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Food & Drink > Best of San Antonio

You've Been Served

Illustration By Tiffany Maples

 

Best Taco Truck

Tacomiendo,
700 Division Ave
(210) 843-1735

The mini-tacos — savory/tart al pastor, rich carnitas — generous handmade tortas both con-carne and veggie, and even Tex Mex staples such as quesadillas and cheese enchiladas — are far superior to anything you’ll get out of any wheeled vehicle anywhere: truck, car, biplane, sailboat, submarine, hovercraft, pedicab, UFO, tuk-tuk. But, amazingly, it’s the impeccably fresh seafood that’ll get you hooked (What? Too obvious?). The shrimp tostada will haunt your dreams until you can get your mitts on another one … and another. All the salsas and fixin’s (minced cebolla, cilantro, lime) are fresh, too. The best way to enjoy this delicious bounty is on the Artpace porch every Friday from noon-2 p.m., where in good weather you can stuff your taco-lovin’ face while hangin’ with art peeps and enjoying an ice-cold Mexican Coke or Topo Chico.

2. Chela’s,Corner of UTSA and UTEX Blvd

3. Taqueria Datapoint, (yes, there’s still a truck, too), 4063 Medical Dr. (210) 615-3644

Best Breakfast Tacos

El Milagrito Café
521 E. Woodlawn
(210) 737-8646
elmilagritocafe.com

After sating ourselves one morning, we brought some tortilla-wrapped love from El Milagrito into the office. Sometimes uppity reporters turn up their noses at leftovers, but these foil-wrapped treasures were devoured in minutes. Our art director, upon sampling the chorizo y papa, exclaimed, “It’s even good lukewarm!” Our vegetarian newswriters loved the crunchy-soft migas (“ … in a taco? Mmm!”) and the pico-spiked huevos a la Mexicana, and a certain associate editor was cured of his hangover by half a chorizo and egg. The elements are all first-rate: Fresh huevos neither slimy nor rubbery; perfectly cooked potatoes, not mushy or too al dente; just enough chorizo to impart deep, bright flavor but not so much as to stain the tortilla, your clothing (or your innards) with orange grease; the country sausage isn’t of the substandard ground-beef variety. And everything nestled in floury homemade tortillas strong enough to stand up to fillings but soft enough to accommodate gobbling ’em up. The velvety–smooth green and red salsas aren’t kidding around, either, whoa. Hurts so good.

2. Taco Haven, 1032 S. Presa, (210) 533-2171, tacohaven.info

3. Los Roberto’s Taco Sho, 2216 W. Bitters, (210) 494-9131

Best Brisket

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

Augie’s tender but firm brisket has a considerable vinegar bite that will linger in your mouth with the smoky flavor long after your meal’s over. The cook leaves on the fat, which melts into a sauce of its own, no extra needed. While it’s fine on the plate, it achieves nirvana when it’s chopped on the toasted bun, and that fat runs into the bottom half to create a palm-size dumpling. Wear a white dress shirt at your own peril. Eat in the picturesque honky-tonk front room overlooking the park, or enjoy the covered patio out back, which feels as much like the Hill Country as an urban pit can.

2. The Barbecue Station,1610 NE Loop 410, (210) 824-9191, thebarbecuestation.com

3. Two Bros. BBQ Market, 12656 West Ave., (210) 496-0222,twobrosbbqmarket.com

Best Barbacoa

Apetito’s Mexican Restaurant
8019 Marbach
(210) 675-8020

The weekend barbacoa (only time to get it, as with many local restaurants) at Apetito’s is baby-teeth tender and not in the least greasy, all the better for stuffing into the pillowy flour tortillas with a giant spoonful of fresh pico de gallo. The $10 Barbacoa & Eggs Plate comes with three huevos, cooked as you like (over-easy goes awfully well with the meat), a lake of earthy refried beans that taste like the pintos they are, and some OK fried potatoes (child, on behalf of your cholesterol, may we suggest: leave them on the plate). Dine in this 20-year-old Westside staple’s cheery, Santa Fe-meets-Mexico garden room, attended to by the very professional and cheery waitstaff, and your spirits will lift on even the gloomiest day.

2. Rachel’s Barbacoa & Tortillas (tie), 1702 Pinn, (210) 674-4325

2. Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa (tie),1737 S. General McMullen Dr., (210) 433-1367

Best Fajitas

Pappasito’s Cantina
10501 I-10 W
(210) 691-8974
pappascatering.com

One of the stranger votes we came across in this year’s Best of ballots read “Pappasitas [sic] (I HATE to admit it). “We’re not exactly sure where the shame in that statement comes from; it’s not like the fajitas come wrapped in pornography (though if someone’s offering that, let us know about it), but we can still appreciate why a San Antonio reader might have a hard time copping to the fact they enjoy fajitas from the San Antonio location of this Houston-based chain when so many local options are available, including, apparently, a few of our voters’ backyards. Pappasito’s tasty, tender, mucho Americanized fajitas have at least two points in their favor: portions and price. Dig the Pappasito’s grill option, which offers a skewer of beef, chicken, bacon-wrapped shrimp, and pineapple, plus the requisite cheese, sour cream, grilled onions, and charro beans, and their half-price fajita Wednesdays, which offer sizzling beef and chicken for two at a bargain price of $16.25.

2. Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina, 910 S. Alamo, (210) 223-1806,rosariossa.com

3. La Hacienda de los Barrios, 18747 Redland, (210) 497-8000, lhdlb.com

Best Enchiladas, Nachos & Salsa

Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina
910 S. Alamo
(210) 223-1806
rosariossa.com

What makes Rosario’s enchiladas stand out from the cheese-and-grease-laden morass? Well, they’re not as Tex-Mex as the classic SA model: Not as slickery, nor as overtly artery-hardening. They come filled with healthy chicken, if you like, slathered in a sweet and nutty mole or a tangy verde. And almost anyone can actually eat the entire plate in one sitting, especially if you skip the non-earth-shattering beans and sturdy rice.

Rosario’s nachos will not change your life, but the supers — each chip schmeared with refried beans, graced with chicken or beef fajita meat, and covered in a shell of melted yellow cheese — are dependable and comforting, and no one will be stuck with sad, undecorated crumbs at plate’s end. The basic bean-and-cheese model do their job admirably: convey a fat slice of jalapeño and a dollop of salsa safely to your lips.

Current readers, why do you love Rosario’s salsa — a smooth, almost sweet, roasted model with little bite — above all others? We assume it’s because you can eat a gallon of it without fear of the morning revenge, and without driving your bar tab to unmanageable heights. Visiting relatives from the Midwest and other milder cuisine climes will likewise find it a manageable introduction to our food version of oxygen, and double bonus, while y’all are snacking away in the crowded dining room, the din will deter any detailed personal questions.

Salsa

2. Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant,8030 IH 10 West, (210) 341-5424,mamacitas.com

3. Guajillo’s, 1001 NW Loop 410, (210) 344-4119, guajillos.net

Enchiladas

2. Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurantv 8030 IH-10 West, (210) 341-5424,mamacitas.com

3. Paloma Blanca Mexican Cuisine, 5800 Broadway, (210) 822-615,palomablanca.net

Nachos

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

3. Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant, 8030 IH-10 West (210) 341-5424, mamacitas.com

Best Guacamole & River Walk Restaurant

Boudro’s Texas Bistro on the River Walk
421 E. Commerce St., (210) 224-8484
boudros.com

As far as River Walk restaurants go, Boudro’s takes the pastel by attracting throngs of deep-pocketed tourists without losing the attention or respect of SA’s fine-dining set. Although the riverfront patio can feel cramped at times, you’ll fail to notice after a shocking-pink prickly-pear margarita. Specializing in Gulf Coast seafood (the jumbo-shrimp cocktail with Padre Island dressing is worth the visit), Texas Angus beef, and American Southwest specialties, Boudro’s is best known for its meticulously prepared guacamole. During his days as a Boudro’s server, manager Richie Britton calculated making 30,000 orders of the stuff. “We sell about 1,000 orders a week,” he told us. Now, you could try making a batch at home (visit boudros.com for the recipe), but then you’d be missing the gorgeous view, amusing people-watching, and charming visits from friendly ducks that seem to have developed a taste for tortilla chips.

Best Guacamole

2. Ácenar Mexican Restaurant, 146 E. Houston, (210) 222-2362,acenar.com

3. Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant (tie), 8030 IH 10 West, (210) 341-5424,mamacitas.com

3. Rosario’s Mexican Café y Cantina (tie), 910 S. Alamo, (210) 223-1806,rosariossa.com

Best River Walk Restaurant

2. Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s, (210) 225-0722,biga.com

3. Paesanos Riverwalk Restaurant, 111 W. Crockett, (210) 227-2782,paesanosriverwalk.com

Best Wurst

Beethoven Maennerchor Halle
422 Pereida
(210) 222-1521
beethovenmaennerchor.com

We love to sit in the biergarten at Beethoven of an evening, drink lots of cold Deutsche Bier and, when the tummy-rumbling mood takes us, avail ourselves of a bratwurst. Savory, full-flavored, and perfectly textured (not too coarse, mealy, or dense) with a strong skin “snap,” Maennerchor’s wurst is the love child of the world’s best frankfurter and a kielbasa, on steroids. Possibly the world’s most suitable beer companion besides, maybe … well, we can’t think of anything. Note: Hallowe’en at Beethoven, eating a bratwurst and drinking cerveza alemán whilst wearing an FLDS sisterwife costume and flirting with somebody dressed as Hank Williams Jr. is pretty much the best thing ever.

