- Dan Payton
- Snapper throats are an early hit.
1. Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
136 E. Grayson St., Suite 120, (210) 455-5701, southerleigh.com
At three months in, Southerleigh, the latest eatery to debut inside the Pearl, is hitting its stride. The overwhelming task of training a massive back-of-the-house crew and a knowledgeable service staff, inside what was arguably the most hotly anticipated restaurant of the year, didn't fall on deaf ears with chef Jeff Balfour or general manager Philippe Place.
On the back end, Balfour and co. are delivering coastal fare that impresses almost as much as the renovated Pearl brew house the eatery is housed in. Stop in for a bangin' lunch, where you'll find sizable sandos and
Current favorite Cellerman Pail specials with the kitchen's greatest hits at almost ridiculous prices. The entire deal is sweetened by the expert service of Place and his knowledgeable servers.
Visits to Southerleigh involve gawking at the restaurant and its various dining pockets for several minutes on end. Exposed parts of the former Pearl brew house add a certain sense of nostalgia as diners enjoy several levels of dining within the same space that once provided brews to San Antonio and abroad. The brew tanks — don't worry, these are much, much newer — are whirring again as Les Locke and a small army of brewers create playful libations available by the full-size pint or lunchtime pour. Sneak one in before going back to work. We won't tell.
Where Southerleigh really wins us over is with its snack line, perfect for guzzling down one of Locke's creations. The chicken cracklins are addictive, while the snapper throats (fried collars) require some digging to tasty, buttery results. Did we mention Southerleigh's known for its house-made bread? We're partial to the fresh pretzels with tangy beer cheese and the bacon- and onion-jam topped deviled eggs. At Southerleigh, you'll go for the snacks, and stay for the service, brews, boils and history lesson to boot.
- Kombucha and veg-friendly dishes are a must.
2. Alchemy Kombucha & Culture
1123 N. Flores St., (210) 320-1168, alchemysanantonio.com
What do you get when you combine fermented tea, cocktails, food, a communal patio and occasional live music? Usually, a total mess, but at Alchemy Kombucha & Culture the array of ingredients seems to work.
Let's break it down for you. On one end, owners Kevin Rayhons and Tim Trofimenkov are brewing fizzy and potent Element Kombucha using Trofimenkov's mother's recipes. Get a flight and sample all four out of square shot glasses and dive into the fizzy flavors all sourced from China. We're partial to the earthy green tea, and peachy milk oolong. Those looking to find a sweeter version can lean toward the rosy-tinged jasmine hibiscus, or head in the opposite direction and try the Smokey Black.
Not ready to make the pungent plunge into the fermented stuff? Try the cocktails made by Joseph Hernandez, Javier Gutierrez, Cisco Garcia and Justin Cruz of Milan & Turin. Find light and fizzy turns like the fruity Fixed Element with cucumber, Pimm's No. 1, jasmine-hibiscus kombucha and raspberries, or the Sherry-forward Devil Makes Three with blueberry jam, lime, bay leaf gomme and Smokey Black.
You'll need something to soak up all the booze (remember kombucha has the slightest hint of alcohol already in it), and that's where Brandon McKelvey and Mark "Wildcat" Garcia's fare comes to the rescue. Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can all coexist here, as the produce-driven fare shines and animal proteins are handled with care.
Already a hangout for service industry folks looking for a fun spot to eat on a Monday, Alchemy's aiming to please for lunch and late night.
- Dan Payton
- Bow-chicka-wow-wow – Smoke’s Sexy BBQ Meatloaf.
3. Smoke: The Restaurant
700 E. Sonterra Blvd., (210) 474-0175, smoketherestaurant.com
Good brisket in Stone Oak? Could it be?
Though we may have been doubtful at first, chef Brian West and his crew of cooks and servers are helping change the reputation of Loopland — one sausage link at a time.
Opened by the same folks behind China Garden, Smoke occupies the space that once housed Auden's Kitchen, so to say that expectations are running high would be a bit of an understatement. Though you might not find the fish 'n' chips, you can find fun takes on snacks and, of course, full-blown barbecue boards. Start with the bread basket, baked in house, and dive into the brisket poutine for a sinful starter of crisp tater tots, brisket bits, chipotle aioli and a fried egg (naturally). What could be a heavy dish that leaves you feeling sluggish is instead a delight that we're ready to eat again.
Feeling more than peckish? Order the "Sexy BBQ Meatloaf" for a generous helping of skin-on buttermilk mashed potatoes that serve as a vessel for the loaf, a moist mix of brisket and bratwurst topped with a tasty tomato sauce.
And when it comes to the barbecue itself, try one of everything. Brisket comes lean or fatty, served thick and alongside sliced Texas Toast. The Dr. Pepper pork ribs, less sweet than we would have guessed, are meaty and toothsome, while the turkey will put your mom's Thanksgiving Day bird to shame. Try all six sauces West and co. whip up, and try not to sneak some home to go.
Though we didn't stick around for desserts, also made in house, we're aching to go back and try the homemade and rustic sweets as well as a Sunday brunch that has our names all over it.
- Dan Payton
- Clear your sinuses with Attagirl’s Nashville-style hot chicken.
4. Cullum's Attagirl
726 E. Mistletoe Ave., (210) 601-5353, facebook.com/cullumsattagirl
It's all about the chicken at Chris Cullum's Attagirl. The cozy eatery, which opened in April on the corner of Mistletoe and Kings Court, offers an eclectic range of beers on tap, a casual indoor/outdoor space and food rooted in family tradition. His inspiration is his grandmother, a butcher who once served fried chicken out of a double-wide trailer in Port Aransas.
