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Best of San Antonio in a 3 day visit

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I will be in San Antonio for 3 or 4 nights in late November / early December, staying at the Wyndham. I'm a Hounder from the east coast of Canada, so the regional/ethnic culinary possibilities in SA are quite exciting. I have been once before and had a couple of good meals, but I didn't do enough research and wasted several opportunities.

Any recommendations for great restaurants, especially any authentic regional cuisine (i.e. great Tex-Mex, interior Mexican, BBQ (esp. cabrito (sp?))? I generally like value for money, including really, really expensive meals that are transcendent. I don't care about the wine list. Generally I am at my happiest in a dive with great food and cold beer.

I will mostly be eating in the downtown area, but will also be renting a car for a day or two while in SA and am willing to drive some distance for good eats. I will be traveling alone, so a place with a nice bar and friendly staff would a bonus, but food is the priority.

I will also spend a couple of days touring the region (maybe a couple of nights in Austin?). Any spots in the region that I should consider? I hit Lockhart on my last trip and will be returning. I had Kreutz (sp?) last time and, frankly, wasn't blown away. Brisket was good but not great - quite chewy really, which I wasn't expecting. I think I will hit Black's this time.

Thank for your advice - I can't wait to visit!

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  1. Got to Luling to get BBQ. The place is called Luling City Market and the brisket there is heaven, I think better than any in Lockhart and it is only 15 minutes from there. Just take I-10 East to the Luling exit and it's right downtown. Also go to Taco Taco on Hildebrand and McCullough in SA for awesome breakfast tacos and texmex dive breakfast and lunch. It's a great dive and the food is yum yum yum.

    3 Replies
    1. re: wendileigh

      I have heard very good things about Luling City Market BBQ and had no idea it it so close to SA. That will be a definite hit for me.

      Thanks wendileigh!

      1. re: BarnNB

        just to clarify, when he said only 15 minutes from there, he meant Lockhart. So if you are already going to Lockhart, stop by Luling (which I consider A++++). San Antonio to Luling is an hour drive.

      2. re: wendileigh

        I also see on another post that Taco Taco was rated by Bon Appetit was the best taco joint in the US. I will definitely try this one also. Great suggestions!!!

      3. For fine dining, don't miss Le Reve. Gourmet magazine picked this as one of the best in the country. It truely is!!

        5 Replies
        1. re: chickstein

          Yes - I see that La Reve comes highly recommended. I'm travelly alone and I don't like sitting at a table by myself. Is there a bar and will they serve the tasting menu to a sole diner?

          1. re: BarnNB

            LR is ~not~ the place to dine solo.

            I'd suggest Liberty Bar for a nice long oak bar with good food, a more-than-adequate wine selection and, on most nights, a very friendly bar stool crowd. I consider the Liberty Bar to be a city treasure in which you can find yourself "happiest in a dive with great food and cold beer."

            There are few restaurants in this neck of the wood that you'll find a near-perfect warm lentil salad and dreamy steak tartare on the menu for less than a couple fins. Hell, two pints of Guinness from the tap will set you back more than the tartare.

            If you like a nightcap, I'd recommend the bar in the basement of the Havana Hotel, Club Cohiba. It's smoky as hell, even if there are few cigar smokers. The bar has a nice selection of single malts and pure tequilas. The treasure of the bar is that it fronts one of the quietest sections of the downtown river with a great covered veranda to introspect or join a conversation.

            One final note. Visit a taqueria in southwest/southeast/south SA. You won't find perfect food by any measure. But you will find the heart and soul of what it is to live and eat a cultural hijack.

            1. re: YGBSM

              Yes - I went to the website for Le Reve and see that it seems more classically French than the type of modern up-scale place I was thinking. It appeared that it may not even have a bar. Shame, becuase it looks terrific.

              The Liberty Bar name does ring a bell, so your recommendation there is likely confirmation of some other that I have encountered. Confirmation is good...

              Will Taco Taco give me the cultural hijack experience? The food sounds great, but the fact that this palce has its own website makes me think more in terms of a cultural tour bus, and that perhaps I would be missing something there?

