December 14, 2018

29 Hours in San Antonio: Where to Eat and Stay

Night in San Antonio

I blame it on the Wall Street Journal. And wine.
It was a Tuesday night. After our second glass of wine, we looked at the forecast for the rest of the week: Bleak. Cold. Chance of snow (which ended up turning into a definite snow).
It was time to leave again. We went into action. David started with a map and forecasts and quickly narrowed it down to Texas, since it seemed to be raining or snowing everywhere else. Austin? We were just there. Dallas? Don’t love. Houston? Does anyone go there on purpose?
I googled San Antonio and a recent Wall Street Journal article came up; he looked at Delta and found direct flights at good times and great prices.
A little research into hotels and restaurants that may challenge us and teach us something, and we were done.
We landed at 4:42 p.m. Our dinner reservation was at an astonishing 5:30, so we had to go light on Delta’s (excellent) Biscoff cookies and (mediocre) red wine. We just had enough time to Uber to Hotel Emma in what they call rush hour in SATX, drop our bags, and jump in another Uber to Mixtli, the hero of the WSJ article that wooed us here.

We walked in five minutes late, which wouldn’t be a big deal anywhere else. (We generally call if we may be more than five minutes late, which happens rarely thanks to David’s compulsion to be early.) At Mixtli, the lovely host was actually watching out the window, waiting for us. We were the last two to be seated at the family-style 12-top, which happens to be the only table in the restaurant.
After somewhat awkward greetings amongst this new group tossed together, the first glass of wine came and everyone was fine.
Mixtli is a unique dining experience, with a gifted team serving an interpretation of a tour of Mexico that they change every six weeks or so. It’s a 10-course tasting served in about 90 minutes—although we’re not usually big on tastings, if you’re going to do one, we’re in favor of keeping it snappy. It was casual, clever, and homey, with the tiny kitchen cooking out of what looked like an Easy-Bake Oven. Food & Wine tends to agree that it’s worth a visit.

So here we are in San Antonio, it’s only 7:15, and we’re done with dinner. What next?
The only place to stay is the aforementioned Hotel Emma. Can I just stop there? Yes, I think I will.
Hotel Emma is getting attention as a clever renovation of an old brewery, and for its attention to detail. It’s also located in the Historic Pearl District, which seems to be the hotspot in San Antonio. The Pearl has a central town square constantly populated with families, dogs, drinkers, and diners, and the square is flanked with a collection of quality restaurants and retail. If you’re just going for a short weekend, you almost wouldn’t have to leave this area.
But, of course, we did leave the Pearl.
From Hotel Emma, take the River Walk to and through downtown. We skipped the tourists’ section, with an exception of a stop at Esquire’s downstairs bar. It’s the oldest bar in the city (touristy), but downstairs is more industry and locally driven (not).
The destination for our walk was Blue Star Contemporary (it’s in Southtown, another location with multiple great food venues for brunch and more). The notable restaurants in this neck of the woods are Bliss (largely known as the best in town, for good reason), Fruteria, which is great for an afternoon margarita and snacks (and also found at the SAT airport), and Maverick, a self-proclaimed Texas brasserie cooking over a wood fire.
In the downtown area, Restaurant Gwendolyn is a clever concept based on how things were done in 1850, before the industrial revolution (AKA, nothing with a plug is involved in prep). The rest of downtown is primarily chains that satisfy the convention center/performing arts center/business crowds (and we have a handful of clients there, so that’s not a negative knock). On the River Walk itself, we wouldn’t really recommend anything (it’s in keeping with our general “scenic location, bad restaurant” philosophy), other that the Esquire or the Paramour rooftop (a little outside of downtown) for a drink.
Back to the Pearl. Yes, you could make it weekend out of it. The town square area alone is a case history in what every city would love to have: A gathering spot with a nearby food hall where people come all day and night to eat, drink, and socialize. The Pearl also has two things going for it: great weather, and an open bottle policy allowing you to drink and walk outside.

Other restaurants, all within stumbling distance:
Cured: Along with Mixtli, this is the other restaurant with chefs getting James Beard attention. Meat-heavy with creative charcuterie. Great food and an open kitchen that you can see even just walking by outside.
Southerleigh: It’s a brewery, but they have a great wine selection. Always energetic and busy, and a must along with Cured.
Botika: Even though the description is a bit varied (sushi, wok, grill, cebicheria), leaving you wondering if anything is good, it’s worth a stop for an app and drink. And a great play list…. I played name that tune of 1980’s music with a fellow bar sitter.
High Street Wine Co: We loved this place because of the service (shoutout to Campbell), the outdoor seating, and the fact that they had Tasmanian sparkling wine (we’re still in our “we love Tasmania” phase). It’s mostly meat, cheese, and wine. So it’s mostly perfect.
Blue Box: Old-school bar. Great if you want to watch a football game.
Bakery Lorraine: The token bakery/café. These guys do a great quiche for breakfast, and their macarons are actually pretty good (Hotel Emma leaves them in your room at turndown service, in case you needed more convincing on the “where to stay” front).
In the Hotel Emma itself, in contemporary-hotel style, it’s truly a place to hang out. In the lobby, in the attached bar (Sternewirth, cleverly designed around brewery equipment), and at the restaurant, Supper, in the front. All decent choices, but it does become a scene later night on the weekends. (Note: Southerleigh is also connected to the hotel.)
For 36 hours (technically, 29), it’s a perfect destination. Short flight, great hotel, beautiful weather to walk the city during the day, and eat and drink the night a way.