2. Schilo’s Delicatessen,424 E. Commerce, (210) 223-6692

3. Old World German Restaurant, 1546 Babcock,  (210) 366-9523,oldworldgermanrestaurant.com

Best Caldo

El Mirador
722 S. Saint Mary’s
(210) 225-9444
elmiradorrestaurant.com

Interesting reader choice, given that El Mirador doesn’t ( at least, ordinarily, that we’ve seen) serve the traditional caldo de res, which contains tender braised beef, half-corncobs, and coarse-cut carrots and cabbage. However, if you translate the term caldo loosely, meaning any kind of soup in which foods are suspended in broth, this is a home run. El Mirador’s is called Caldo Xochitl, and it’s a bowlful of wholesome riqueza: chicken in a childhood-memory-inducing broth, each bite heaped with tender chickpeas, zucchini, tomato, avocado, cilantro, and magic. All of El Mirador’s soups are legendary, though. Sopa de Lima, Sopa Tarasca, and Sopa Azteca garner such a devoted following that on any given Saturday (when they’re on special), if you don’t hop to it, they’re liable to run out. So, you: run out there.

2. Paloma Blanca, 5800 Broadway, (210) 822-615, palomablanca.net

3. Panchito’s, McCullough, 4100 McCullough, (210) 821-5338,panchitos.net

Best Cupcakes

Kate’s Frosting
2518 N. Main
(210) 248-9809
katesfrosting.net

Kate-Frost Feild’s SA-grown shop is as homey as it is sweet to smell, which makes those elegantly coiffed confections in the display case less intimidating. That one topped like a geisha with a chopstick length of cinnamon? Mexican chocolate, one of the day’s two specialties. The other is tres leches, which dissolves on contact with our tongue. We’ll take a half-dozen of the mini red-velvet slippers, too, because the sugar-coated cherry on top is like a rainbow after a storm.

2. Cupcake Couture., 4710 Broadway, (210) 595-6375,cupcakecouturesa.com

3. SAweet Cupcakes, mobile cupcake vendors, (210) 215-0121, Track them at saweetcupcakes.com

Best Ice Cream/Gelato

Amy’s Ice Cream
255 E. Basse
(210) 832-8886
amysicecreams.com

The beloved Austin import, located in the Quarry shopping center, tickles tasters’ palates with a wacky chalkboard full of rotating flavors. A recent visit served up a perfect Hill Country Sunday afternoon in a cone with choices of Texas BBQ (sweet and smoky), Shiner (yes, as in beer), and White Chocolate Pecan (excellent bread-pudding topper). The seasonal experiments sit alongside standard Mexican Vanilla, Belgian Chocolate, and Sweet Cream for 30 flavors in all, and servers mix in additions from Gummi Bears to ginger snaps to Grape-nuts. Fruit ices are available for those watching their waistlines, but we’d rather get our vitamins from the Fredericksburg peach ice cream, coming soon!

2. Brindles Awesome Ice Creams, 11255 Huebner, (210) 641-5222

3. Justin’s on the Riverwalk, 245 E. Commerce,myspace.com/justinsonmain

Best Paletas

El Paraiso Ice Cream
1934 Fredericksburg Road, (210) 737-8101

It’s a cheery and reassuring sight in the summertime to watch the El Paraiso paleta carts, with their mouthwatering visual encyclopedia pasted on the sides, loading up and heading out from the retro blue-and-white Deco District shop: Cold relief is on its way to frollicking children and industrious outdoor laborers across the city. While the prices at this San Anto staple have remained old-school (a dozen for $5; 25 for $10, and so on), El Paraiso continues to add flavors that will appeal to total gringos (cheesecake, cappuccino) as well as Texicans (pineapple, mango, and tamarind, all available with chili, too).

Ed. note: This was one of three categories in which the Best of SA tally malfunctioned, so we’ve substituted a critic’s pick instead. See our FAQ, page 4, for more info and watch for this category next year.

Best Bakery/Panaderia

Broadway Daily Bread
5162 Broadway
(210) 822-1621
broadwaydailybread.net

It starts with a hangover. Mr. Fridge holds no eggs. Souring milk. So you scrub your finger across your teeth and hop in the auto till you see a “bakery” sign and get in line. As you’re inspecting the rows of radiant baked goods moving from the kitchen and into the paper bags, a server slices the banana-chocolate sample on the plate. You taste. Then it’s the date-nut. Next, blueberry. The queue at Broadway Daily Bread keeps moving, but you’re hanging on the counter glass, crumbs piling before you. A sound you later realize is whole wheat being stone-ground onsite means the rustic breads on the racks are doubly fresh. The air-filled sandwich sleeves you’ve been eating all your life, you realize, are not, in fact, bread. The scales fall from your eyes. The staff of life rises kundalini-like. Your gut is free at last.

