Mexican Restaurants that Have Helped Put San Antonio on the Map

click to enlarge Mexican Restaurants that Have Helped Put San Antonio on the Map
Steven Gilmore

Chisme That guacamole con chisme with cotijo cheese had genuine spunk the second time around. The straight-on queso that comes free with happy hour chips and salsa is just right. Note that the normal 4-6 p.m. happy hour is all day on Tuesday and take advantage.

That cochinita fared better on time two as well. Where before the slab of grilled pork had clearly met the sauce for the first time on the plate, this time the meeting may have been Tinder-quick — but there was at least a degree of compatibility; the orange sauce didn’t have the metallic tang of serious achiote, but it was reasonably convincing, and marinated onions added the necessary, vinegary accent.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the beef cheek barbacoa. The cachetes make for much less greasy barbacoa than is often the case.

Don’t skip dessert: I’m talking about the passion fruit and coconut tres leches. The flavors mesh beautifully — nutty and creamy against tart and fruity, the cake’s texture is almost custardy, and the plate is muy guapo to boot. 2403 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 530-4236,

Ácenar Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong paired vivid décor and haute Tex-Mex paired with romantic riverside seating and the bar’s dance floor sizzles on weekends. Try the grilled shrimp tacos and the citrus. 146 E. Houston St., (210) 222-2362,

Alamo Café The addition of Patio 81 to the San Pedro location means you can enjoy vats of queso and wash it down in a cool bar setting. Both locations are perfect for big parties and even bigger fajita dinners. Multiple locations,

Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine
Blanca Aldaco took her zesty restaurant north to convert the Loopland masses with crema al cilantro and signature avocado margaritas. With locations in Stone Oak and the Dominion, northsiders are always close to street tacos, and excellent views. Multiple locations,

Blanco Café This anchor of the homegrown chain serves massive Tex-Mex portions to happy weekend crowds. The just-right-greasy enchiladas are a fave of Current readers. Multiple locations,

Carmelita’s Mexican Restaurant A staple since 2003 for breakfast tacos and inexpensive lunch plates along Broadway, Carmelita’s is a family-owned oasis with great service. 2218 Broadway, (210) 224-5540,

Cascabel Mexican Patio Cascabel will win you over with its interior Mex breakfast and lunch. The tiny South St. Mary’s spot offers an intriguing alternative to taqueria fare, with recipes from southern Mexico and light touches like silver napkin rings that set it apart from the Tex-Mex crowd. 1000 S. St. Mary’s St., (210) 212-6456.

Chacho’s The Monster Kong Nachos are loaded with four different types of meat: chicken and beef fajitas, shredded chicken and picadillo, and the quality is surprisingly good. Wash it down with a top-shelf marg or frozen Jack and Coke. Multiple locations,

El Milagrito Their cheese enchiladas are titans of Tex-Mex, topped with good, chunky gravy that indicates Milagrito’s guisada is also a cut above. But don’t stop there: the tortas and huaraches are not to be missed. The breakfast menu, served all day, merits a try, too. 521 E. Woodlawn Ave., (210) 737-8646,

click to enlarge Mexican Restaurants that Have Helped Put San Antonio on the Map
El Mirador, Photo by Kody Melton

El Mirador Now under new ownership (the same folks that gave us Esquire Tavern and Downstairs), El Mirador re-opened its doors in late December with artful new interiors, and delicate menu tweaks. The ginger-laced Diablo is as spicy as ever, and the patio is the perfect backdrop for a business lunch, brunch with pals or date night. 722 S. St. Mary’s St., (210) 225-9444,

El Mirasol Interiors that help you escape to Cancun, food that satiates that itch for something sabroso, and drinks that keep the convo flowing are in store at either the Alon or Blanco location. Enjoy a bit of everything with the enchiladas de mole. Multiple locations,

Ernesto’s Mexican Specialties The inventive French-Mex sauces (try the jicama, lime and cilantro combo) and fresh fish dishes outshine their surroundings at this neighborhood strip-mall staple. 2559 Jackson Keller Road, (210) 344-1248.

Garcia’s Mexican Food You can’t call yourself a true San Antonian unless you’ve enjoyed a brisket and guacamole taco from Garcia’s. Helmed by the Garcia family since 1962, this tiny nook on Fredericksburg is a piece of heaven in a plump tortilla. 842 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 735-4525.

Guajillo’s Billed as SA’s only Mexico City kitchen, the entrees here are healthier and less Tex than Mex by any standards. Try the calabaza con mole verde, a sauce made with pumpkin seeds, cilantro and Serrano peppers. The chips, salsa, and desserts (arroz con leche, anyone?) are also worth a shot. 1001 NW Loop 410, (210) 344-4119,

Jacala Mexican Restaurant With a kitschy interior that screams Tex-Mex, Jacala has been a Westside fave since 1949. The great puffy tacos don’t hurt either. 606 West Ave., (210) 732-5222.

