San Antonio trip report (long!)
Summary of places in this report:
Two Bros BBQ Market (x2): would definitely go back
Mi Tierra: Bakery: definitely return. Restaurant: maybe return
Rosario's: definitely go back.
Tre Trattoria: maybe go back
Blanco Cafe: probably go back
City Market (Luling): not up to expectations, but would go back
Two Bros BBQ Market: I went twice, both time for dinner. The first time, I had brisket, pork ribs, pork sausage and chicken thigh. The brisket was very good - cooked so long that muscle, when cut against the grain, was semi-falling apart. Not the juiciest, but tender, smoky and enjoyable. The pork rib, strangely, hadn't seen enough time on the smoker and was under-rendered and slightly tough - there was no way to get the bone completely clean no matter how much I worked. The pork sausage was terrific. Great snap, garlicky and smoky. Loved it. The chicken thigh was probably about as good as you can smoke something without much connective tissue. Intense smokiness and delicious. I didn't necessary love it but not the fault of the execution, more my own preference for other cuts. The second time, brisket, pork rib and sausage. The brisket on this second visit was excellent to amazing. Some of the slices were perfect - it's not possible to make brisket any better. Succulent, moist, smoky but not quite falling apart. The sausage was just as good as before, and the spare rib was very good on this day. Also tried their fried strawberry pie for dessert, which were fairly tasty as well. On top of the good food, the people working here were super friendly. Let me go into their pit room, take a short tour, take pictures and answer questions. They couldn't have been nicer. If I lived in San Antonio, I'd be a regular, though it doesn't quite hit make it to the very top tier of places that are within striking distance of San Antonio (Lockhart, Luling). It's located close to the airport. From downtown, it's about a 50 min bus trip (door to door); coming back it was a $30 cab ride. Shared among three people, we were all very happy with this decision.
Mi Tierra: went for lunch with a group. Chips were very good, salsa was excellent. Mild but nice flavor. My enchiladas verde were substandard, for sure. Verde sauce was uninteresting, and the flavor bland and out of balance. Didn't care for this much at all. Ordered a couple of items from the bakery. The guava empanada was decent; the other one, a flaky pastry filled with cream, was outstanding (name escapes me and website not helpful - I keep thinking “campechana” but clearly that's wrong). Would go back just to try more baked goods.
Rosario's: Really liked this place. Walking distance from downtown. Chips and salsa were excellent. Salsa was mild but great smoky, chile flavor. My colleague and I shared a ceviche which was outstanding. Not too overboard with the lime as can happen. Terrific balance. I had the pan-fried sweetbreads, which were good though breading somewhat too thick. Would definitely go back and work through the extensive menu. Lots of things looked great. Even though it's a tourist trap, lots of locals go as well. It's an enormous place with efficient service.
Tre Trattoria: went for lunch. Salad was fine, and homemade spaghetti was OK though not much toothsome al dente bite. The tomato sauce was a bit metallic. The wagyu meatball was fairly dry, even with the mozzarella stuffed inside. The pasta with wild mushrooms looked much better but didn't try it. Space is nice and since it's slightly (like a block and a half) from the main tourist zone, it might be worth trying again.
Blanco Cafe: clearly a very locals, old-time diner. Food was big, not really refined, with simple flavors. I had the chicken-tortilla soup, which was very serviceable. I had one breakfast taco (eggs with machaca - don't remember the name) which was quite rich but needed something else to balance it. Now that I think about it, there was salsa on the table and I definitely should have added that. Fun, and worth a try I think.
Last but not least, made the trek to City Market in Luling. Was one of the first customers but even when I left (Monday, about 11:30 am) it was still very quiet. I first tried brisket, pork rib and sausage. Brisket is the most important meat to me, and today it was not good at all. Dry and rather tough. I've smoked brisket better than that at home, easily. I went back at the end of my meal and got some fatty brisket, but maybe it was from the same hunk of meat and tasted exactly the same but with more fat. Extremely disappointing. The sausage was more consistent, exactly the coarse grind beef sausage one expects from central Texas BBQ. Very good, but I liked the finer-ground pork sausage at Two Bros better. The pork rib was unbelieveable. Probably the best-cooked rib I've ever had. Perfectly rendered, tender but with some toothsomeness, it reset the bar for smoked ribs. I do them fairly often at home and now I see what the goal is. I find it strange that the pork rib was a hundred times better than the brisket, at least on this day. Goes to show you that barbecue, even at the very best places (which I don't doubt City Market is) experiences wide variations in day-to-day quality. I guess I have to give myself some slack when my own barbecue doesn't turn out so well sometimes.
I couldn't make myself eat along the Riverwalk. Just too much scene. With a couple more days, I would have explored the area around Rosario's and checked out a few more places in that neighborhood (and returned to Rosario's for sure).
4003 Broadway St, San Antonio, TX 78209
910 S Alamo St, San Antonio, TX 78205
5525 Blanco At Oblate Rd, San Antonio, TX 78201
633 E Davis St, Luling, TX 78648
Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery
218 Produce Row, San Antonio, TX 78207
Two Bros. BBQ Market
12656 West Ave., Suite B, San Antonio, TX 78216
I should have added my thanks to all the people who previously posted to CH for the help on choosing these places!
campechana is correct. The same word is used for multiple items.
agreed on Mi Tierra. I feel like a poser for liking their pastries so much, but I think that (1) they do them well and (2) they have enough turnover that everything stays fresh, which is uncommon in pastelerias.
Machacado is probably what you had with your eggs. dried, reconstituted beef.
It's too bad Luling was a disappointment. It's experiences like that that have stopped me from ever recommending a bbq joint, because so many can vary. The only one I'll give an absolute recommendation to is Franklin in Austin.
"Campechana is correct." Nice! I thought I'd remembered correctly but then I looked it up and all the references were for a seafood dish. Thanks for the help! The flaky layered pastry was really superior to most, in my experience. Machacado also sounds right - thanks!
I'm experienced enough with bbq places to know that one sub-par trip doesn't make all the positive reviews wrong - just an off-day or, more likely, an off-brisket. But it was a downer given that I basically took a half-day to go out there. I wonder if Mondays are a bad day for BBQ since everyone's so tired after the crazy weekend rush - in fact, I wonder if there are good and bad days for BBQ in general for whatever reason.
If Franklin is the only place you'll recommend to people, then it goes straight to the top of the must-try list! It was already near the top because of the review by Full Custom Gospel BBQ. Now I need to find a way to get to Austin...
Thanks again for your help!