2. Mi Tierra Restaurant & Bakery, 218 Produce Row, (210) 225-1262, mitierracafe.com

3. Joseph’s Storehouse Restaurant & Bakery, 3420 N. St. Mary’s, (210) 737-3430, josephs-storehouse.net

Best Desserts

The Cheesecake Factory
7400 San Pedro
(210) 798-2222
thecheesecakefactory.com

For your cream-cheese and graham-cracker-crust needs, 12 hours a day (13 on Saturday!), seven days a week, look to this decadent outpost at North Star Mall. The opulent setting of trompe l’oeil walls and wide-bottomed seats is far from factory-like, but they do crank out the cheesecake in as many makes as your sugar-fevered brain can conjure. We particularly fancy the tart lemon-rasberry variety as a restrained option, but there’s 30 other flavors for those who prefer the diabetic-coma route.

2. Madhatters Tea House and Café, 320 Beauregard, (210) 212-4832,madhatterstea.com

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

Best Deli

W.D. Deli,
3123 Broadway
(210) 828-2322
wddeli.com

W.D. takes all the guilt out of paying someone else to make a sandwich for you by selling sandwiches you wouldn’t have thought to make yourself paired with soups that couldn’t possibly have come from cans. Try the Southwest Roast Beef (with jalapeño cream cheese) with the Tomato Chipotle Bisque (only available Tuesdays) if you’re feeling spicy, or the crisp-tender Spinach Chicken Salad with the savory Chicken Tortilla soup if you’ve got a beef with poultry. And if you’d rather veg out, they’ve got a few viable options for you, too, that make the PBJ and Ramen lunch you were planning seem as sad as it is.

2. The Filling Station (tie), 701 S. St. Mary’s, (210) 444-2200

2. Madhatters Tea House & café (tie), 320 Beauregard, (210) 212-4832,madhatterstea.com

Best Local Coffee House

Olmos Perk
5223 McCullough
(210) 858-2956
olmosperk.com

Serene and sunny, Olmos Perk attracts not just the upper-class denizens of its surrounding neighborhood, but caffeine appreciators from all over San Antonio. They have an ample menu of espresso and coffee drinks, plus excellent chai tea and yummy biscotti, but the coffeeshop’s laidback attitude and central location are what place it above its peers. You’ll always find a seat, either on the clean, modern couches, the outside patio chairs or at the indoor computer carrels. Rare is the place that puts as much emphasis on the need to work (free wi-fi, those awesome computer carrels) as the need to chat (comfy chairs and quiet music). Superfast staff make lingering for coffee a choice, not a necessity.

2. Local Coffee, 700 E. Sonterra Blvd., (210) 530-8740,localcoffeesa.com

3. Candlelight, 3011 N. St. Mary’s, (210) 738-0099,candlelightsa.com

Best Sunday Brunch

Madhatters Tea House and Café
320 Beauregard
(210) 212-4832
madhatterstea.com

For Sunday mornings wherein you’re not snarfing up potato-and-egg tacos in your car during a “drive of shame,” but rather want to gather with friends and loved ones for a Sunday treat before the inevitable pre-Monday blues, there’s Madhatters. They have an impressive brunch menu of salads, sandwiches, burritos, and granola specials. But if it’s just you and a friend, go for afternoon tea. It’s $18, but you get excellent, light but fortifying smoked-salmon or cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwiches, petits fours, and scones (and tea), fer Chrissake! Perfect afternoon bike-ride fuel. Or if you’d rather go all decadent, luxuriate in the Honey Ham Benny (aka eggs Benedict) with a bottomless “fishbowl” mimosa, then get the hiccups and take a nap afterwards.

2. Candlelight Coffeehouse, 3011 N. St. Mary’s, (210) 738-0099,candlelightsa.com

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

Best Sushi

Godai Sushi Bar & Restaurant
11203 West Ave.
(210) 348-6781
godaisushi.com

When the friendly face of Chef William “Goro” Pitchford is behind the sushi bar, all’s right with the sea. The Current orders our black-diamond run: tuna nigiri, hamachi sashimi, and ikura with a quail’s egg, and Godai makes quick work of it. The hamachi tastes so fresh it’s like taking in a mouthful of clear ocean air and water. The tuna is tender and draped like a swath of velvet over the rice ball, and the dainty golden quail yolk melts into the salmon roe for dessert. The saltillo floor and wood siding remind us of an upscale Bill Miller, but you won’t be thinking barbecue when you leave. Weekday sushi happy hours make the otherwise (justifiably) rich prices very easy to swallow.