La Choza Mexican Restaurant The exterior is a little dumpy, sure, but the food is puro Mexico and right on. Try the hearty huaraches, the superior chicken-filled sopes, the earthy, sauced-steak molcajete plate and the subtle enchiladas verdes. 12151 Jones Maltsberger Road, (210) 490-5665.

La Fonda on Main Monte Vista residents still flock to this institution for both traditional and forward-thinking Mexican fare. The duck or fish tacos or mole enchiladas are deliciously dependable. Sit outside whenever possible and put it on your short list for brunch spots. 2415 Main Ave., (210) 733-0621,

La Fogata There are several reasons to visit La Fogata: the arboreal wonderland of a patio, the tequila-laden margaritas, the friendly staff, the light starters, the hearty enchiladas … should we go on? 2427 Vance Jackson Road, (210) 340-1337,

La Gloria Still a favorite for tourists and locals hoping to taste a little of Mexico, chef Johnny Hernandez’s first restaurant scores points with its tacos de alambre and tortas. Enjoy a house margarita on the icehouse’s airy patio at the Pearl or Dominion. Multiple locations,

La Hacienda de los Barrios A Barrios Family creation, there’s much to be said about La Hacienda’s food. Try the time-tested standbys such as the cabrito en salsa and the Cortadillo Zuazua style, a semi-stew of tenderloin. For dessert, indulge in an empanada filled with guava paste and cream cheese. 18747 Redland Road, (210) 497-8000,

La Margarita Restaurant & Oyster Bar Part of the Mi Tierra family of restaurants, La Margarita is billed as the first American restaurant to serve sizzling fajitas. Give thanks with a frosty marg and a churro in each hand. 120 Produce Road, (210) 227-7140,

La Michoacana #5 This location on North Flores boasts a carniceria, panaderia, fruteria and more. The taqueria may be the chain’s strong suit; the tacos can be spectacular, especially creations like chicharrón en salsa verde and calabacita con puerco. 1224 N. Flores St., (210) 223-3802,

Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant Lisa’s aced the basics with a hearty, rich pozole, a tasty lengua guisada and solid refrieds. Finish up with a cocktail at Bar Mosaico. 815 Bandera Road, (210) 433-2531,

Los Barrios One of San Antonio’s most beloved Mexican restaurants (yes, that is saying a lot), Los Barrios’ exhaustive menu includes items like “the world’s only gourmet sour nachos,” 16 different Mexican dinner plates and several arguably more interesting dishes like the Nuevo Leon specialty Cortadillo Zuazua Style, juicy beef tenderloin stewed with veggies and spices. 4223 Blanco Road, (210) 732-6017,

Los Balitos Taco Shop Whether you’re picking up for breakfast or stumbling in after a barhop, this popular 24-hour destination adds California influence to SA with killer burritos. Try the yummy over-the-top chile-relleno version, and at least six salsas at the restaurants formerly known as Los Robertos. The tortas are also delicious, especially the carnitas deshebradas. Multiple locations,

Mary Lou’s Café Expect robust and fresh down-home dishes from this neighborhood joint. The enchiladas verdes and beans and rice are well above average, but ask for the salsa verde over the house dip. Forgo a bit of sleep for a couple of these substantial breakfast tacos on fresh and fluffy flour tortillas. 4405 McCullough Ave., (210) 396-7909.

Metro Basilica 2 Taco truck fare inspired more by DF than SA. Branch out to less familiar menu items like mulita (meat and cheese sandwiched between two thick masa tortillas), lengua and tripas, or stick with tried-and-true chicken quesadillas and asada tacos. 7627 Culebra Road, Suite 105  (210) 680-1412.

Michin Grill Kitchen Mezcalitos, cevichitos, taquitos — all can be found at this trendy Stone Oak hot spot that packs in happy hour-goers with crazy specials and awesome drinks like the Ancho Margarita with Ancho Reyes liqueur, fresh lime, agave and Milagro Reposado. 427 N. Loop 1604, Suite 202, (210) 277-7222,

Mi Tierra Restaurant & Bakery For those in the know, Mi Tierra is truly a wonder. The panaderia at the entrance alerts that this is the real deal. Then there’s the typical fare including some of the best menudo in town. An institution since its 1941 founding, Mi Tierra is one of the few places still open 24/7, holidays included. 218 Produce Row, (210) 225-1262,

Original Donut Shop This Fredericksburg Road institution is known for good breakfast tacos and outstanding doughnuts, but get there early. The dual drive-thru lanes pack cars a block up Fred, but the Current recommends eating in the diner-like pastry area. Try the cinnamon-filled bear claw. 3307 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 734-5661,

Original Mexican Restaurant Named for the “oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States,” this 24-hour River Walk spot capitalizes on a hungry touristy and late night crowd. The traditional Mexican menu features standards like quesadillas and enchiladas, but the margaritas and the river view are the star attractions. 528 Riverwalk, (210) 224-9951,

