10 Hot Restaurants: Where to Eat and Drink Right Now in San Antonio 

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel

Brigid

803 S. St. Mary's St., (210) 236-7885, brigidrestaurant.com

Named after one of Ireland's patron saints, Brigid is quite the sight to behold. Simultaneously feminine, soft, industrial and sturdy, the restaurant employs snug booths and indigo velvet chairs that give it an upscale yet casual vibe. On the exposed walls, sketches and un-stretched canvasses help give this quaint nook on St. Mary's a regal feel.

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel

Helmed by Chris Carlson, Brigid follows suit with modern American fare while keeping the menu accessible. Come lunchtime, Carlson and his motley crew (most brought over from his days at Sandbar) deliver one of our favorite power lunches in town. Here, you'll want to order the cured salmon and house-made crème fraiche that's dotted with fresh sliced red onions and briny capers, all served with buttery and lightly toasted bread. The sous-vide pork belly is another favorite, and yes, you can order it from neighboring Francis Bogside. Though our first order of the diver sea scallop sashimi and pickled melon could have used a neater slice, the flavors paired beautifully. Not all of the fare is dainty and light as Carlson knows power lunches require a bit of steak. Enter the steak sandwich on a buttery baguette, cooked medium and paired with horseradish fries and slaw.

Come evening hours, Brigid transitions into an intimate and sultry space, with expert lighting and impeccable service, perfect for that special occasion — we can already see the proposals come December and February. But if it's a morning-after fix you need, this saintly eatery knows brunch is a must. Stop in for classic breakfast dishes such as Madagascar vanilla french toast or barbacoa on house-made tortillas and fried eggs — this is San Antonio after all.

Dishes to try: cured salmon, steak sandwich, scallop sashimi

JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon

Francis Bogside

803 S. St. Mary's St., (210) 988-3093, francisbogside.com

Somehow, Steve Mahoney, owner of Brigid and Francis Bogside, managed to lure chef Chris Carlson from Sandbar at Pearl to an unassuming brick building on the edge of King William — to cook food with an Irish accent. The staid old 'hood will never be the same. And neither will Irish food. And though Carlson volunteered that he couldn't be presenting the dishes he does at Francis without Brigid to serve as fodder, his bar menu is by no means a stepchild dependent on hand-me-downs. Where, outside of a Dublin pub crawl (yes, I have done this), have you ever had Colcannon potatoes?

JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon

Here they will now become a winter staple. Basically no more than mashed potatoes with butter and onion (sometimes bacon and cabbage are added), they are perfect pub grub — and a natural match with a pint of Guinness. Bacon and cabbage team up in the obviously dubbed, uh, "Bacon and Cabbage." More like an especially friendly onion soup with benefits, this brothy dish makes best use of thick, salty bacon, caramelized onion and skin-on potato (there's cabbage in there somewhere) and is garnished with tiny, barely steamed carrots. All it needs to vault to the top of this year's best-dish list is some slabs of the potato bread served next door. That or sufficient glasses of happy hour draft to encourage tipping the bowl up to drain the broth.

Boxty, just so you know, is a potato pancake; Dublin Coddle a dish with sausage, bacon, onion and potato; the steak sandwich needs no translation ... but pork belly, due to its overexposure lately, might require some encouragement. Consider this it: The belly, initially cooked sous-vide, is presented with a sweet-tart confit of white peach — perfect for cutting across the fat o' the pig. Chase it with a shot of Jameson.

Dishes to try: steak sandwich, Boxty, Colcannon, pork belly

click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton

La Botánica

2911 N. St. Mary's St., vivalabotanica.com

Just last year we extolled the virtues of chef Rebel Mariposa's way around vegetables. As a caterer and employee of Tim the Girl, the San Antonio native who left part of her heart in California, didn't just prepare vegetables, she preached the value of turning plates into colorful and appealing dishes.