              1. re: BarnNB

                Taco taco is great the mix there is fun and there is always a cop or firefighter hanging out eating in the morning. Everybody I see there is a local and the food is awesome. There are maybe some more traditional tex-mex dives on the south and west sides but unless you know the food is great you can be in for a real disappointment. Taco taco is a dive and is not touristy, it's small and looks like it could have been an old gas station. There is a small bar with three stools where you can watch the ladies make the tortillas, and a handful of tables. In the morning there is usually a line out the door waiting for takeout tacos. I was there a few weeks after the food network came and they still had a sign up welcoming them and decorations. It made me laugh.

                1. re: wendileigh

                  I'll respectfully dissent. In my opinion,Taco Taco is overrated—and has been for at least three or four years. The best tacos in the country? Really? I can find better ones at a couple of taco trucks here in Austin, a city with nowhere near the options you'll find in S.A. And all over San Antonio I can find average breakfast tacos such as those dished up at TT. I have a theory that Taco Taco is the new Blanco Cafe: It's become the go-to dive-like "real" taquería for both the national press and those local diners and tourists who don't care to venture into the southwest, southeast, and south sides of S.A. that YGBSM mentions above. We chowhounds are a different breed, however.

                  Here are links to a few old threads that might help you get off the beaten track, BarnNB:

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/443138

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/416811

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/388173

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/390128

                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/361594

                  You can use the "search this board" feature at the top of the page to (hopefully) find more reviews of restaurants that interest you. Have a great visit, and I hope you'll report back on your chowhounding adventures.

        2. I would do lunch one day at Mi Tierra's in Market Square (downtown). Everyone seems to enjoy it when I take them there. It is a festive place.

          I have heard good things about Taco Taco as well, but I think they are only open for breakfast and lunch. (I would highly suggest getting yourself a huge breakfast taco from there one morning. That is VERY regional/ethnic for this area.)

          If you want to do a nice steak while downtown, you can hit up Little Rhein/Figtree. They have a very nice wine list as well.

          As far as transcendant meals, two choices come to mind. Biga on the Banks has Bruce Auden who is a James Beard winner before. And Andrew Weissman has Le Reve which is considered by many to be one of the top restaurants in the state.

          Enjoy your trip!

          3 Replies
          1. re: mac8111

            A good place to go solo would be Sandbar, another of Andrew's restaurants, right next door to LeReve. You can sit at the oyster bar, excellent seafood. I believe they are only open for dinner right now.

            1. re: saeyedoc

              Thank you! I was going crazy trying to remember the name of his other restaurant.

              1. re: chickstein

                I recommend Biga on the Banks, Budro's, The Fig Tree, Acenar, Pesca, Las Canarias - all on the Riverwalk. I live in the King William District and we have some great Tex-Mex here - Rosario's, Tito's, China Latina, Azuca, El Mirador, plus you would see a lovely neighborhood of San Antonio.

          2. Thank you all very much!

            I have about 4 diners in SA and probably 2 breakfasts and lunches to fill up. I'm thinking my definites for dinner are Rosaria's, Liberty Bar, El Mirador, and Sandbar/Le Reve.

            I will hit Taco Taco for lunch/breakfast. I will also head south a try one of the many taquerias mentioned in the thread posted by 55mph.

            I will also skip Lockhart and head to Luling for the City Market.

            Have I missed anything?

            1 Reply
            1. re: BarnNB

              The mollejas a la plancha at Rosario's is quite good, as is the parilla de tripas and both are regional specialties. I always ask for the tripas to be cooked slightly crisp. I had the cabrito at Pico de Gallo about a year ago...it was good but I was disappointed in their rice. Loved their refried beans though and always ask for them if the dish comes with another style of beans...totally think they use real lard for the refrying but hey, tastes great.

              And you can't have breakfast in SA without trying barbacoa. Sure, it's greasy but it's delicious. I like my barbacoa tacos with a bit of salt and pepper, cilantro and onion. Maybe salsa but not always. The best barbacoa is usually found in a dive in a sketchy neighborhood but any Tex Mex spot that is open for breakfast usually has it on the menu. And then there's menudo...yum! A great hangover cure and a full flavored tripe stew.

              Have fun!