Hot San Antonio Restaurants: 10 spots to visit ASAP

Diavola pizza from Braza Brava Pizza Napoletana - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Diavola pizza from Braza Brava Pizza Napoletana

1. Braza Brava Pizza Napoletana

7959 Broadway, Ste 300, (210) 320-2100, facebook.com/brazabrava

About the first thing one notices upon entering Braza Brava in the Collection is the igloo-shaped, Neapolitan oven behind the bar: It's tiled in brilliant red and exudes power and promise. Pause for effect.

But the Diavola pizza that issued forth one recent lunch, though indeed promising, lacked real conviction. We now know about well-blistered crusts in San Antonio, and despite the claim that this oven can achieve temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees, the evidence just wasn't there. (Second visit: I can't vouch for taste, but the couple at the bar next to me was delivered beautifully blistered pies.) For a pie with a devilish description, the taste was also somewhat subdued—red pepper flakes were required to perk up a base of decent mozzarella, fresh basil, simple tomato and modestly spicy soppressata. Once adulterated, this was a perfectly pleasant pizza; yes, I ate the whole thing in the company of a glass of rosso di Montepulciano, all the while wishing there were a smaller, more personal version to save me from excessive consumption.

Questions of portion size also occur in the appetizer section—an issue not unique to BB. As enticing as the well-garnished Roman artichokes wrapped in prosciutto sound, at $10 they do beg to be shared. So does the handsome-looking $15 plate of burrata with roasted vine tomatoes. The daily special, tomato bisque, however, scored on all counts; a simple Neapolitan-style panino (it's presented in a folded pizza crust envelope), is not too big, not too small...and the arugula version with goat cheese and parmacotto ham is bright, fresh and appealing—no blistering required or desired.

Foie gras genoise from Citrus - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Foie gras genoise from Citrus

2. Citrus at Hotel Valencia

150 E Houston, (210) 230-8412, hotelvalencia-riverwalk.com

Chef Robbie Nowlin has been around—both here in San Antonio at the (late, lamented) Lodge and Las Canarias and in California with (much-lauded) Thomas Keller. Currently in residence at the Hotel Valencia's Citrus, he has a serenely cool space to enliven with his particular brand of cuisine. Despite a handsome buffet selection of mostly vegetable antipasti, the lunch crowd, alas, has not yet beaten a path to his door; I was the only diner on a recent weekday. Those antipasti can be sampled a la carte or added to an entrée. A visiting epicure couldn't stop raving.

The fried Gulf oysters (somewhat preciously, the appetizer category is labeled "embark," sides and salads "pursue," the entrées "savor") are worthy of the attention of epicures and ordinary folk alike: The flaky crust is tender, the house horseradish cocktail packs a punch and though the accompanying aioli doesn't taste overtly of either the advertised charred orange or cumin, it's intriguing nonetheless.

But a generously portioned mole coloradito with duck confit, cubed potato, queso fresco and toasted pepitas stumbled—though not for lack of trying. Initial impressions were admittedly good, but as the bottom of the bowl loomed, so did an impression of slightly strident oiliness. Given his experience, we suspect that an evening's spring lamb shank with pickled eggplant or P.E.I. mussels with house-made veal pastrami is more up his alley. One might embark, on an evening, with a foie gras crepe with unlikely (but boldly imagined) accents of strawberry, celery, banana and candied hazelnut. And one can, er, disembark after dinner in the adjacent Vbar, still shimmery after all these years.

Roasted duck and gnocchi from The Cookhouse - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Roasted duck and gnocchi from The Cookhouse

3. The Cookhouse

720 E Mistletoe, (210) 320-8211, cookhouserestaurant.com

We knew Pieter Sypesteyn could cook after he opened his food truck, Where Y'at, three years ago at the gates of Southtown known as Alamo Street Eat Bar. The truck gave us a taste of what was to come in the form of serious po'boys, loaded gumbos and saucy jambalayas. But with the opening of The Cookhouse, Sypesteyn has really let the good times roll....or laissez les bons temps rouler, as the restaurant's concept would have it.