Fast-forward to June 2015, when Mariposa, backed by Andrea Vince and Danny Delgado, opened La Botánica, an all-vegan restaurant on the St. Mary's Strip. She didn't do it on her own either. The Chicana chef is first to acknowledge her team, made up of Arabella Parlati Daniels and Monica Moreno. The trio is responsible for giving the Strip more dining options for the healthfully minded or the vegetarians and vegans that need delicious fuel for their bar-hopping adventures.

click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton

The menu isn't extensive by any means. You'll find a rotating cast of goodies, but early favorites persist. Hearty tacos are stuffed with nopales, squash or root vegetables, all seasoned impeccably. Corn empanadas are stuffed with black beans or special mixes, while Ms. Bella's fried red beans and rice balls — bite-sized and deep-fried — add hints of Southern flavors. The ceviche huehuecoyotl is perhaps our favorite for its simplicity. Sure, we could also call this mix of hearts of palm, chopped cucumber and avocado a salsa of sorts, but served with fresh totopos and capped off with marinated oyster mushrooms that double for would-be fish, the dish shines and makes for a light sharing snack.

Good food is made only better on La Botánica's breezy patio where the staff hosts everything from Democratic debate viewing parties (you'll really "Feel the Bern" here) to lotería brunches on weekends, bring-your-own vinyl sessions and more. At La Botánica, you'll go for the food, but stay for community.

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel

O’liva

115 Plaza de Armas, #107, (210) 229-2638, olivasa.com

Into the food desert between Downtown and Produce Row bravely came Chuck Hernandez — and not with a burger or pizza joint. That would have been too easy — and would not have done justice to this handsomely repurposed corner of Plaza de Armas across from City Hall. The repainted limestone walls, the burnished wood floors, the rugged, exposed ceiling structure … all of this demanded more Hernandez responded with a menu that supports seasonality, local farmers and artisan suppliers — olive oil not unsurprisingly — among them.

A tasting of three Salud de Paloma olive oils with grilled bread is one way to start. Cold-pressed in Dripping Springs, the oils come in natural, Meyer lemon, garlic and chili pepper infusions. We’d be tempted to toss in a natural for one of the flavored versions — probably the chili. But we’d be remiss in not noting that the accompaniments (you get three) almost outshine the oils. The chunky babaganoush, the robust muhamarra and the stiff hummus all demanded more bread. Cheerfully supplied.

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel
A fourth condiment, the lusty olive tapenade, asserted itself in the Ba Ba burger, based on local ground lamb and graced with bibb lettuce, tomato relish and — most importantly ­— a gently fried egg. To be blunt, this burger is a hot mess: The flimsy bun disintegrates, the egg runs all over everything … but it’s a very tasty mess. And that runny yolk is great with the side salad of romaine, kale and blue cheese. We liked this with a glass of good, Spanish tempranillo, the only wine available at that moment. There is more to come, and we’re hoping for a white to go with an ahi tuna aguachile or the Slappin’ the Bass ceviche. A “Smoky Swine” sammie with pickled cabbage could swing both ways, wine-wise. Vegans can take comfort in the Portabellizo enchilada with vegan chorizo. And everybody should try to get back to the historic heart of the city. Downtown Tuesdays beckons with free parking.

Dishes to try: chunky babaganoush, the robust muhamarra and the stiff hummus
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  • Lane Pittard

Pharm Table Cafe

106 Auditorium Circle, (210) 802-1860, pharmtable.com

Elizabeth Johnson is on a mission to make vegetables sexy. With the opening of her meal delivery concept Pharm Table, the chef and former Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio instructor helped families and individuals on the go nourish themselves without resorting to fried and sugary foods. Instead, Johnson and co. delivered with anti-inflammatory meals devoid of dairy, sugar and gluten. Before you roll your eyes and express some Texas-y sentiment, it’d behoove you to spend some time at Pharm Table Café. Inside the Radius Building, this rustic and charming eatery takes locally grown produce and livestock and turns it into whimsical and culturally diverse cuisines.

Open for breakfast and lunch (and the occasional dinner as themed around whatever’s going on at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts), Pharm Table Café’s turning heads and pleasing tummies with a succinct menu that changes almost daily. Begin with a meal starter, a light mix of pickled ginger, lemon juice, raw honey and salt to get your digestion juices going. Otherwise you really can’t go wrong with any of the menu options. Johnson’s winter squash soup, a velvety smooth and warm serving, is presented in a tumbler glass.

To that effect, most of Pharm Table’s presentation looks at conventional plating and scoffs. You’re not getting a boring salad here, you’re getting a finely shredded bowl of kale, massaged in garlic and prepared as a Blue Plate Special topped with carrot puree and shredded local beef — and you’re eating it with chopsticks.

