Visitors to San Antonio usually have Tex-Mex food on their minds, and for good reason. There is a wealth of variety here and lots of tradition. But the restaurant scene in San Antonio is a lot more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than many people realize. Good French, Italian, and new American food abounds, and there are some one-of-a-kind restaurants that will make any stay here memorable. You can also find some down-home cooking, local taquerías, and neighborhood dives that are genuine to the core and offer an experience that can't be found elsewhere.
The downtown dining scene, especially that found along the River Walk, sees the most visitors; and because most out-of-towners either stay downtown or spend the day there, I devote a good deal of space to restaurants in this area.
Keep in mind, however, that there are many excellent restaurants in other parts of town that can add to your range of dining choices. There are two areas within walking distance of downtown that merit special mention. Both are easily reached by bus, too.
One is the old Pearl Brewery (a 20-min. stroll up the river from downtown). The developers are making this a major gourmet focal point for the city. First, they persuaded the Culinary Institute of America to open a school here, which was recently inaugurated in October 2010. And they've lured San Antonio's most famous chef, Andrew Weissman, from downtown -- he moved his seafood restaurant, Sandbar, here in 2009. In addition to other restaurants, there is a farmers' market and plans to open a microbrewery.
The second hotspot is Southtown, the eclectic, vivacious area just downstream from the city center (a 15-min. walk down the river). It is predominantly Mexican American, with neighborhood eateries and taquerías, and has become a popular place for artists, gallery owners, and innovative restaurateurs. One well-known fixture on the San Antonio scene, the Liberty Bar, which used to occupy the iconic leaning saloon north of downtown, has moved here and set up business in a former convent. You'll have several places to choose from when visiting the sights of King William or shopping the galleries.
There is a wealth of restaurants farther afield, surrounding the prosperous neighborhoods to the north of the city center. Many are on or around Broadway, starting a few blocks south of Hildebrand, extending north to Loop 410. This area caters to the denizens of the wealthy neighborhoods nearby. Here you'll also find several attractions, including Brackenridge Park, the zoo, the botanical gardens, and the Witte and McNay museums. A car is handy when exploring this neighborhood.
Restaurant Categories -- Rather than trying to make fine distinctions between overlapping labels such as Regional American, New Southwestern, and American Fusion, which generally identify the kind of cooking that tweaks classic American dishes using out-of-the-ordinary ingredients -- roast chicken with tamale stuffing, coffee-crusted tenderloin, blue cheese fritters with pesto dipping sauce -- I lump them all into the category of New American. Tex-Mex is, of course, Tex-Mex, and should not be confused with the cooking in the heart of Mexico, which is labeled Mexican.
The price categories into which the restaurants have been divided are only rough approximations, based on the average costs of the appetizers and entrees. By ordering carefully or splurging, you can eat more or less expensively at almost any place you choose.