Paloma Blanca Mexican CuisineA perennial favorite in our Best of San Antonio polls for enchiladas and guacamole, Paloma Blanca showcases hacienda-inspired architecture and interior Mexican eats for an elevated dining experience. The menu offers traditional and updated versions of Mexican favorites, with standouts including the pollo asado, tacos al pastor and shrimp fajitas. Choose from a variety of margaritas to complement your meal, and don’t miss out on the signature pastel de tres leches for dessert. 5800 Broadway, (210) 822-6151,

Palenque Grill From the makers of Pollo Loco and Taco Palenque, Palenque Grill’s dishing up traditional dishes to the La Cantera set. Try the lengua and coastal creations inspired by the Pacific Mexican coast that are worth a try. Don’t get bogged down in the overly saucy high-dollar dishes, though, what Palenque does best is the basics. 15900 La Cantera Pkwy.,

Patty’s Taco House Taco fans make pilgrimages to Patty’s on a weekly basis for breakfast and lunch. The migas plate will keep you sated way past lunchtime. 2422 S. Hackberry St., (210) 534-3395.

Perico’s Mexican Cuisine The hacienda-style chain has locations off Bandera, in Huebner Oaks and Sonterra, but you’ll find standard Tex-Mex at any stop. The calabacita con pollo is a standout. Make sure to wash it down with a Parrot Tail, a concoction of vodka, coconut rum, Triple Sec, Hypnotiq, cranberry juice and sour mix. Multiple locations,

Picante Grill The Broadway staple is an atypical dining spot that has become a popular location for San Antonians willing to experiment beyond the confines of everyday Tex-Mex. Favorites include the chile en nogada, cochinita pibil, smoky cabrito and the birria, a marinated leg of lamb in ancho pepper, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow-cooked to perfection. 3810 Broadway, (210) 822-3797,

Ray’s Drive Inn Puffy tacos and a certain San Antonio je ne sais quoi are the draws at this Westside establishment. Portions are large (bring the whole family), but remember to bring cash; our critics recommend the brisket and guacamole puffy tacos. 822 SW 19th, (210) 432-7171,

Rosario’s Restaurant y Cantina Lisa Wong’s other baby is a staple with the Castros and other power lunch-goers. The bright lights, big city cantina concept — aided by lots of concrete and a neon-lit faux palapa — and Tex-Mex add a certain buzzy feel to Southtown and the aesthetic reaches the northside location. Try the stellar fish tacos or the Mexican Caesar Salad with spinach, toasted pepitas, fried corn chips, roasted red peppers, tossed in a creamy chipotle dressing. Multiple locations,

Soluna Home of the Chispa, this Alamo Heights restaurant comes alive on weekends. Pour over the entire menu and work your way through it with several visits. We won’t judge. 7959 Broadway, (210) 930-8070,

Taco Haven A Southtown staple for more than 30 years, the menu has expanded to include a few Tex-American dishes such as chicken-fried steak and burgers. But the award-winning infamous tacos such as the Torres Special: refrieds, bacon and guacamole, are still the biggest draw. Be prepared for a wait on Saturdays and Sundays. Multiple locations,

Taco House In 2013, our critic proclaimed he never had better puffy tacos than the ones he found at this unassuming breakfast and lunch joint. He also highly recommended the arroz con pollo, which is so good that the weekly Wednesday special often sells out by noon. 6307 San Pedro Ave., (210) 341-3136.

Taco Taco A plethora of choices here but the best thing to order is of course, the namesake: tacos of all kinds, served on piping hot, homemade corn or flour tortillas. Conveniently located in Olmos Park. 145 E. Hildebrand Ave., (210) 822-9533,

Taqueria Chapala Jalisco This Tobin Hill gem relocated seamlessly to its new spot — cattycorner to its former — and still packs in followers. The breakfast tacos are huge and made-to-order and delish lunch specials don’t take a hit. 1902 McCullough Ave., (210) 735-5352.

Taqueria Datapoint The food hasn’t lost its late-night street charms at this taco-truck-turned-restaurants. Current readers say you must try the gorditas, and our critics recommend the mini asada taquitos and chicken torta. Multiple locations, (210) 615-3644.

Taqueria El Chilaquil Our secret late-night spot, we come here for al pastor and carnitas mini tacos and giant schooners of Dos Equis after evenings out downtown, but we stay for the atmosphere, which may include karaoke, lounge singers, or drag shows depending on the night. 1821 W. Commerce St., (210) 226-5410.

Taqueria Guadalajara #1 Take comfort in surroundings that are puro San Antonio – Taqueria Guadalajara is Tex-Mex in a time capsule with all of the traditional favorites. The carne al pastor is a blend that rocks, as the pork, beef and onions are combined in perfect proportions. 2702 Roosevelt Ave., (210) 532-5500.

Taqueria Los Arcos Homey and authentic Mex-Texican fare, Los Arcos scores with especially good sopes and outstanding tortas, at prices low enough to treat your entire work crew. 13777 Nacogdoches Road, Suite. 103, (210) 599-1822.  


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