"Many of the recipes we use are slightly modified from her original recipes. It's what she would cook for me and my family growing up in Helotes," said Cullum, adding that he also uses her original butcher's knife in the kitchen. "She's long gone now, but Attagirl is a tribute to her and her chicken shack."
Currently, the menu offers two varieties of fried chicken. There's spicy Nashville-style slathered in cayenne paste and topped with pickles, and Southern-fried, soaked in buttermilk and drizzled with honey. A third variety rotates every few days along with specials like the fried chicken bologna sandwich.
The kitchen is small — the wings are cooked in fryers behind the wraparound bar — but that hasn't stopped Cullum from thinking of new ways to expand the menu, including a brunch kicking off this summer.
"We'll have chicken and waffles, chicken sausage and Sunny D mimosas," said Cullum, describing his style as Southern homestyle cooking. "We're using white bread and pimento cheese, and Miracle Whip is on its way. People have been fighting me on that, but you will see Miracle Whip here — you can't resist the tangy zest."
Like his other culinary adventures, Attaboy food truck and Tucker's Kozy Korner, Cullum hopes Attagirl will become a neighborhood establishment.
"We love being the spot off St. Mary's and being able to cater to the neighborhood and the industry folks who just want to come in and enjoy a beer," Cullum said. "We don't plan to have big signage or do a lot of promotion. We just want to be the place on the corner."
- Danny Batista
- Dainty and authentic French treats galore at La Boulangerie.
5. La Boulangerie
207 Broadway, (210) 223-0209, laboulangeriesa.com
Much like sister location Saveurs 209, La Boulangerie brings a bit of the French lifestyle to downtown San Antonio. Though we'd kill for patio seating, the modestly sized indoor space is just as inviting as al fresco dining would be. Pallet furniture is bestowed with bright tangerine and soft pink cushions and light fills the smallish space.
Come mornings, the heavenly scents of fresh-baked pastries fill the air (actually the aroma lasts throughout opening hours). Chef Caitline Nykiel, along with parents Sylvian and Sylvie pack in the Parisian delicacies. You'll find take-home bread loaves for tasty sandwiches and perfectly ornate pastries and tarts.
Fall for the thick and custardy Parisian flan with flaky crust or take in one of the Viennoiseries like the house croissant, chocolate croissant, raisin roll and apple turnover. Take a slightly less guilt-ridden route with the two-bite Madeleine or Financiers.
But the Francophile dream doesn't end at delicate desserts — La Boulangerie also serves as a quickie lunchtime stop for busy downtowners or quaint tea time café for ladies who lunch. Grab a quiche Lorraine or rotating quiche of the week or get down with the no-fuss sandwiches. The ham and creamy Comté cheese is a simplistic joy, while the chicken, tomato, basil iteration delivers more layers of flavor.
Don't let your so-so French pronunciations keep you from stopping by this Broadway gem. The Nykiels are ready to educate the masses inside their warm space that asks you to put down the phone and concentrate on the task at hand.
- Sara Luna Ellis
- Fall in love with the fish tacos at Amaya’s.
6. Amaya's Cocina
1502 E. Commerce St., (210) 265-5449, facebook.com/amayastacos
Growth on the city's East Side is bubbling up like a simmer in a meaty carne guisada, which coincidentally you can find inside Amaya's Cocina. Opened by brothers Ruben and David Arciniega, Amaya's is part taqueria, part café and full-time playground for the younger Arciniega and fellow chef Joel "Tatu" Herrera to create inventive twists on classic fare.
A visit during breakfast means enjoying fresh-cracked eggs enveloped inside hand-rolled tortillas. But where Arciniega and co. really let loose is by setting ground rules as to how they're providing colorful, healthful dishes on their menu.
Current favorites include the tilapia fish tacos with tangy red cabbage slaw and a creamy poblano sauce, and a vegan-friendly sopa de elote that's as velvety as it is hearty. The menu is tight, made to order and includes standard fare such as the aforementioned carne guisada found in the East Commerce plate. Instead of an oily, over-seasoned dish, the carne guisada scores points for being lean and hearty, as Arciniega lets the meat's natural flavors shine. Vegetarians fret not — you can nosh on the "Hackberry Tacofication" of roasted root veggies atop corn tortillas and finished off with a dose of house-made chunky pea salsa.
These aren't your grandma's tacos, and they don't have to be when the guys are cranking out weekly dinners on Sunday and Monday evenings. There's the faux-fideo made with zucchini instead of vermicelli and cooked in a light tomato sauce that pairs with a tender London broil. The menu's about to get a quick revamp, so head in for your last chance at some of these items or take in whatever's cooking at Amaya's. It's bound to be good.
- Lizzy Flowers
- Try La Guadalupana (right),
7. Mezcalería Mixtli
5313 McCullough Ave. (856) 630-5142, mezcaleriamixtli.com
Cue the Etta James classic because San Antonio has its own mezcal bar, at last.
After the success of their train car concept, the guys of Mixtli have extended their interior Mexican fare with a smoky bar selection inside a larger interior (though not by a whole lot when it comes to rowdy weekend nights).
For those still not in the know, mezcal, other than being a gift from the Aztec god Centzon-Totochtin (one of several party deities), is an agave variant. