Best of SA 2005 - Food Readers' Picks - Best Food - Part 1

Best of SA 2005 - Food
Readers' Picks - Best Food - Part 1
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For the glutton in everyone

Flying Saucer
11255 Huebner, 696-5080

"I never met a beer I didn't drink."
- Norm Peterson

DeWese's is de Best Chicken Fried Steak (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

These wise words from our memorable Cheers patron are a fine way to approach this beer institution that finds a home in most major cities. With more than 81 beers on tap and 140 in the bottle, Flying Saucer is definitely the place to go if you want to try a new beer. Ordering might feel like a daunting task initially, but wait staff are quick to offer The Fly Paper, an extensive list of all beers offered at the bar. Pale, amber, and dark beers are listed by category, with the place of brewing and price. Since the selection comes from suppliers around the world, with a variety of brewing techniques and ingredients, beer prices range from $2.50 to $30 per beer. Most nights offer some kind of special, such as Mystery Beer or Pint Night. If you still have no idea what you want to try, your server will be happy to let you sample a few different brews before you make a choice. NC

P.F. Changs China Bistro
225 E. Basse, 507-1000

Let's begin with the cookie. According to your fortune, "You will consume all the delicious Chinese cuisine that P.F. Chang's has to offer. You will indulge without care in crab wontons. You will become lost in lo mein and make merry with mango chicken. You will savor kung pao scallops, delight in the Peking duck, and really, really like the banana spring roll. Oh, and a stomach will soon ache somewhere in your general vicinity. Lucky Numbers: 1-100." It's a long fortune, I know, but this is a big cookie. BC

Readers' Picks
Best Food 2005

Outdoor dining
1. The Cove
2. La Fogata
3. Blue Cactus Cafe

1. Demo's
2. John the Greek
3. Papouli's

1. The Cove
2. Liberty Bar
3. Madhatter's

1. The Cove
2. Twin Sisters
3. Adelante

Restaurant to Take a Date
1. Grey Moss Inn
2. The Cove
3. Citrus

Speciality Grocery
1. Central Market
2. Whole Foods
3. Sun Harvest

Farmers' Market
1. Sun Harvest
2. Olmos Basin and Market Square

1. Fiesta vendors
2. Chacho's, Panchito's, Taco Bell (tie)

1. Chacho's
2. La Fogata
3. El Mirador

1. Sea Island
2. Pappadeaux
3. Ocean Star

1. Rudy's
2. Blue Cactus Café
3. Tom's Ribs

1. Pizza Hut
2. Papa John's
3. Rome's

1. PF Chang's
2. Formosa Garden
3. Golden Wok

1. Thai Kitchen
2. Thai Taste
3. Thai Café

New Bar
1. Revolution Room
2. Zen Bar
3. Broadway Brew Haus

New Restaurant
1. Blue Cactus Café
2. Ocean Star
3. Melting Pot

After several espressos, the world becomes a jumpy, blurry place.

Various locations

Of course Starbucks would be our reader's first pick ... we live in a society of impatience and instant gratification! Stop and smell the coffee. Candlelight, our readers' second choice, has great ambiance, setting it apart from traditional stop-n-go Starbucks. A comfy, eclectic mix of couches and divans are scattered in natural clusters, providing excellent areas for study, book groups, or just relaxing. In addition to coffees, cakes, and pastries, Candlelight offers beer, an extensive wine list, soups, sandwiches, and entrees. Local artists' work, changing periodically, is featured on the interior walls.

Best of SA 2005

Readers' picks - Best Food
Part 2
Click here to see our readers' choices

This year, the Current's voters were in danger of losing the café voted Best Coffeehouse for years on end. However, thanks to new owners Juan Garcia and Ken Sheppard, Candlelight Coffeehouse and Wine Bar is still alive and kickin'. Last December, the previous owners announced the coffeehouse would be closing after nearly 10 years at its location. Garcia and Sheppard, who had frequented the establishment, decided to save it from serving up its last cup of java. Instead of closing for good at the end of December, the café held a grand reopening on January 5.

Aye matey! You can eat enough shrimp at Sea Island that you, too, will begin to grow a tail. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)

Visitors can also venture onto the spacious wrap-around outdoor patio, which has areas of shaded greenery on one side and a tranquil pond on the other. On this day, an older gentleman sips a latte and reads by the pond, while the water gurgles among oversized goldfish. NC

The Cove
606 W. Cypress, 227-2683

Definition of eclectic: a town in Alabama located at precisely 32.63676 N, 86.03474 W, approximately 9.6 square kilometers. Oh sorry, that's according to the U.S. Gazetteer. Here's the Noah Webster-ized version: selecting what appears to be the best in various doctrines or methods. The Cove's menu certainly takes the eclectic route, bringing in selections from seafood, deli, vegetarian, American, and other various cuisines to drive the indecisive customer insane.

Runner-up Liberty Bar leans like it has an inner-ear problem. From the outside it looks like a house of cards: one wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Once inside, though, it's clear that the structure is built to last, albeit with a slight tilt. Like its slanted exterior, Liberty Bar's menu seems equally precarious at first: Can one eatery successfully pull off a mish-mash of traditional Southern, Mexican, and Italian dishes? Try one of the off-menu, random daily specials and see if that answers your question. Liberty Bar handles food on the fly, a Gump-ian definition of eclectic: never knowing what you're gonna get. AB

Blue Cactus Café, readers' pick for Best New Restaurant and Best Family Restaurant, serves up chicken fried steak and onion rings. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Sun Harvest
2502 Nacogdoches, 824-7800

The problem with farmers' markets in San Antonio is that we don't really have any. Our readers chose Hank's House of Wares, which we suspect may be a joke. In second place, Sun Harvest, Market Square, and the market in Olmos Basin next to Paletta's. The last entry comes closest to the mark: Technically, a farmers' market is an open-air venue where FARMERS sell their produce. Sometimes, in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, vendors sell seeds and plants, and there may even be a few butchers plying their trade. Also, these markets are punctuated with vendors who display handmade jewelry and other crafts. So, a grocery store is not exactly a farmers' market, nor is a household items store. Market Square downtown used to resemble this, but it has transformed into another commodity-driven tourist haven. What SA needs is a true farmers' market. Any takers? MSA

2501 N. St. Mary's, 732-7772
7115 Blanco, 342-2772

Leave it to democracy's home turf to show us how it's supposed to work. A field of worthy candidates emerges from the citizenry and come before the people to be chosen. Debate and discussion ensue, and eventually a majority of voters realize that one candidate stands out above the others and thus is elected to be president, or student council treasurer, or Miss Sheboygan. So it is with the Best Greek Restaurant category.

Worthy eateries like Mina and Dimi's, John the Greek, and Papouli's drew votes, but Demo's clearly had a mandate from the people. There's a lot to like about Demo's: uncluttered dining area, open-air patio, substantial helpings that go a long way for the price, healthy alternatives for dieters, and polite service that's helpful without being over-zealous. AB

Three revolutionaries (bartenders Mary Jane, Meggie, and Ashley) plot a coup at the Revolution Room. (Photo by Laura McKenzie)

Olive Garden
Various locations

Though I demanded a recount, the Italian chain Olive Garden, which has no such garden, won Best Italian. Maybe it's because I lived in Italy that I have no affinity for endless amounts of bread and salad before an equally misunderstood menu of Italian fare. American chain Zio's Italian Kitchen boasts these kudos from a reader: "It's good, cheap, and the service is decent." But I can honestly say that Paesano's and Carraba's, which tied for third, both render Italian food more equivalently than the first two.

