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Best of San Antonio > Readers Pick

You've Been Served

Justin Parr

 

Best Korean BBQ
Ilsong Garden

6905 Blanco
(210) 366-4508

The Queen of Korean has more on her mind than that country’s sweetly saucy barbecue these days, at least from the look of the menu with its many Japanese specialties — sushi included. Islong filet mingon and Chef Young’s beef tenderloin shishkabob occupy pride of place on the menu “For the Discerning Palate,” as does a “choice” bulgogi made from marinated ribeye. But fans of basic KQ can still find three versions plus a couple of rib options — and frankly, we all know it’s the small plates of panchan/banchan that we’re there for; the entrée is just a formality.

2. Go Hyang Jib
4403 Rittiman
(210) 590-4336

3. Hsiu Yu
8338 Broadway
(210) 828-2273

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Best Sunday Brunch
Madhatters Tea House and Café

320 Beauregard
(210) 212-4832
madhatterstea.com

Playing host to both the Sunday churchgoing crowd and the bunch that lounges in bed till noon, Madhatters’ Sunday Brunch goes above and beyond the bacon and eggs buffet line. The Eggs Benedict topped with grilled artichoke or smoked salmon reigns supreme paired with the unique chipolte hollandaise sauce. We recommend swapping out with a friend and trying one artichoke, one salmon. If breakfast breads are more your style, the English French Toast is soaked, then grilled, and English Muffins are topped with bananas, strawberries, and whipped cream. If you’re going for it, bottomless mimosas are worth the extra charge and promise to jump-start a Sunday Funday. But get there around noon to obtain your money’s worth — brunch ends at 3 p.m.

2. Magnolia Pancake Haus
606 Embassy Oaks
(210) 496-0828
magnoliapancakehaus.com

3. Tie:
Le Peep
Multiple locations, lepeepsa.com

Guenther House
205 E. Guenther
(210) 227-1061
guentherhouse.com

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Best Paletería
El Paraiso Paleteria

1934 Fredericksburg Rd.
(210) 737-8101


File photo

Some folks look for the Mountain Laurel’s purple blooms, and others keep an eye out for that long Cornyation tix line at the Fiesta store. But for the Current, spring has finally sprung when we make our first 80-degree-day pilgrimage to the Deco District’s El Paraiso for a rainbow box of paletas — packed with a little dry ice for the long ride home. The dozens of flavors, made on site, include mango with chile, horchata (made from the cinnamon-seasoned rice drink), pecan, chocolate, and pickle. El Paraiso’s always on top of the trends, too, putting out, i.e., Lucas pops faster than you can say, “Hey, doesn’t that stuff rot your tooth enamel?” Grab a plastic basket, reach your hands into the freezers, and grab away — we haven’t discovered a loser yet.

2. La Palatera
Multiple locations
lapaletera.com

3. Las Nieves
4310 Blanco
(210) 735-9884

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Best 24/7 Restaurant
Jim’s

Multiple locations
Jimsrestaurants.com

Most of the restaurants in Jim Hasslocher’s homegrown empire are open late, not 24/7, but we can vouch for the central Broadway and 410 location, and you can research the rest at jimsrestaurants.com. Although SA now has a plethora of all-night eateries, from Mi Tierra to Taco Garage (weekends), maybe that homey diner feel — and the $4.99 Pioneer Breakfast (biscuits and gravy, two eggs any style, and coffee) — counts for something extra in the witching hour.

2. Mi Tierra Café & Bakery
218 Produce Row
(210) 782-8496
mitierracafe.com

3. iHop
Multiple locations
Ihop.com

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Best Barbecue
Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q

Multiple locations
Rudys.com

Rudy’s is a good reminder that behind every chain is a wo/man and a myth, and that sometimes purveyors of rustic Texana are actually hawking a reasonable facsimile. In this case, those occasional long Sunday lines outside the “country store” (quotes theirs) began in 1989 in scenic Leon Springs, when Q was added to the 60-year-old gas station and grocery. From there, the family-owned business, a direct descendant of the Leon Springs founder Max Aue, spread as far as Lubbock, El Paso, and even Albuquerque. But, shoot, we’re just reading this off the website so we can finish this writeup and head out to second-place winner and personal favorite Bob’s Smokehouse. [See our San Antonio Backyard Barbecue Issue, October 17, 2007, to find out why.]

2. Bob’s Smokehouse
6151 FM 78
(210) 661-4777

3. Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse
3709 N. St. Mary’s
(210) 735-0088
augiesbarbedwiresmokehouse.com

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Best Buffalo Wings
Wingstop

Multiple locations
wingstop.com

Yep, it’s a chain all right, but it’s a Texas chain, quarterbacked by one of the greatest ball-ferriers of all time (and we’ve seen many a sports star make a more embarrassing product-endorsement choice). So sue our readers. The Current recently completed a survey of a dozen local wing joints [see “Wings of Fire,” March 5-11], and Wingstop came out near the very top for us, too, with its devotion to a pure, buttery hot sauce with just the right balance between tang and spice.

2. Buffalo Wild Wings
Multiple locations
buffalowildwings.com

3. Hooters
Multiple locations
hooters.com

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Best Bakery
Broadway Daily Bread

5162 Broadway
(210) 822-1621
broadwaydailybread.net/


Jennifer Herrera

About, oh, four months ago, some asshole introduced me to the egg sandwich. I don’t really do sandwiches, but I do do eggs and I definitely do cheese. As a result, I’ve become a breadoisseur. (If you think I’m going to put my fluffy, folded eggs and aged white-cheddar cheese on Mrs. Baird’s floppy white shit, you’re wrong.) Anyway, I’ve got two words for you: Nine grain. At about a buck more than a loaf of Oroweat, you can’t go wrong with Broadway Daily Bread’s fresh, chemical-free, whole-wheat loaf, textured with nine grains and adorned with oatmeal.

2. Mi Tierra
218 Produce Row
(210) 782-8496
mitierracafe.com

3. El Sol Bakery and Bistro
728 S. Presa
(210) 227-9888
elsolbakery.com

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Best Sushi
Sushi Zushi

multiple locations
sushizushi.com

Can you say, “dynasty?” For the fifth year in a row, Texas chain Sushi Zushi earned the most votes from our readers — and why not? It’s a reliably trendy, tasty way to get your fishy fix. SZ was my first real foray into the world of raw fish (trips to the coast not withstanding), and while it might not be as authentic as Niki’s, or as decadently delicious as Godai (Goro is a sushi genius), it makes up for those shortcomings with a huge menu of creative, oft-Latin-inspired rolls and Asian cuisine (plus, you gotta love those Volkswagen delivery bugs).
Like the saying goes: You never forget your first. (Oh, and to the person who voted for “Sushi Zooshi,” I think you’re onto something: Live animals + raw fish = best dining experience ever. Restaurateurs, take note!)

2. Godai Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant
11203 West Ave
(210) 348-6781
godaishushi.com.

3. Niki’s Tokyo Inn
819 W. Hildebrand Ave
(210) 736-5471.

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Best Thai
Tong’s Thai

1146 Austin Hwy., (210) 829-7345, tongsthai.com

As the Current learned last year, you don't come between a Thai restaurant and its customers — especially the fans of Chef Chai Ngamsomjan's Thai Chili. For those of you about to point fingers over Thai Chili’s third-place finish, remember that this is a reader's poll — and while an impassioned few were quick to jump on critic Ron Bechtol over his September 2007 Thai Chili review (he still goes out in a hat and fake beard), they weren't enough to topple Tong’s Thai from the top spot.

Tong’s is a wise choice: its superior Pad Thai is sticky-sweet and stuffed with chicken, succulent shrimp and fried tofu. Wash it down with their trademark bubble tea and you have Thai to die for.

2. Thai Dee
5307 Blanco Rd.
(210) 342-3622

3. Thai Chili Oriental Restaurant
4303 Thousand Oaks
(210) 656-8589
thaichili.net

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Best Vietnamese
Viet Nam Restaurant

3244 Broadway
(210) 822-7461

Viet Nam Restaurant is a San Antonio staple, and to become one, it has made the usual accommodations: dishes from other parts of its home continent, and an emphasis on the specialities that have made it into the American dining lexicon: richly accessorized phó and some of the most decadent spring rolls in town. Still, there are clay pots and banh xeó for the purist, the slightly worn, homey surroundings are the antithesis to the recent plague of formica-covered Asian chains, and the staff couldn’t be more helpful or pleasant.

2. Saigon Express
1626 McCullough
(210) 277-1899

3. Van’s Chinese Seafood
3214 Broadway St
(210) 828-8449
vansrestaurantonline.com

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Best Chinese
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

Multiple locations
Pfchangs.com

We feel your pain: It’s really hard to find a viable, non-corporate Chinese alternative to P.F. Chang’s. Foodie faves such as Phoenix Café aren’t uniformly reliable; Chef Chan’s is best for dim sum … At least PFC is nicely decorated, it has an exceptional wine list and, er, it’s safe. The corporation also has thoughtfully provided an online menu with nutritional information for each dish, and you will never eat Kung Pao Chicken again — here or anywhere else — as a result. So, do your research, order wine, and contribute to the corporate bottom line — until a better local alternative comes along.

2. Tie:
Golden Wok
Multiple locations
golden-wok.com

China Latina
1014 S. Alamo
(210) 271-3103

3. Hsiu Yu
8338 Broadway
(210) 828-2273

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Best Deli
W.D. Deli

3123 Broadway
(210) 828-2322
wddeli.com

In two more years, Wayne Beers and Michael Bobo’s homey sandwich-and-soup haven turns 20, and while they continue to serve generously overstuffed lunch classics (don’t come between us and our pimiento-cheese sandwich) in a historic home and reputed former trannie bar (how else to explain the oversize grand staircase, put to such good use in their occasional, wildly popular drag brunches), they’re not resting on their laurels: They’ve recently started offering more vegetarian options to meet customer demand. Nor have they lost the personal touch. A February 13 visit this year netted us a special-edition W.D. Deli mix tape, a valentine to their customers.

2. Jason’s Deli
Multiple locations
jasonsdeli.com

3. Schilo’s Delicatesssen
424 E. Commerce
(210) 223-6692

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Best Sub Shop/Grinder
Subway

Multiple locations
Subwayfreshbuzz.com

Subway, founded in 1965 by a 17-year-old Connecticut college student, is way older than the Current, and as part of its mid-life crisis, it’s going green by introducing a LEED-certified eco-store concept. Something to think about next time you’re contributing to the 2,800 sandwiches and salads the company sells worldwide every 60 seconds. Their milk is 100-percent hormone-free, too, according to the website. So those man-boobs are coming from somewhere else.

2. Thundercloud
Multiple locations
Thundercloud.com

3. Quizno’s
Multiple locations
Quiznos.com

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Best River Walk Restaurant
Boudro’s

421 E. Commerce
(210) 224-8484
boudros.com


Jeanna Goodrich

The Current wasn’t wooed to SA; she came willingly, but a frequent freelancer whose day job romances employment candidates recently confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Boudro’s is one of the shiny lures used to land big fish on the banks of the San Antonio River. And no wonder, the decidedly contemporary Southwestern-style restaurant — and its nearby sibling Zinc Wine Bar — keep the busy River Bend area from feeling entirely like a Lone Star theme park. Boudro’s lives up to its “Texas bistro” tag with ambitious soups and entrees, but of course it’s most famous for its guacamole, prepared tableside with plenty of fire-roasted salsa, red onion, and freshly squeezed citrus. Wash it down with the equally renowned Prickly Pear Margarita, made with the fruit of the cactus.

2. Dick’s Last Resort
406 Navarro
(210) 224-0026
dickslastresort.com

3. Tie:
Biga on the Banks
203 S. St. Marys
(210) 225-0722
biga.com

Ácenar Comida Mexicana
146 E. Houston
(210) 222-2362
acenar.com

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Best vegetarian options
Green Vegetarian Cuisine

1017 N. Flores
(210) 320-5865
greensanantonio.com

Like their signature monster PB&J spread heavy with that jalapeño jelly and topped with homemade faux-sausagey meatstuff, the all-vegetarian Green is a taste and texture adventure. To an extent. When owner-operator chef Mike Behrend gave up the deep fryers and greater-than-face-sized cinnamon rolls at Lulu’s Bakery and Café and dropped 90 pounds on a no-meat diet, he wanted to help the rest of the city transition, too. That made the mission “delicious and affordable vegetarian comfort food.” So while you may hit some duds in the quest to convert the old familiars (like the greater-than-finger-sized logs of spiced-up tofu), you are more likely to gain with cruelty-free palette-pleasers like the chicken-fried wheat meat and a most extraordinary neatloaf.
Showing Behrend their appreciation, Current voters levitated Green not only to top pick for veggie choices by a landslide, but kicked Behrend a number two for Best Chef, to boot!

2. The Cove
606 W. Cypress
(210) 227-2683
thecove.us

3. Twin Sisters Bakery + Cafe
6322 N New Braunfels Ave
(210) 822-0761
twinsistersbakeryandcafe.com

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Most Talented Local Chef
Andrew Weissman

Le Rêve. Sandbar. Big’z. Sip. Contemporary Italian restaurant in the Pearl Brewery (coming soon). restaurantlereve.com
Weissman’s Le Rêve also won Best Expensive Restaurant and Best Wait Staff.


Justin Parr

Andrew Weissman is a driven man. As if it weren’t enough to have been called Best Restaurant in Texas by one publication and number six in the U.S. by another, now he’s garnered yet another James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southwest. But that’s not all: The chef we associate with upscale French cuisine has always had an Italian itch, and it’s about to be scratched at a new restaurant to open, by late October, in the Pearl Brewery project. Serving from breakfast through dinner, “it will be something the State of Texas has never seen,” says Weissman. “Five-star dining in a casual concept” was mentioned. We believe him. And in the meantime, we’ll be noshing at Big’z when we need a burger fix (order it dirty for a dollar), slurping oysters at Sandbar, and sipping latte at Sip, his downtown coffee shop.
Weissman doesn’t do it alone, of course. Le Rêve’s refined atmosphere is created in large part by his impeccably dressed, well-trained, polite, and politic staff, who will help you navigate the four-hour dining expedition — and the wine list (Fabian was a runner-up for Smartest Sommelier, too). It’s not for the fidgety, or those who object to reservations and dinner jackets for men, but it is divine.

2. Mike Behrend
Green Vegetarian Cuisine and Coffee
1017 N. Flores
(210) 320-5865
greensanantonio.com

3. TIE:
Damien Watel
Bistro Vatel, La Frite, Ciao Lavanderia, Ciel (coming soon). bistrovatel.com
Jason Dady, Bin 555, The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, bin555.com. thelodgerestaurant.com

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Best Expensive Restaurant
Restaurant Le Rêve

152 E. Pecan
(210) 212-2221
restaurantlereve.com
Le Rêve also won Most Pro Wait Staff and Chef Andrew Weissman won Most Talented Local Chef.

Andrew Weissman is a driven man. As if it weren’t enough to have been called Best Restaurant in Texas by one publication and number six in the U.S. by another, now he’s garnered yet another James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southwest. But that’s not all: The chef we associate with upscale French cuisine has always had an Italian itch, and it’s about to be scratched at a new restaurant to open, by late October, in the Pearl Brewery project. Serving from breakfast through dinner, “it will be something the State of Texas has never seen,” says Weissman. “Five-star dining in a casual concept” was mentioned. We believe him. And in the meantime, we’ll be noshing at Big’z when we need a burger fix (order it dirty for a dollar), slurping oysters at Sandbar, and sipping latte at Sip, his downtown coffee shop.
Weissman doesn’t do it alone, of course. Le Rêve’s refined atmosphere is created in large part by his impeccably dressed, well-trained, polite, and politic staff, who will help you navigate the four-hour dining expedition — and the wine list (Fabian TK was a runner-up for Smartest Sommelier, too). It’s not for the fidgety, or those who object to reservations and dinner jackets for men, but it is divine.

2. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Multiple locations
ruthschrissa.com

3. Silo Elevated Cuisine
434 N. Loop 1604 West
(210) 483-8989
siloelevatedcuisine.com

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Best AYCE Buffet
Golden Corral

Multiple locations, goldencorral.com

Golden Corral used to be old hat for me. As a sweaty 12-year old stained in red dirt and soaked in sun, I used to file in with the rest of my starving softball troupe after playing nine games in a weekend tournament. If the defining element of your restaurant is buffet-style all you can eat, my parents were the focus of your advertising campaign. Golden Corral isn’t a destination for light eaters. It’s the place you go when you want the most bang for your buck. And bang we did — I can’t otherwise remember eating so many different kinds of food that had no business being on the same plate together, topped off with an ice-cream sundae with every possible kind of sprinkle, nut, cookie, and syrup mixed in.

2. Chopsticks
4903 NW Loop 410
(210) 521-1177

3. China Harbor
Multiple locations including 3662 Fredericksburg
(210) 735-9988

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Best Indian
India Palace

8440 Fredericksburg
(210) 692-5262

15909 San Pedro
(210) 403-3688
indiapalacesa.com
India Palace’s creamy saag paneer, with its perfect cubes of firm, mild cheese, could justify its Best of SA title all by itself, but the perfectly spiced chana masala (chock full of melt-in-your-mouth chick peas) is delicious, too. The star, though, might just be the fluffy, delicately seasoned rice — tasty enough to eat on its own, not that there’s any need to do that. The original Fredericksburg location is growing out of its pink-and-red space into a larger setting in the same strip center, which also holds an Indian and Pakistani grocery.

2. India Oven, 1031 Patricia, (210) 366-1030, indiaoven.com
3. Simi’s, 4535 Fredericksburg, (210) 366-1030

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Best Local Pizza
Dough Pizzeria Napoletana

6989 Blanco
(210) 979-6565
doughpizzeria.com


File photo

In honor of this new family-owned joint’s triumph in the local pizza category, we reprint our New York critic’s first impression from our January 9 Pizza Issue: The oven, ingredients, and cooking methods are all certified by the Italian government … This is truly the real thing, and its upscale nature and impeccable service place it in a league of its own. Those not familiar with this type of pizza might be put off by the fresh mozzarella, as it does have a higher moisture content than the cheese Americans are used to. But what happens when the milkiness of the cheese meets with the sweet and tart bite of the sauce is heaven. And the crust … so crispy and savory, geez, I could bring it home with me and tuck it into bed at night.

2. Goomba’s Pizzeria
7214 Blanco
(210) 348-9090

3. Main Street Pizza & Pasta
1906 N. Main
(210) 732-8861
mainstreetsa.com

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Best Steakhouse
Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Downtown: 1170 E. Commerce (210) 227-8847
Concord Plaza: 7720 Jones-Maltsberger (210) 821-5051
ruthschrissa.com

It’s hard to begrudge the success of a single mother from New Orleans, whose creation myth has her buying the first Chris Steak House in 1965 in the Crescent City when she couldn’t make ends meet as a lab technician. Our local outposts of the chain serve properly cooked and aged beef on the signature sizzling platter, and local franchisee owner Lana Duke continues Ruth Fertel’s tradition of child-rearing through involvement with Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives residence and counseling center for kids in tough places.

2. Outback Steak House
Multiple locations
outback.com

3. Texas Roadhouse
2893 Cinema Ridge
(210) 521-2988
texasroadhouse.com

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Best Italian
Paesanos

Multiple locations, paesanos.com

Paesanos, which dates its SA arrival to no less a local legend than HemisFair, topped a long list of votes for Best Italian Food, besting local favorite Capparelli’s and national chain Olive Garden in a tight category. Sporting locations on the River Walk, 1604, and in Lincoln Heights, Paesanos is a prime destination for upscale Italian dining. The 1604 outpost boasts an impressive entry hall lined with hundreds of wine bottles guiding patrons to an extensive menu of pasta, seafood, chicken, veal, and bee. Classics like the Shrimp Paesano, lightly breaded, flavorful shrimp in a white wine lemon butter sauce, are perennial favorites, while departures like the Sesame Seared Tuna with Wasabi Potatoes and Soy Butter chart new territory.

2. Capparelli’s
Multiple locations, including:
2524 N. Main
(210) 735-5757

3. Olive Garden
Multiple locations
olivegarden.com

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Best Seafood
Sea Island Shrimp House

Multiple locations, seaislandshrimp.com
San Antonians are passionate about this homegrown chain and they’re not shy about it. This year, the beloved shrimp house won in a landslide victory, as they have for many years, but we’re down with it. This staffer had a teammate that used to eat at Sea Island with her family every Sunday after church, and it seems that many others grew up feasting there in accordance with family tradition that spans generations. We’ve a sappy love for oysters on the half-shell, and Sea Island’s are plump and flavorful. Shrimp lovers can’t go wrong with the restaurant’s namesake, quite probably its best asset. The Shrimp Feast combines fried Texas Gulf shrimp, lightly breaded charbroiled lemon-pepper shrimp, skewered grilled shrimp, and butterflied cooconut shrimp plus fries — enough to leave anyone stuffed for $10.99.

2. Pappadeaux
Multiple locations
pappadeaux.com

3. Red Lobster
Multiple locations
redlobster.com

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Best Salsa
Rosario’s

910 S. Alamo
(210) 223-1806
rosariossa.com
Rosario’s also won Best Mole and Tangiest Michelada.

Lisa Wong brought bright lights, big city to the cantina concept — aided by lots of concrete and a neon-lit faux palapa — and forged a Tex-Mex restaurant empire in Southtown that’s still frequented by the locals even as it becomes increasingly renowned among the travel and dining set. The cavernous interior pulsates with fun on busy nights, and the food ain’t bad, either, although it’s expectedly not as autentico as, say, Cascabel just down the road. Rosario’s award-winning mole is sweet and earthy, with barely a hint of spice, and the salsa is fresh, nicely roasted, and bottomless. Neither compares to the michelada, though, that margarita-bloody-mary- beer mongrel. After murmuring the ingredients back to us (tabasco, worcestershire, tomato-something, lime ... ) the bartender asks if we want salt (yes), inquires after our beer selection (Negro Modelo; unorthodox, but trust us), and shortly delivers a chilled schooner of the best summer chaser in town — mixed for you, so you can enjoy carbonated, spicy, tangy perfection all the way through.