2. Goro’s Sushi, 2619 Mossrock, (210) 349-8117

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

Best Indian Buffet

India Palace
8474 Fredericksburg
(210) 692-5262
indiapalacesa.com

When the human experiment streamed into the Indus Valley, half of the hairy apes took to the hills and built ashrams to study the drunken monkey that is consciousness. The other half took to the garden, developing some of the most complex and satisfying fare known to the planet. We’re not sure which has proved more beneficial to humanity. At India Palace, those who conquer a buffet line of seamlessly spiced steaming vegetable somosas, saag (you’d never know it was spinach) paneer, classic naan breads, and a variety of curries may actually achieve enlightened levels of bliss. Our readers know it wouldn’t be the first time.

2. India Oven, 1031 Patricia, (210) 366-1030

3. Simi’s India Cuisine, 4535 Fredericksburg, (210) 737-3166

Middle-Eastern Food

Pasha
9339 Wurzbach
(210) 561-5858
gopasha.com

Forget everything you ever knew about pita bread, that misbegotten supermarket second cousin of the packaged flour torilla; tired and tough, or clammy and too-doughy, an unloved staple used for food-wrapping exigency. At Pasha, this fresh, fragrant flatbread is delivered to your table hot, cloud-fluffy, and faintly carbon-kissed from a busy oven, alongside a small dish of EVOO infused with Arabian spices. Tear bits of pita to scoop up dollops of creamy, smoky baba ghannouj, or wrap it around tender morsels of Joojeh Kabob (marinated, grilled cornish game hen). Veggie folk and their animal-vore loved ones will both find something to rave about, whether it’s the falafel wrap studded with pink, crunchy pickled turnips, superior stuffed dolmas, the parsley burst of tabbouleh salad (only speckled with bulghur), or the baklava (two varieties — tasty cream-filled turnover or the traditional, honey-sweet and topped with ground pistachio).

2. Shiraz, 4230 McCullough, (210) 829-5050,dineatshiraz.com

3. Jerusalem Grill, 3259 Wurzbach, (210) 680-8400,jerusalemgrill.net

Best Vegetarian Options & Veggie Burgers

Green Vegetarian Cuisine and Coffee
1017 N. Flores
(210) 320-586
greensanantonio.com

Beans and rice are still nice mis amigos vegetarianos, but a sprouts-an’-hummus wrap con carrot juice are earth-rageously delish — especially when found in our border-fare-overloaded San Antonio. Owner/Chef Mike Behrend, a former deep-fried heavy at Lulu’s Bakery and Café, has become a living-foods marathoner and an ideal poster child for the power of sprouts. The deep fryer may have been retired, but there are still plenty of comfort foods on the menu: chopped barbecue, Philly cheesesteaks, and the heavier “Neat” loaf plate may cause you to fidget with your waistband, but those greens, smoothies, and less-processed dishes stand ready for a voyage to cellular repair. All veggie and kosher?! We’ve got God and Gaia covered.

Book-ended by a housemade bun baked with garlic and herbes de provence (we had to know), the three shades of Green Cuisine’s veggie burgers (two of which were added this year) prove that the hockey-puck offerings at our many beef-leaning restaurants desperately need to up their game. The patty: a soy-garbanzo blend that crisps nicely on the edges. Coverings range from mashed avocado and cashew-derived vegan cheese to super-thin sliced tomato and red onion, field greens, and fried onions. And that bun! Watch for its alter ego on Sundays when it surfaces in biscuit form with aromatic fennel baked in.

Veggie Burgers

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

3. Twin Sisters Bakery and Cafe, 124 Broadway, (210) 354-1559, Also: 6322 N. New Braunfels,twinsistersbakeryandcafe.com

Vegetarian Options

2. Twin Sisters Bakery and Cafe, 124 Broadway, (210) 354-1559, Also: 6322 N. New Braunfels,twinsistersbakeryandcafe.com

3. Adelante Mexican Food, 21 Brees Boulevard, (210) 822-7681

Best Chinese Food

Formosa Garden
1011 NE Loop 410
(210) 828-9988
formosagarden.com

Any restaurant that has survived these past few years within a 5-mile radius of the construction nightmare that is the 410-281 interchange deserves mention for its tenacity alone. Formosa Garden has not only weathered poor roadside assistance, but a rash of smash-and-grabs in the parking lot. Diners are greeted with a large sign in the foyer urging them to bring their valuables into the restaurant. The doubly daring fare ensures the venture will be rewarded: Hunan lobster, Peking duck, and sautéed lamb are just a few of the location’s specialities. This is no box-store buffet, so prevalent along SA’s feeder roads; this is sophisticated Chinese dining, complete with sushi bar, in a nicely detailed romantic setting. And all MSG-free.

2. Hung Fong, 3624 Broadway, (210) 822-9211

3. Ding How , 4531 NW Loop 410, (210) 340-7944

Korean Restaurant

Il Song Garden
6905 Blanco
(210) 366-4508
ilsonggarden.com

The Current ignored our columnist Gillian Fassel’s advice for months, ordering the smoky, sweet, and spicy pork bulgogi, the delicious shrimp pancake, the delectable yaki mandu. But when we finally gave in and tried the comforting bi bim bap we understood why you vote Il Song Garden the best Korean restaurant time and again. The generous bowl of savory and fermented vegetables, tofu (meat is available, too), and rice is topped with an over-easy egg, comes with an assertive full-body hot sauce, and is, unbelievably, made even better by the array of pickles and excellent kimchi. And when proprietrix Young Cacy is running the dining room, service is friendly, efficient, and helpful.

2. Korea House, 4453 Walzem, (210) 599-9210

3. Kiku Garden, 4527 Goldfield, (210) 662-6699,kikugarden.com

Best Thai Food

Tong’s Thai
1146 Austin Hwy.
(210) 829-7345
tongsthai.com

Something powerful good landed on Austin Highway several years ago — an out-of-towner taste worthy of the drive-in-era décor of the drag’s aging motel signage and landmark Bun ’N’ Barrel neighbor: tone-perfect Thai food served up in an impeccably exotic setting. Amid towering palm trees and numerous well-fed Buddhas, Tong’s offers spa treatment for the eyes and mouth. The oft-recognized eatery also offers an efficient sushi bar, Chinese dishes, and Saturday-night jazz. Oh, and if you’re enjoying the local bubble-tea explosion, you can thank Tong’s for that, too.

2. Thai Taste, 5520 Evers, (210) 520-6800

3. Mon Thai Bistro and Sushi, 4901 Broadway, (210) 822-3253,monsthai.com

Best Vietnamese

Viet Nam Restaurant
3244 Broadway
(210) 822-7461

Viet Nam Restaurant sits on a little frozen-in-time stretch of Broadway and aptly hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1976. With both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine on the menu, you can come up with some interesting meal options. A clear crowd favorite, the spring rolls are a delightful combination of glass noodles, pork, onion, and mushrooms. According to owner Quan Tang, “Some people come just for the crab claws. They get mad if we run out.” The highlight of our most recent visit, however, was a refreshingly cold, crisp cucumber salad, costing a whopping $1.50.

2. Pho Sure / Saatea Lounge (tie), 741 W. Ashby, (210) 773-8473,saatea.com

2. Pho Cong Ly (tie), 300 West Bitters Rd., (210) 499-5572

Best French/Bistro

La Frite Belgian Bistro
728 S. Alamo
(210) 224-7555
lafritesa.com

The popularity of this dressy-casual Southtown hotspot hasn’t suffered under new ownership, perhaps because owner Icy Donnelly and son Miles have left the warm, cozy atmosphere and bistro menu basics untouched from the days of Damien Watel. The food, although a bit rocky after the handover, has steadily improved, and the warm and detail-oriented Stephen Warner is still running the front of the house: The Current most recently chanced steak tartare, and it was perfectly fresh and expertly dressed.

2. Pavil Restaurant & Bar, 1818 N. Loop 1604 West, (210) 479-5000,brasseriepavil.com

3. Bistro Vatel, 218 E. Olmos Dr. (210) 828-3141

Best Italian

Il Sogno
200 E. Grayson
(210) 212-4843

Andrew Weissman didn’t start the non-red-sauce Italian dining movement in SA, but he’s lodged its top achievement to date: his upscale-casual airy box of light in the Pearl Brewery, which serve dishes like orzo with squid ink and fresh peas, an opulent roast chicken so worth its extended wait, wild-boar ragout, and a mouthwatering array of antipasti. The service is among the most pro in town, and head chef Luca Dellacasa turns out plates that are rustic in spirit but finished with the polish we’ve come to expect from a Weissman endeavor. A wait for dinner? Check for seating on the patio and enjoy a glass (or bottle) of prosecco. And when you’re all done, finish your meal with an energizing affogato al caffé and stroll down the River Walk’s Museum Reach for a glimpse of this year’s Best of SA Public Art winner: Donald Lipski’s F.I.S.H.

2. La Focaccia Italian Grill (tie), 800 S. Alamo, (210) 223 5353,lafocaccia-italian-grill.com

2. Maggiano’s Little Italy, 17603 IH 10 West, (210) 451-6000,maggianos.com

Best Late-night Restaurant

Mi Tierra Café & Bakery
218 Produce Row
(210) 225-1262
mitierracafe.com

Like a Vegas casino, Mi Tierra’s tourist-trap décor, chipper staff, and piles of chips trick visitors into believing the evening is still young even as the sun rises. Powered by alcohol-absorbing cheese enchiladas and coffee as refreshing as a slap in the face, Mi Tierra has the power to revivify the drunkest downtown bar-hoppers, sending them on their merry, quasi-sober way $25 poorer, with a bag full of impulse-purchased pan dulce, and howling “Cielito Lindo.” Opinions aside on food, ambience, prices, and service, Mi Tierra excels at being 24/7/365 in our sleepy city. And that really is something to write home about.

2. Lulu’s Bakery & Café, 918 N. Main, (210) 222-9422,luluscafeinsa.com

3. Las Salsas, 2018 San Pedro, (210) 732-5366

Best Patio

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

Like the U.S. Postal Service, La Fogata’s patio delivers during almost all types of weather extremes. Thanks to the large covered outdoor area and ample fans and heat lamps, diners stay pleasant through rain showers, summertime lunches, and chilly evenings. Vibrant tiles, lush greenery, fountains, and the occasional avian visitor make it even easier to forget La Fogata’s location on a busy section of Vance Jackson. Their famous margaritas, which contribute to the restaurant’s “I Forgata” nickname, nonetheless make the outdoor experience a memorable one.

2. La Hacienda de los Barrios, 18747 Redland Road, (210) 497-8000,lhdlb.com

3. La Tuna Grill, 100 Probandt St., (210) 212-5727,latunagrill.com

Best Chicken-fried Steak

LuLu’s Bakery and Café
918 N. Main
(210) 222-9422
luluscafeinsa.com

If Morrissey’s right and meat is murder, Lulu’s chicken-fried steak is out-and-out genocide. In South Texas, it’s not a real meal unless something warm-blooded has ceased to be, but you tofu chewers can rest assured that, much like the Native Americans we yanked this land out from under, Lulu’s seems to use every part of the animal — in a single steak. But despite its being the size of a wagon wheel, this CFS is a surprisingly lean, quality cut of meat, just chewy enough to complement the batter’s crispy crunch, free of the damp greasy mush many lesser steaks quickly become. May we all reincarnate as something so tasty.

2. DeWese’s Tip Top café, 2814 Fredericksburg Rd., (210) 732-0191,tiptopcafe.com

3. Good Time Charlie’s Bar & Café, 2922 Broadway, (210) 828-5392,gtcsatx.com

Best Fried Seafood

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
76 NE Loop 410
(210) 340-7143
pappadeaux.com

Pappadeaux drops several sorts of sea critters into their deep-fryers for crunchable consumption — catfish, Gulf shrimp, clams — but the Cajun-style crawfish are the standout. They’re spicy enough to get your attention, but not enough to make your eyes water or turn lunchtime into an endurance exercise. Not to mention the added benefit of frying your crawdads — you don’t have to look the mutant-silverfish buggers in their beady little eyes before biting into them or tear their faces off to get to the meat. Sure, some people like to suck the juice out of the heads, zombie-style, but who wants to take a lunch with them?

2. Rudy’s Seafood, 4122 S. Flores, (210) 532-1315,myspace.com/rudysseafood

3. Landry’s Seafood House, 517 N. Presa, (210) 229-1010 ,landrysseafoodhouse.com

Best Local Burgers

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

For all the readers who voted Whataburger best local burger, it’s time for an intervention. You might argue the orange A-frame offers San Antonio’s best burger at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night, but until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday it’s Madrid’s Tostada Burger — a quarter-pound (half-pound if you’re “macho”) of beef slathered with refried beans, onions, tortilla chips, and a melty wedge of cheddar at least a half-inch thick. Not only is it perfect for those times when you can’t decide between nachos and a burger, it’s the only burger we need a knife and fork for. The meat on the plain-old Porky’s Delight bacon burger is delicious as well, just the right amount of salty and slick, soaking into but not through the glistening, pillowy bun. But we miss those beans all the same. And what are we, health-food freaks?

2. Big’z Burger Joint , 2303 N. Loop 1604 West, (210) 408-2029,bigz-burgerjoint.com

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

Best Puffy Taco

Ray’s Drive Inn
822 SW 19th St.
(210) 432-7171

A San Antonio treasure and one of two contenders for the “official home of the puffy taco,” Ray’s Drive Inn wins in the décor department (1880s saloon filled with decades of memorabilia, is how it struck Travels With Frenchie author Mark Jones), and the “delectably” crumbly brisket tacos are delish. Generous portions and the movie-set atmosphere also make this a good family destination.

Ed. note: This was one of three categories in which the Best of SA tally malfunctioned, so we’ve substituted a critic’s pick instead. See our FAQ, page 4, for more info and watch for this category next year.

Best Local Pizza

Dough Pizzeria Napoletana
6989 Blanco Rd.
(210) 979-6363
doughpizzeria.com

The best pizza margherita this side of New York City … or maybe even Naples. That’s where the oven comes from, anyway, a fiery behemoth from whose hellish depths emerge light, chewy-tender crusts with perfect touches of char, an ideal platform for the soupy heaven of tomato and melted cheese. Their “STG” model ( stands for “Specialita Traditionale Garantita,” which means, essentially, “Italy sez: oficially awesome”) boasts ethereal Mozzarella di Bufala.

2. Main Street Pizza and Pasta, 1906 N. Main, (210) 732-8861,mainstreetsa.com

3. Goomba’s Pizzeria, 7214 Blanco Rd., (210) 348-9090,goombaspizza.com

Best Tamales

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

Sequestered in a small, green-painted former convenience store, Ruben’s is the ne plus ultra of tamaleras. We don’t mean to knock its competitors, and Lord knows we’ve resorted to an H-E-B tamal or two when we’ve had to, but there’s a reason why Ruben’s won Best Of by a fragrant, masa-rich landslide (and it’s not for the gruff service, a formality we endure in order to get our mitts on the goods, kinda like the Seinfeld crew with that soup guy). At Christmastime, the line of slavering customers heads out the door and into the parking lot, buying them by la docena until no hay más(a?). Porky goodness is the classic, but we hear tell of bean and cheese, too.

2. Tamahli, 10905 Wurzbach Rd., (210) 877-9949, tamahli.com

3. Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa, 1737 S. Gen. McMullen Dr., (210) 433-1367

Fresh Seafood

The Sandbar
200 E. Grayson,
(210) 222-2426

The appeal of Andrew Weissman’s seafood restaurant has (appropriately) always been the very fresh fish, whether it’s sauced, served whole pan-fried Asian-style, or as some of the finest sashimi in town. It’s also the premier place to get a platter of oysters and just the right chablis to wash them down. You can’t quite see the river from the Pearl Brewery location, but some water-generated negative ions must generate a happy buzz in the air around the entrance, and the interior ambience is upmarket but downhome. The lunch menu features a shrimp roll now, and there have been more frequent lobster-roll sitings, but you might also bite into the new oyster po’boy and save room for Chef Chris Carlson’s Tahitian vanilla and lemon cheesecake, which is rolled in candied walnuts when it’s on the menu, which the Current fervently hopes will happen on our birthday or possibly every day. Also home to some of SA’s finest restaurant personnel.

2. Wildfish Seafood Grille, 1834 N. Loop 1604 West, (210) 493-1600

3. Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, 76 NE Loop 410, (210) 340-7143,pappas.com

Best Steakhouse

Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood
219 E. Houston
(210) 472-2600
bohanans.com

The lighting in Bohanan’s busy main dining room is anything but romantic, but perhaps the 85 percent of the clientele who come from out of town are on expense accounts rather than second honeymoons. Everyone, though, is here for the multi-award-winning beef, served thick-cut and largely unadorned, with more side-dish options than many steakhouses (lobster cream corn, wild-rice patties ... ). Start with the Spinach Salad — which one recent traveler called “the best salad I’ve ever had” — or inventive appetizers such as the richly coated “French-grilled” oysters and the Eastern-leaning Duck Confit Egg Rolls, and you won’t even have room for dessert (which, FYI, do include “flaming table-side” options; go easy on the hairspray). A suggestion: If you are there for l’amour, dine in the window overlooking the small courtyard in the room adjacent to the bar.

2. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, 255 E. Basse, (210) 824-9463,flemingssteakhouse.com

3. Morton’s the Steakhouse, 300 E. Crockett, (210) 228-0700,mortons.com

Best Romantic Restaurant

The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills
1446 Lockhill Selma Rd.
(210) 349-8466
thelodgerestaurant.com

According to its website, the tranquil midcentury nabe of Castle Hills derived its name from this lovingly restored 1930s stonework home, called “the castle on the hill” for its live-oak-graced, sprawling-manse grounds. Dine in original-owner Chester A. Simp’s graceful bohemian vision: His wife Helen was an artist, and her painting studio has transmogrified into one of the Lodge’s intimate (and highly recommended) private dining rooms. The rustic beauty, warm lighting, and the fantasy-inducing prelude to your dinner experience (you drive up a winding driveway through trees and relinquish your car to a valet) all set a dreamy mood, fo sho. Keep the l-u-v going with a bottle of 2000 Haut Medoc from Chateau d’ Arcins while you address your attention to the menu: at $50 a pop for the four-course tasting menu or $110 for Chef Jason Dady’s signature tasting menu (with wine pairings) it’s no small investment, but dinner entrees are masterfully prepared and seasonally based. Really, it’s a sure thing at the Lodge, especially if you order duck (or any game fowl), sea scallops, pork belly, beets, blue cheese … sigh. Ah, l’amour, l’amour.

2. Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s, (210) 225-0722,biga.com

3. Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, 219 E. Houston, (210) 472-2600,bohanans.com

See Also

Working Class Heroes in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

Mini Me in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

Shop Till You Drop in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

You Turn Me On (and sometimes off) in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

Creative Class in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

Vice and Virtue in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

You've Been Served in Best of San Antonio 4/21/2010

Best of 2010 : Click here for your 2010 Readers' Choice winners! 4/21/2010

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