Lunch is familiar enough, and you'll find food truck favorites such as the fried oyster and crispy bacon combo once known as the Peacemaker, the classic muffaletta or a plenty tasty fried shrimp po'boy. Served up much like at the truck—wrapped in white butcher paper, that is—lunch is an informal affair. And don't forget the napkins.

Once dinner starts, Sypesteyn delivers on all sides (and, yes, those are quite delicious, as well). During our dinner visit (a first of many since the restaurant opened in early September), we loaded up on the charbroiled oysters, a buttery and spice-laden affair that begged for more soft bread to sop up any extra sauce. The paneed shrimp was a meal unto itself, but don't fill up on just that—there are entrees to be had.

The roasted duck is a favorite, with its pillowy marjoram potato gnocchi and savory tomato confit, but don't pass on the classic New Orleans barbecue shrimp (again, ask for more bread). Sypesteyn also has a way with fish—the blackened drum, topped with shrimp and served on a bed of potato and corn hash, is comforting and begs for a return visit. Get there early or call in reservations beforehand, this is quickly turning into everyone's favorite restaurant.

Peas, herbs and ricotta on toast from Folc - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Peas, herbs and ricotta on toast from Folc

4. Folc

226 E Olmos, (210) 822-0100, folc-restaurant.com

Since opening its doors in early September, Folc and its staff have spent many a cozy dinner and festive brunch catering to crowds of hungry food lovers looking for the next great thing in a laid-back environment. Could it be chef and part-owner Luis Colon's sweetbreads, flash-fried bites of tender veal bits that pair well with the coffee mayo dots on the plate? Probably, but the sweetbreads are up against some fierce competition from the rest of the solid menu.

Start with the chicken liver mousse parfait, a feminine and dainty dish that's rich and alluring in one bite, and follow it up with the house-made ricotta on house-made grilled bread with a healthy dose of pea shoots, herbs and fresh-shelled peas. Don't forget your greens—the team at Folc most certainly did not—and try the colorful bunch of hay-marinated carrots with thick labneh or the simple and sinful asparagus with mushrooms and cream. When it comes to the main course, we're still singing the praises of the briny caper-laden pork schnitzel and the roasted half chicken, moist and flavorful, you could do without the house-made chimichurri, but why should you?

The feasts don't stop at lunch and dinner. Folc's brunch game is nothing to scoff at as the team packs in decadent crab leg scrambles with roasted fingerling potatoes, satisfying biscuit sandwiches, fluffy Dutch babies and wake-me-up cocktails. You want to get the family (friends, and whoever else makes up your community) to Folc.

Chicken tawa from Koohinor - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Chicken tawa from Koohinor

5. Kohinoor Restaurant

9425 Fredericksburg, (210) 314-8692, kohinoorsa.com

Kohinoor's original location may be closed...for now, but you'll still find the same tasty tawa-cooked favorites inside K2. No, that's not the second highest mountain in the world, but the newest Medical Center spot of this Pakistani favorite.

The tight menu is comprised of Pakistani classics, including, but not limited to, a small appetizer section, grilled dishes, tawa (or griddle) dishes, chicken entrées, vegetarian entrées, rice dishes, breads, wraps and desserts. Lassi fans can still get their thrills with velvety smooth iterations.

You're not there for the decor—Kohinoor's new location is all about the food. Pack a few friends and take in an order of the paratha, a thinly rolled, fried and incredibly pliable unleavened offering served on a large pizza pan. Don't overlook the larger-than-life samosas, or the board specials that cater to vegetarians and carnivores alike. Our visit included a beef gravy nihari, a hot bowl of aromatic and stewed cubes of tender beef, and the signature chicken tawa, heavy on the ginger, chiles, garlic and a secret garam masala mix.

The spice party continued with the fluffy chicken biryani that held spicy bites of tender poultry and the kebab rolls, which are filled with ground beef kebab meat, onions and a tangy chutney. The rolls are handy and accessible for the set in need of a speedy lunch, just make sure you call it in ahead of time. You might have leftovers—portions are huge—but we won't judge you if you don't.

Fried noodles with vegetables from Kung Fu Noodle - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Fried noodles with vegetables from Kung Fu Noodle

6. Kung Fu Noodle

6733 Bandera, (210) 451-5586

Disclaimer: Don't go into Kung Fu Noodle expecting a whole lot other than good noodles, dumplings, buns and great service. You really won't find much else, and that's exactly how we like it.

Located inside a sleepy shopping center that also holds an Arby's, Kung Fu Noodle is open seven days a week, but that doesn't guarantee you'll be lucky enough to try all of their handmade offerings. And the noodles truly are hand-pulled by the family of four that runs the joint. The slapping and pulling of said noodles from the kitchen in the back might be alarming at first, but that first comforting bite will seal the deal for a return visit.

The menu is small and concise—this is, after all, a family-run eatery with 10 handmade, bare-bones tables and stools crafted from varnished two-by-fours. The decor is equally sparse, save for a string of red lanterns and a Maneki-neko, or good luck kitty.

Fans of a good bit of heat will want to try the noodles with lamb, and don't let the cheery, soft-spoken server talk you out of it. The bowl is served piping hot and laced with small but fierce Szechuan peppercorns and Tien Tsin chile peppers that deliver a punch of heat straight to the back of your throat. She did try to warn us, after all.

An order of dumplings, almost two dozen (we're guessing, we never stopped to count while popping the bites into our mouths), are delivered warm and snuggled up together in either pork and mushroom, pork and celery, pork and chive, or beef.

There's no fanfare, and Kung Fu Noodle comes highly recommended by area chefs familiar with the cuisine. Moreover, it's cheap and tasty—you'll want to head to this noodle depot ASAP.

Camarones zarandeados from Las Islas Maria - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Camarones zarandeados from Las Islas Maria

7. Las Islas Maria

522 SW Military, (210) 922-7777, lasislasmarias.net

Now washed up on the unbeachy banks of Southwest Military, the color-splashed space that houses Las Islas Marias adds to a local and growing list of authentically Mexican seafood restaurants that also includes the likes of Costa Pacifica and the ever-evolving El Bucanero. The restaurant's focus is unique in that it plays heavily to the Sinaloan strength that is shrimp—and it fries almost nothing, camarones "cucaracha" being an evocative exception. Camarones zarandeados, butterflied, grilled and served with a buttery sauce that suggests Worcestershire or Maggi, are another good example, but shrimp are not to be ignored as served in the house-special empanadas, adorning a briny coctel de camarón y pulpo (octopus), or as the centerpiece of an excellent ceviche "ejecutivo." "Hot!" is the warning accompanying a plate of camarones aguachiles that uniquely comes in either a green or red version. Flip a sand dollar.

Beyond shrimp, the platter of mejillones in a "special" sauce akin to that on the zarandeado plates is generously endowed with green-lipped mussels and garnished with sliced cucumber; one of the few other fried dishes, chicharrón de pescado defies expectations by arriving in lightly breaded stick form. With any of these, we suggest a Mexican beer, such as Victoria or Pacifico—or whichever pale brew is available. Margaritas are distinguished more by size than by excellence. Size has nothing to do with the service; the waitresses are all fun and feisty, especially if you speak a little Spanish.

Pan-seared mahi mahi from Silo Terrace Oyster Bar - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Pan-seared mahi mahi from Silo Terrace Oyster Bar

8. Silo Terrace Oyster Bar

22211 I-10 W, (210) 698-2002, silosa.com

The Silo brand has expanded its reach into the far Northwest side of San Antonio and this time the homegrown chain of eateries is adding "oysterology" to the menu.