2. Tie
La Fogata
2427 Vance Jackson Rd
(210) 340-1337
lafogata.com

The Cove
606 W. Cypress
(210) 227-2683
thecove.us

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Best Nachos
Chacho’s

Multiple locations
Chachos.com
Chacho’s and Chacho’s and Chalucci’s also won Tastiest Margarita.


Jeanna Goodrich

The Life is Good philosophy purveyed by multi-category winner Chacho’s/Chacho’s & Chalucci’s is conveyed perfectly and pithily in this excerpt from Mark Jones’ February 2007 review of the latter entry in the locally grown Tex-Mex chain:
“Though they mass produce Mexican food in a fashion inspired by the Ford assembly-line technique, it is alcohol that defines C&C’s and gives it its raison d’etre.
There are so many good things to write about this enormous place — the skyscraping children’s playground that suggests a wholly different daytime family atmosphere, the after-hours shopping-mall-picnic-court atmosphere, the mysterious Chalucci whose Italian influence never materialized (as in, what happened to the pizza bar we were promised?) and, of course, the legions of workers drifting from distant corner to distant corner in various states of activity.
The place has a generally benevolent crowd mentality. People intersect constantly, and in various states of inebriation, and often with plates filled up to five, six, and seven inches deep with nachos..
Going to Chacho’s & Chalucci’s to test the bartender’s adroitness at making an Apple Martini, or even something simple like a vodka & tonic, makes very little sense. You order a margarita, perhaps top shelf if you’re feeling fancy; anything else goes against good horse sense.
The bartender is not the guy or gal in whom you’re going to confide that your wife just left you for the electrician. Such a confession would be met with a detached, existential stare; the bartender has made so many margaritas that it’s become second nature. I can just sense the repeated actions creating their own neuro-muscular memory. To do something that breaks this pattern invites ridicule and scorn from the people in line behind you. Get your margarita as quickly as possible and return to your seat to enjoy the show, because clearly there is a show going on. Early 20-somethings are all over this place text messaging, exchanging stares and numbers.
Chacho’s & Chalucci’s isn’t a melting pot in any real sense, but this is one of the few places in the city I can think of where you can find large numbers of Anglos, blacks, and Latinos all together in the same place. I’m not saying C&C’s is making strides in improving race relations, but if you can put people together with a common purpose (getting hammered at an affordable price), then yes, why can’t we all get along?

2. The Cove
606 W. Cypress
(210) 227-2683
thecove.us

3. Tie:
Rosario’s
910 S. Alamo
(210) 223-1806
rosariossa.com

Chris Madrid’s
1900 Blanco
(210) 735-3552
chrismadrids.com

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Best Breakfast Tacos
Taco Taco

145 E. Hildebrand
(210) 822-9533
tacotacosa.com

If you visit Taco Taco’s website before you wander into the tiny, rectangular restaurant, you might think the Food Network and Bon Appetit attention has gone to its head (“The Best Tacos in America!” it announces). But the staff are just as accomodating as ever, and San Anto’ll keep ’em honest. What are national accolades without those regulars who make it hard (read: impossible) to get a seat mid-mornings on the weekend. A recent to-go order of barbacoa on corn and papas rancheras on flour were flavorful and rich, and the only reason we don’t sit down to a breakfast plate regularly is ’cause we don’t make it to the gym often enough to compensate for that kind of indulgence.

2. Las Palapas
Multiple locations
las-palapas.net

3. Taco Cabana
Multiple locations
tacocabana.com

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Best Tamales
Delicious Tamales

Multiple locations, delicioustamales.com

There’s something about homemade tamales that make our heart swell — but if our abuelita takes a vacation, Delicious Tamales serves ’em up. Their assortment ranges from the typical pork to the sweet tamales made with coconut, raisins, and pecans — if they’re anything like Delicious’s bean tamales, we’ll be hooked. Plus, how can you not love mascots Paco and Lola?

2. Ruben’s Homemade Tamales
1807 Rigsby
(210) 333-9529

3. Téllez Tamales & Barbacoa
1737 S. General McMullen
(210) 433-1367

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Best Barbacoa
Adelita Tamales & Tortilla Factory

1130 Fresno
(210) 733-5352
Adelita makes the Current glad for the reconquista: few things convey the sense of comfort and satisfaction offered by a sun-yellow room filled with racks of fresh tortillas and meat by the pound. Adelita’s barbacoa isn’t a bit greasy, either, but the meat is slow-cooked to tender perfection, with just enough fat between the layers to give it that backyard-cookout flavor. Grab a warm stack of Tortillas Norteñas from the cooler by the counter while you’re there, and you have a feast to go.

2. Rios Barbacoa
multiple locations including 5707 S. Zarzamora
(210) 923-8258

3. Culebra Meat Market
multiple locations, including 3017 Blanco
(210) 732-7477

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Best Takeout Tortillas
Alamo Café

Multiple Locations
alamocafe.com/

I’ll steer clear of the main fare: My idea of Mexican food hasn’t been (what tastes like) canned chili on enchiladas filled with canned nacho cheese since I was 10. But you’ve got a point, San Antonio. It is a “Taco Factory” after all, and these are yummy — even reheated. First off, they’re fluffy. I like the way steam rose from between them as I peeled one from the stack, like one of those crazy layered biscuits. Also, they’re sizeable (that’s what she said): good for casual snacking or burrito-making. And the gentle AC waitstaff are only too happy to provide you with to-go aluminum foil.

2. Taco Cabana
multiple locations
tacocabana.com

3. Tie:
Taco Taco
145 E. Hildebrand Ave
(210) 822-9533

Las Palapas
multiple locations
las-palapas.net

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Best Guacamole
Boudro’s

421 E. Commerce
(210) 224-8484
boudros.com

The Current wasn’t wooed to SA; she came willingly, but a frequent freelancer whose day job romances employment candidates recently confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Boudro’s is one of the shiny lures used to land big fish on the banks of the San Antonio River. And no wonder, the decidedly contemporary Southwestern-style restaurant — and its nearby sibling Zinc Wine Bar — keep the busy River Bend area from feeling entirely like a Lone Star theme park. Boudro’s lives up to its “Texas bistro” tag with ambitious soups and entrees, but of course it’s most famous for its guacamole, prepared tableside with plenty of fire-roasted salsa, red onion, and freshly squeezed citrus. Wash it down with the equally renowned Prickly Pear Margarita, made with the fruit of the cactus.

2. La Fogata
427 Vance Jackson
(210) 340-1337
lafogata.com

3. Chipotle Mexican Grill
Multiple locations
chipotle.com

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Coolest Patio
The Cove

606 W. Cypress
(210) 227-2683
thecove.us

There’s no finer way to spend a relaxing afternoon than at a restaurant with a great patio. A more than worthy destination is The Cove, your one stop restaurant/laundry/car wash located just off the SAC-friendly San Pedro strip. Behind the restaurant is a huge, extended veranda that is worn and comfy, offering the vibe of your own backyard. Picnic-style tables line the shady area, supplemented by mismatched but fun tables and chairs and little picnic benches for the kiddos. The little ones romp in an outdoor playground plus basketball hoop while friendly staff serves regulars. The air was perfect on a recent relaxed Friday afternoon as were the fish tacos, the kitchen’s staple and claim to fame.

2. La Fogata
2427 Vance Jackson Rd.
(210) 340-1337
lafogata.com

3. La Hacienda De Los Barrios
18747 Redland Rd.
(210) 497-8000

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Best Local Coffee Shop
Olmos Perk

5223 McCullough Avenue
(210) 858-2956
samuelesqueda.com/olmos/

West Elm. White Stripes. WiFi — my first impressions of furniture, tunes, and allure as I stepped into the sleek Olmos Park establishment. It’s only a short walk away from my former abode, and I was kicking myself for not having visited before. Just look at the magazine selection, I thought to myself, picking up ARTnews and waiting on my to-go cappuccino. (Just look at the patrons, I mused, peeking over the outstretched mag.) I missed all this because the logo suggests a plain-joe coffee shop where geriatrics congregate? Uugh. Turns out the goods are good. My cappuccino foam didn’t have the density of, say, Jupiter’s, but we can’t all be perfect.

2. Ruta Maya
107 E Martin St
(210) 223-6292
rutamayariverwalk.com

3. Tie:
Candlelight Coffeehouse
3011 N. St. Mary's
(210) 738-0099
candlelightsa.com

Timo’s Coffee House
2021 San Pedro
(210) 733-8049

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Best Farmers Market
Olmos Basin Park

800 Olmos Drive E.
(210) 854-6277
texascertifiedfarmersmarkets.com

That old dude Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” At Tuesday and Saturday’s market in Olmos Park you can do both, grazing local produce and meeting fantastic folks. While an assortment of outdoor markets abound in San Anto, this is one of the city’s first, dating back to the mid-’80s. But whether you’re sniffing out ’maters, tots, or onions, getting there early helps, since the day starts at 8 a.m. and runs until the vendors run dry. Depending on the time of year (and encroaching climate uncertainties), you can find strawberries, peaches, squash, and watermelons, as well as an assortment of jellies, jams, and preserves. Save the Planet. Heal Yourself. Laugh. Eat. WIC approved.

2. Tie:
Chicho Boys Fruit Market
1631 S. Laredo
(210) 225-7557

Market Square
612 W. Commerce
(210) 207-8596

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Favorite Go Texan/Texas Product
Chile Beach Jams
c/o Joe Saglimbeni Fine Wines & Spirits
638 W. Rhapsody Dr.
(210) 349-5149
or mail order via:
chilebeachjams.com

 

When the versatile grape has overstayed its welcome, jelly-wise that is, you may want to board the ferry and cut a course for Chile Beach Jams. San Antonio master mashers have elevated the art of jam to another tier: one where the sweeps include a variety of chiles intersected by pineapple, currants, and strawberries, and spiked with a range of spices like nutmeg and garlic. We explored the sampler box (and scared our co-workers) with dollops of each on plain table crackers, but we can see a new world unfolding (thanks to the recipe suggestions) in Bloody Mary mixes and grill chicken, hummus, and “pirate” beans. Argh!

 

2. Becker Vineyards
464 Becker Farms Road
(830) 644-2681
beckervineyards.com

 

3. Texas Grapefruit (Rio Star, Ruby Red, etc.)
Uh, the store…

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Best Food & Wine Festival
San Antonio Wine Festival

February 20-22, 2009. sawinefest.com

This annual fundraiser for KLRN, San Antonio’s public television station, may not be as elaborate as the themed events that bracket it here at home and in the Hill Country, but it has the common touch, and without celebrity chefs and clever seminar names manages to fill the Alamodome and Hyatt Hill Country ballrooms for its trio of tastings. The accompanying competition results in a list of hundreds of quaffable wines, thoughtfully stocked by our local grocery conglomerate, and this year printed in the Current’s Flavor magazine. But we’d raise a glass to SAWF’s BoSA medal even if we weren’t a media sponsor.

2. New World Wine & Food Festival
November 5-9, 2008
nwwff.org

3. Blue Star Arts & Eats
October 23, 2008
bluestarart.org

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Best Taco Truck
Taco Truck outside the Saint

Circa 1430 N. Main
Parking your taco truck outside a bar full of drunk men? That’s just good business sense. At four years and counting, few taco trucks can claim the stability that the Saint’s late-night purveyor of alcohol counterweights has found. While the Current’s regular taco-truck critic doesn’t claim it has his favorite, the people have spoken, and in that sense, this truck has to be doing something right. Its flash of art stardom at last year’s Olmos Famous CAM show opening adds the glow of legend.

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Best Enchiladas
Blanco Cafe

Multiple locations, including:
1720 Blanco
(210) 732-6480

This 34-year-old paragon of low-budget, high-flavor Tex-Mex dining is owned by the San Miguel family, who keep tradition intact at their several outposts with beef enchiladas shining with just the right amount of grease, and the enormous Deluxe Mexican Dinner, a multi-plate feast for the frugal glutton. The vinyl and formica have seen better days, but then so have you when you go rollin’ in for that cures-all-ills late breakfast.

2. Tie:
Rosario’s
910 S. Alamo
(210) 223-1806
rosariossa.com

Picante Grill
3810 Broadway
(210) 822-3797
sawhost.com/picantegrill/

3. Casbeers
1719 Blanco Rd
(210) 732-3511
casbeers.com

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Best Mole
Rosario’s Restaurant Y Cantina

910 S. Alamo
(210) 223-1806
rosariossa.com
Rosario’s also won Tangiest Michelada and Best Salsa.

 

Lisa Wong brought bright lights, big city to the cantina concept — aided by lots of concrete and a neon-lit faux palapa — and forged a Tex-Mex restaurant empire in Southtown that’s still frequented by the locals even as it becomes increasingly renowned among the travel and dining set. The cavernous interior pulsates with fun on busy nights, and the food ain’t bad, either, although it’s expectedly not as autentico as, say, Cascabel just down the road. Rosario’s award-winning mole is sweet and earthy, with barely a hint of spice, and the salsa is fresh, nicely roasted, and bottomless. Neither compares to the michelada, though, that margarita-bloody-mary- beer mongrel. After murmuring the ingredients back to us (tabasco, worcestershire, tomato-something, lime ... ) the bartender asks if we want salt (yes), inquires after our beer selection (Negro Modelo; unorthodox, but trust us), and shortly delivers a chilled schooner of the best summer chaser in town — mixed for you, so you can enjoy carbonated, spicy, tangy perfection all the way through.

2. Tie:
Picante Grill
3810 Broadway
(210) 822-3797
sawhost.com

Los Barrios
4223 Blanco
(210) 732-6017

3. Piedras Negras
1701 S. Laredo
(210) 223-2512

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Smartest Sommelier
Laz McGill
Bohanan’s Prime Steaks/Seafood

219 E. Houston
(210) 472-2600
bohanans.com

Some years ago at Bohanan’s, I was presented a bottle in a wine cradle, a lit candle was passed behind, and we all observed the wine’s clarity. “We try not to bring the candle to the table now,” says sommelier Laz McGill, who has been at the upscale steakhouse since the demise of Gladys at the Strand. “But we do decant almost everything but pinots.” McGill calls most of his customers smart enough to order from the wine list on their own, but claims “Others are even smarter than that and realize I might actually know something about [it].” He does.
2. TIE:
James Martin
Sandbar
102 E. Pecan
(210) 222-2426

Fabian Jacob
Le Rêve
152 E. Pecan
(210) 212-2221
restaurantlereve.com

__________________________________________________________________

Finest Wine Shop
Saglimbeni Fine Wine

638 W. Rhapsody
(210) 349-5149
jsfinewine.com

There’s something about the family feeling of an independently owned business that inspires devotion, and the Saturday-afternoon tastings at Saglimbeni Fine Wine support that: They’re a gathering of the faithful. Just as with the family you can’t choose, you have to realize its quirks, of course. There’s the drive-you-crazy music; there’s Grappa the house hound … but it’s all good-spirited. Cigar aficionados will find stogies to spare, and there are gourmet goodies galore. Good advice, too. Couple that with frequent 20-percent discounts, and it’s easy to keep the faith.

2. Central Market
4821 Broadway
(210) 368-8600
centralmarket.com

3. Wine Styles
16535 Huebner
(210) 479-5955
winestyles.net

__________________________________________________________________

Best Wine List
Copa Wine Bar

19141 Stone Oak Pkwy
(210) 495-2672
thecopawinebar.com
Copa also won Finest Wine Bar.


Antonia Padilla

Angie and Jeff Bridges will be the first to tell you that theirs is neither the biggest nor broadest wine list in town. There are lots of bubblies, but few sauvignon blancs, for example. But this is nit-picking, for reds reign, and Copa’s selection is appealing across several categories. Inzinerator zinfandel, perhaps? There’s a huge selection of Red Blends, including the too-honest Fruit Bomb from Washington. And cabernets and cab blends (France gets short shrift) nearly run the gamut. Spanish varietals find favor as well — a natural choice with the menu’s many tapas.

