigh brews made on site. Bubbles also work for an afternoon sip.
Whatever you’re drinking, make sure to get a snack or two. There’s pressure fried wings and fried biscuits for 75 cents and $1, respectively. Or spring for platters of fresh seafood from oysters to caviar as a mid-market snack. It’s all our favorite things in one: people watching, tasty snacks and fabulous drinks. What are you waiting for?
Tre Trattoria at the Museum
200 W. Jones Ave., (210) 805-0333, tretrattoria.com
The new space takes the Hops building and pushes its boundaries unlike the other pop-ups ever truly did. There’s certainly a lot more capital being funneled into Tre at the Museum — it looks like an actual restaurant. The interior now features a dining bar (or an Aperol spritz bar if you’re feeling sassy), and plenty of indoor seating which serves as refuge from the hot Texas summers. But once the sun sets, the patio also offers up a casual and bucolic option with views of the San Antonio Riverwalk Museum Reach and all its flora/fauna. It’s comfortable enough to luxuriate in and while away an afternoon over tapas with their Summer in Spain museum menu, or an Italian cheese and salumi board.
On the eats side of things, Tre’s former menu is reflected, which means you can still score a variation on gnocchi and the golden beets aren’t going anywhere. During a lunchtime visit this week, we ordered the aforementioned Aperol Spritz, and ordered the tomato Caprese with fresh mozzarella and basil oil as well as the “deviled eggs” to start. The kitchen (yes, there’s a full blown kitchen) delivered with a sweet, slow-roasted tomato and plenty of basil and sent out a Tuscan farro salad with fresh mint, a fluffy topping of Parmigiano-Reggiano and walnut vinaigrette. The Parmigiano-Reggiano rained over the softboiled eggs topped with kewpie mayo (a Dady staple), fresh cracked pepper and white truffle oil. Decadent, fun, and extremely flavorful.
The crispy-skin rainbow trout, topped with a zesty salsa verde, made its way to the museum and for good reason. The smoked gouda radiatore, which get their name because they resemble radiators (but also resemble cute, springy squat Koosh balls), featured all the the best ingredients (smoked gouda, white truffle, brown butter cauliflower, charred lemon and hazelnuts) in one comforting dish full of texture and depth of flavor.
403 Blue Star, (210) 635-0036, chefjohnnyhernandez.com
Despite some missteps, what’s coming out of Villa Rica’s side of the kitchen shared with Burgerteca is an honest enough reflection of the cooking of both Mexican coasts to merit our attention, albeit at prices that don’t allow for taking random pot shots. But that’s what we’re here for.
Try the ceviche Veracruzano. It’s not a fancy rendition, but it’s absolutely true, clean and fresh — a good introduction to the genre.
Among Villa Rica’s small plates, you might well be tempted, as I was, by the fish minilla (hash) empanadas; they sound way better than they are. On two occasions, the masa packets came away as seeming both pasty and under-seasoned. The eager-to-please chef came by a second time, asking how everything was, so I told him. His response was to bring out a ramekin of crunchy/punchy chileajo salsa. Don’t waste his or your time — just ask for this automatically at the beginning of every meal. It does wonders for almost everything and is much more interesting than the table’s merely fiery habanero salsa. A jot of it wouldn’t have hurt even the appealingly inventive soft shell crab tacos with their guacamole and crisp serrano ham.
Fish enchiladas rojas are the most substantial option among the small plates, and you should absolutely try them. Here, the spicing is just right, the fish holds up texturally, and the plate satisfies at every level, with crema and queso fresco adding welcome grace notes. Speaking of texture, it’s a quality that weighs heavily in any dish featuring octopus—and Villa Rica’s pulpo chielajo is no exception. Fortunately, it’s an exception in the positive direction. The formidable loop of cephalopod, its suckery apparatus all-too-apparent, would be daunting to most. But though the chileajo cloaking is a little one-note in this context, its heat does tame a beast whose texture offers some resistance but not resilience. The refried black beans on this plate came mixed with white rice in a kind of unfortunate mash-up of the Caribbean’s classic Moros y Cristianos. But then there were those fried plantains…
18360 Blanco Road, Suite 120, (210) 538-5016, cevichecevichesatx.com
Freshness is key here, and it’s found across the board, from the just-chopped veggies and fruits and citrus used to cure each creation. The toppings are plentiful, and vegetarians won’t have to shy away from Ceviche Ceviche — tofu is available as a protein for all to enjoy. The freshness extends to the michelada bar where you can act like your own chef and/or mad scientist. It’s not quite Tulum, but it gets the job done and you don’t need a passport to visit.
So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.