Shrimp Paesano has been tempting the palate of San Antonians for some time now, and always pleases. The Alamo Quarry restaurant displays old world, Mediterranean charm and the menu is reasonably priced. Paesano's on the River Walk is equally charming, but expect long lines; pony up to the bar for a glass of wine and take in the scene. Carraba's, a chain based in Houston, serves huge and yummy portions covering the gamut of both northern and southern Italian cuisine. MSA

Various locations

There's nothing wrong with a midday margarita, particularly on a blue-sky day when the sun is shining and you're sitting on the patio of a place like Chacho's, which takes particular pride in its frozen concoctions. Pride in this case means freshly squeezed limes, premium tequila, a range of flavors from sour apple to strawberry, and a refusal to water down the works. "Our drinks are potent," says the menu, "so drink in moderation." Just one monstrous jumbo-sized margarita for you, then. BC

Readers' Picks
Best Food 2005

1. Alamo Café
2. Chacho's/ Taco Cabana (tie)
3. Picante Grill

1. Chester's
2. Chris Madrid's
3. Sam's Burger Joint

1. Olive Garden
2. Zio's
3. Paesano's/Carraba's (tie)

1. India Palace
2. Simi's
3. India Oven

1. Subway
2. Quizno's
3. Jason's Deli

Wine List
1. Van's
2. Melting Pot
3. Candlelight Coffeehouse/Ocean Star/Olive Garden (tie)

Beer Selection
1. Flying Saucer
2. Chester's
3. The Cove

1. Sushi Zushi
2. Goro's
3. Koi Kawa/Formosa Garden (tie)

Chicken Fried Steak
1. DeWese's Tip Top Café
2. Blue Cactus Café
3. Lulu's

1. Cheesecake Factory
2. Marie Callender's
3. Sushi Zushi/Liberty Bar (tie)

1. Picante Grill
2. Pico de Gallo/Rosario's (tie)
3. Don Pedro's

Family Restaurant
1. Blue Cactus Café
2. The Cove
3. Mr. T-Bone Steakhouse

1. Starbucks
2. Candlelight
3. Sip

Picante Grill won Best Mole. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

3810 Broadway, 822-3797

The word "mole" is derived from the Aztec "molli," which means "concoction," "stew," or "sauce." The Aztec emperor Montezuma was reportedly quite fond of mixing his chocolate with chile peppers; one report has him chugging 50 goblets a day of hot cocoa flavored with vanilla, honey, and red chile. It bodes well, then, when a restaurant like Picante Grill that is known for its mole takes its logo from an Aztec god. Don't bother extracting the recipe from the cook though; apparently her secret is viciously guarded. Just enjoy the spicy sweet taste and relish that, for once, you can consume chocolate with the main course. BC

Pizza Hut
Various locations

Why do I suddenly hear Nell Carter singing the theme song to beloved '80s sitcom "Gimme A Break" in my head? This isn't meant as an insult to any Pizza Hut or Papa John's employees, managers, or patrons, but seriously, you gotta be kidding me. I know everyone has had some Pizza Hut and Papa John's at one time or another, and frankly, when it's getting late and all of the other pizza places are closed, a chain is your best bet for getting a melted-cheese and tomato sauce fix. But does that really make them the top two pizza options in town?

A quick survey of local pizzerias includes Volare, Florio's, Main Street, Sorrento's, and Rome's, our third-place contender. Rome's like each of the aforementioned locations and dozens more around San Antonio, offers a diverse menu that, in addition to pizza, includes sandwiches, pasta dishes, wine, and in Rome's case, a smattering of Greek cuisine for the Mediterranean connection. And, in most cases, a pizza of comparable size at a local restaurant is cheaper than the chain variety. Maybe next year, when we meet up again for our annual best of discourse, we can celebrate a local alternative to popular chains together. That said, I do support the one reader who voted for Chuck E. Cheese. AB

Food Part 2 - More, more, more...


MSA: Melissa Sutherland-Amado
RB: Ron Bechtol
AB: Aaron Block
NC: Nicole Chavez

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