2. Tie:
Van’s Chinese Seafood
3214 Broadway
(210) 828-8449
vansrestaurantonline.com

Bin 555
555 W. Bitters
(210) 496-0555
bin555.com

__________________________________________________________________

Most Pro Wait Staff
Restaurant Le Rêve

152 E. Pecan
(210) 212-2221
restaurantlereve.com
Le Rêve also won Best Expensive Restaurant and Chef Andrew Weissman won Most Talented Local Chef.

Andrew Weissman is a driven man. As if it weren’t enough to have been called Best Restaurant in Texas by one publication and number six in the U.S. by another, now he’s garnered yet another James Beard nomination for Best Chef Southwest. But that’s not all: The chef we associate with upscale French cuisine has always had an Italian itch, and it’s about to be scratched at a new restaurant to open, by late October, in the Pearl Brewery project. Serving from breakfast through dinner, “it will be something the State of Texas has never seen,” says Weissman. “Five-star dining in a casual concept” was mentioned. We believe him. And in the meantime, we’ll be noshing at Big’z when we need a burger fix (order it dirty for a dollar), slurping oysters at Sandbar, and sipping latte at Sip, his downtown coffee shop.
Weissman doesn’t do it alone, of course. Le Rêve’s refined atmosphere is created in large part by his impeccably dressed, well-trained, polite, and politic staff, who will help you navigate the four-hour dining expedition — and the wine list (Fabian TK was a runner-up for Smartest Sommelier, too). It’s not for the fidgety, or those who object to reservations and dinner jackets for men, but it is divine.

2. Cappy’s
5011 Broadway
(210) 828-9669
cappysrestaurant.com

3. Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse
3709 N. St. Mary’s
(210) 735-0088
augiesbarbedwiresmokehouse.com

__________________________________________________________________

Best Ice House
La Tuna

100 Probandt
(210) 224-8862
La Tuna also won Coldest Beer.

Any given Friday afternoon, La Tuna embodies the best of ice-house culture: what you want and what you need in one friendly, easy-access package. The picnic tables are packed with blue and white collars and plenty of real tats, the line for the diverse — and, yes, well-chilled — beer selection moves quickly, and a scattering of kids crunch around on the bottle-cap covered ground. Food from the kitchen out back is a big step above your average cantina, with white-bean chile, succulent sliders, and fresh buffalo wings hinting at its Southtown address and easing your happy-hour chill into an evening of low-key revelry.

2. Hills & Dales Ice House
15403 White Fawn Dr
(210) 695-2307

3. Texas Ice House
4102 Blanco
(210) 736-4349

__________________________________________________________________

Best Empanadas
Beto's Comida Latina

8142 Broadway
(210) 930-9393
betoscomidalatina.com


Chuck Kerr

Lay off the glorious manteca for a day and visit this airy Northside location with filo-wrapped empanadas of the main-course variety: chicken poblano or beef and red chile or even the veggie spinach, potato, and cheese, just to mix things up. You will quickly realize why this healthier pastry wrap swept the Current’s Best Ofs with a bullet. Wash it all down with a desert empanada, but forget the corn-syrup-sweetened 20-pound cans of pumpkin filling. Instead, you’ll find walnut pieces and a sophisticated spice mix teasing your taste buds. (And don’t fall into my trap — shell out the extra duckets for that scoop of vanilla ice cream. Or go both feet in with a guava and cream cheese.)

2. Mi Tierra Café & Bakery
218 Produce Row
(210) 782-8496
mitierracafe.com

3. El Sol Bakery and Bistro
728 S Presa St
(210) 227-9888
elsolbakery.com

__________________________________________________________________

Best Local Burgers
Chris Madrid’s

1900 Blanco
(210) 735-3552
chrismadrids.com

The first real San Antonio job (not counting a miserable pregnant summer at a Burger King on Bandera Road) for a certain Current staffer was at this 31-year-old local staple, which still serves its patties thin, well-seasoned, and larded with the goods, the bestest of all being refried beans, tortilla chips, jalapeños, and the signature melted-cheddar lava flow. That concoction, the Tostada Burger, is often imitated, but only attains its San Anto perfection in Madrid’s converted, sprawling mid-town garage — it’s a true ice house at heart, with cold longnecks rounding out the dream. Remember, it’s not about the beef at this sibling-run icon, it’s about the fun you’ll have with friends and family.

2. Chester’s
Multiple locations, including 9980 IH 10 West
(210) 699-1222

3. Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson
(210) 223-2830
samsburgerjoint.com

__________________________________________________________________

Best Sopapillas
Pancho’s Mexican Buffet

8300 Marbach
(210) 673-2930 

226 W. Bitters
(210) 494-9131
panchosmexicanbuffet.com

Sopapillas are a distinctively Southwestern dessert favorite, and Pancho’s has demonstrated its dominion over the same region, with locations in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas (to their credit, they’ve also penetrated the Bossier City, Louisiana, market). There are many approaches to sopapillas, but San Antonio consistently sweetens the deal by sprinkling these wondrous fried pastries with cinnamon sugar. Pancho’s has been a Marbach Road fixture for 25 years, and their fresh sopapillas have consistently been among its most popular items.

2. (tie) Panchito’s
multiple locations
panchitos.net

Chuy’s
18008 San Pedro
(210) 545-0300
chuys.com

See Also

Best of 2008 FAQ's in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Special Places in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

You've Been Served in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Shop Till You Drop in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Working-class Heroes in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

You Turn Me On in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Mini Me in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Our Bodies, Our Selves in Readers Pick 4/23/2008

Vice and Virtue : Part 2 4/23/2008

Vice and Virtue : Part 1 4/23/2008

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