Taking notes from the world’s Blue Zones — areas where civilizations tend to live longest — Johnson is turning downtown denizens into culinarians ready for fall Burmese salads, Punjab cabbage bowls and vegetable curry bowls come lunchtime. Oh, and they just so happen to be vegan.

Making vegetables sexy was the mission, and so far it’s working. 
click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel

Rebelle

300 E. Travis St., (210) 227-4392, stanthonyhotel.com

Good things come to those who wait, and boy did we ever. After more than a year since its announcement, Rebelle opened its fancy-as-all-hell doors in early November to much oohing and ahhing.

The space resembles sister restaurant Feast, if that Southtown hot spot were a rule-breaking rebel. Come dinnertime, the 5,000-square-foot space dims the lights. down. low. Way low. Think sexy nightclub meets even sexier restaurant. Once your eyes have adjusted — take in the scene. There’s a sprawling staircase, an eye-catching bar and gleaming columns all encasing fashionably dressed eaters. Have a cocktail, appropriately, if punnily, named after the seven deadly sins. Lust, one of the “Temptations” featured is a pretty little ‘tail that’s all legs and desire. It combines thyme-infused gin with maraschino liqueur, Aperol and sparkling rosé.

click to enlarge DAVID RANGEL
  • David Rangel
Leave room for the food menu, it’s why you’re here after all. If you’re lucky enough to sit in the back dining room, the lighting should help you snap away your meal. Chef Stefan Bowers, a veteran of the food scene at this point, is bringing a familiar menu to the fold with elevated touches. Expect to find delicate and punchy shareables (found in the Divide portion of the menu)like the bright beet salad and the subtle flavors in the lump crab salad. Order a dozen charbroiled oysters — a sweet and garlicky take stands out in a sea of oyster offerings. Trust chef Bowers and his team to deliver on the proteins — the lobster green curry is an early favorite for the high rollers, as is the 16-ounce center-cut ribeye. You’ll want to conquer the rest of this menu ASAP. 

Dishes to Try: oysters, lobster,green curry,Merguez ground goat kebabs
click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton

Shuck Shack

520 E. Grayson St., (210) 236-7422, shuckshack.com

Sometimes, you open a restaurant with your palate in mind — and blow everyone out of the water with something like The Lodge. Sometimes you open a restaurant and hope to change the landscape — as was the case with Umai Mi. Sometimes you open a spot that combines great flavors, introduces new dishes and includes something for families as well as millennials. Shuck Shack is that restaurant for Jason Dady.

Its perfectly quaint patio doubles as a play area for the kiddos, who get an actual playground to frolic in as well, and as a spot to while away an afternoon for young professionals or parents who want to let their kids loose while having a piña colada or two and watching the Spurs on the outdoor screen. The whole vibe, complete with wait staff in brightly colored fishin’ shirts and cargo shorts, is beachy and chill. You’ll relieve office stress at this urban oasis while shooting a few dozen oysters — the Gulf of Mexico and both coasts are all represented here — or picking away at a Cajun-style artichoke. Though Shuck Shack is perfect for date night, you’ll want to make it a double or triple date and order one of their “dump bucket dinners” available Saturday and Sunday and chockablock with snow crab, shrimp, sausage and more.

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  • Dan Payton
This winter, you’ll want to slurp Dady’s oystah chowdah (learn more about it on page 23) to keep warm. But while the weather figures out what it wants to do, you can’t go wrong with the baked oysters, cheddar jalapeño hushpuppies or creamy deviled eggs. Just writing about it makes us wish we could bust out our flip flops and guayaveras. 

Dishes to try: shrimp roll, Oystah Chowdah, hush-pups, fish ‘n’ chips

click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton

South Alamode Panini & Gelato Company

1420 S. Alamo St., (210) 788-8000, southalamode.com

It can be hard to think beyond gelati at South Alamode Panini & Gelato Company, a farmers market pop-up made permanent at Blue Star. There they are, right in front of you as you enter, each one seeming more seductive than the next. Yes, it’s OK to eat dessert first. But your judgment may be clearer if you check out the panini menu first. (Insert here the rant about how panino is singular, panini plural.) If you haven’t yet tried the one panino that may be the true revelation — the P.M.A. with prosciutto and honey, grilled melon, arugula and aged parmigiana — do so now. But we can offer a molto bene nod to the Havanese sandwich, a take on the classic Cubano. Consisting of prosciutto cotto (cooked), porchetta, pickles and stone ground mustard, it may top most classic versions in these parts (the one at Bakery Lorraine being another) — and one of the reasons lies in the house-made pickles that occupy a glass container atop the deli case. They had us with these alone.

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  • Dan Payton
Do also consider the Alpino, a simple but effective composition of smoky speck, scamorza (like a firm mozzarella and also sometimes smoked)and peppery arugula. The textures, including that of the pressed pane, all work together beautifully, and the contrast of smoky, creamy and peppery is perfetto. Though we’d tweak the Mortacci Tua with mortadella, provolone and pistacho mayo too heavy, the pistachio gelato came to the rescue; it’s a flavor that’s hard to move beyond — unless it’s to gianduja (hazelnut and chocolate) or straight nocciola (hazelnut). I’m trying to be flexible here, too.

Dishes to try: All of the gelati, especially pistachio, Havanese or Alpino panini
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  • Courtesy

Supper/Sternewirth

136 E. Grayson St., (210) 448-8351, thehotelemma.com

It’s hard to keep your cool at Hotel Emma — you have to, because it’s a historic and über-adult place, but we’re prone to quietly freaking out over every last detail while wandering the halls. From visiting The Library, popping in for gifts at Curio or watching the Culinary Concierge host an oyster shucking how-to in the demo kitchen, there’s something to gawk over at every turn and this definitely includes the kitchen at Supper, where chef John Brand makes his anticipated return to SA’s dining scene.

Brand’s style is simple, straightforward and usually stunning if early plates are any indication. Drawing inspiration from San Antonio and his midwestern roots, Brand and his team produce breakfast, lunch and dinner out of a sprawling kitchen. Breakfast at Supper, not to be confused for brinner, includes fresh juices and smoothies (the chia seed, banana, almond milk and blueberry blend sounds especially appealing) along with tenderly flipped Meyer lemon ricotta pancakes with nuts and berries. Lunch includes fuel — or you could just indulge in a BLT with basil aioli, and avocado on nine-grain bread — for your day of San Anto exploring.

If you miss dinner whilst traipsing around and exploring Emma, you can still enjoy Brand’s take on hotel fare inside Sternewirth. Snuggle up on one of the leather couches with the Portly Fellow (a dark and cheeky cocktail filled with fernet and rye) and nosh on the beef tartare with proper garnishes (in other words, Brand keeps it simple, delicious and there’s no silly egg yolk to crack). You just can’t possibly go hungry with Brand back in the kitchen. 

click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton

Viva Vegeria

1422 Nogalitos St., (210) 465-9233, myvegeria.com

Viva Vegeria is Fred Anthony Garza’s new South Side outpost for plant-based cuisine. From its colorful interior he hopes to spread the gospel of “cultural education through food, healthy eating, urban gardening …” all under the watchful guise of La Virgen. It already looks like the locals are responding to the likes of Two Lovers guacamole with the added kick of chipotles.

Less obvious as a vegan selection at first glance is a dish called Ancho and Cascabel hot wings (buffalo wings). But read the fine print: This is actually a plate of battered and fried cauliflower florets served with an ancho and cascabel “buffalo” sauce. Yes, the cauliflower seems more like “nuggets” than “wings,” but the dish works regardless; the fry job is right-on and the sauce is punchy. The accompanying carrot and celery sticks may help further the wing reference, but it’s the mild cucumber and poblano dip that shines. It was good enough to save in case it came in handy for the next course.

click to enlarge DAN PAYTON
  • Dan Payton
Which it did: We drizzled it on the lightly dressed baby spinach salad that came with an entrée of spinach huitlacoche enchiladas. Word to the wise: Keep reading the fine print. Entrées, already blessed with a salad, come with an additional house side, so unless you’re feeling a real need to get very green, maybe pick black beans or papas fritas with garlic curry ketchup to go with your plate. As good as the sturdy ginger kale salad we ordered was, it was a little overkill — especially with the additional greenery inside the earthy enchiladas topped with vegan queso and a sunflower seed crema. Sweet potatoes come into play with several other entrées, flautas and enchiladas alike; portobello mushrooms are fried crisp to stand in for chicharrones in a plate of street tacos; and Mexican squash cooked in coconut milk adorns a mollete with melted vegan cheese. Vegans both confirmed and reluctant will find much to like.

Dishes to try: ancho and cascabel hot wings, spinach huitlacoche enchiladas

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