Located north of Loop 1604 and I-10, Silo Terrace Oyster Bar offers the same posh environment as its sister locations but with the added draws of far-reaching views of the city and an icy open compartment packed with pink king crab legs, shrimp and a formidable collection of oysters ranging from Beausoleil, out of New Brunswick, to Pemaquid via Hog Island, Maine, and Raspberry Point (yes, the same had by Kate and Wills while on their trip to Prince Edward Island).

But the offerings don't stop with fresh-shucked goodies. The newly established prix fixe menu includes high- and "low-brow" fare, such as Maine lobster rolls, Crystal Hot Sauce fried chicken, braised lamb shank, and fish and chips.

Grilled oysters Rockefeller with fennel cream, garlic breadcrumbs, parmesan and applewood-smoked bacon share the small plates menu with a bright snapper ceviche that combines tomatillos, grape tomatoes, cilantro and spicy serrano peppers. Bigger appetites will find lobster ravioli, shrimp fra diavolo with house-made squid-ink tagliolini and miso-glazed salmon. Wash it all down with some bubbles or signature cocktails made with Texan spirits and call it a day.

Three-meat plate from Smoke Shack BBQ + Southern Kitchen - DAN PAYTON
Dan Payton
Three-meat plate from Smoke Shack BBQ + Southern Kitchen

9. Smoke Shack BBQ + Southern Kitchen

3714 Broadway, (210) 957-1430, smokeshacksa.com

You'll likely smell Midtown's newest barbecue joint before you see it, and once you do, it will be nearly impossible to ignore those 'cue cravings. Broadway's Smoke Shack, owned by Chris and Kate Conger, opened last April for lunch and added dinner hours in May.

After serving food truck fans for four years at the corner of Loop 410 and Nacogdoches, the couple garnered some serious street cred and a fierce following. Now, the brick-and-mortar location, housed in an A-frame building across from the Witte Museum, allows them to serve up double the brisket, BBQ ribs and Smoke Shack Mac.

The long lines—especially around lunch—give you time to weigh the options. The sliders (one slider and two sides for $8, two sliders and two sides for $9) are delicious. Mix it up with brisket, turkey, pulled pork or sausage varieties. A barbecue plate, piled high with your choice of meat, two sides and a roll, will run you anywhere from $10 to $14. You can also try one of their sandwich options, a Frito pie or the Big Dog—a sausage link in a hoagie, topped with brisket, pulled pork, two sauces and vinegar slaw. Conger plans to revamp the menu periodically and we're hoping for an appearance by the crazy-popular off-menu brisket grilled cheese (fingers crossed).

Scallops, beets and potatoes from Starfish - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
Scallops, beets and potatoes from Starfish

10. Starfish

709 S Alamo, (210) 375-4423, starfishsa.com

Southtown's reeled itself a big one. As the sister location of Azúca Nuevo Latino, Starfish made a fanciful splash in the downtown area this summer by adding elegantly plated fare with a seafood spin.

With only 12 or so tables, the compact restaurant is quite the cave of wonders. Starfish features a gleaming open kitchen and exposed brick walls enclosing the space. The ocean theme is more subtle and abstract than that of its peers—long jellyfish-esque lamps dangle from the ceiling near the chef's table, two glass chandeliers made of bubble-like chains anchor the entry and only three fish-inspired pieces of art hang from the wall, all touches brought in by artists Abraham Mojica, Charles Harrison, Emmett Martinez, Nik Soupé and Maureen "Momo" Brown.

The menu, which changes frequently to keep up with seasonal produce availability, reflects Texan and coastal flavors. Our dinner visits found solid options, including delicately prepared scallops, blackened drum and artfully presented bouillabaisse.

Try the dreamy ahi tuna poke with chilled cucumber and Brazilian nuts, or the duck pot pie.

And don't miss out on desserts like house-churned ice cream, sweet and savory banana bread with brûléed banana and plantain chip or the N'awlins-style baby beignets with cinnamon sugar, espresso cream and a zesty citrus spread.

You won't find tacky fish decor here, but you will find beautiful sea-inspired bites.

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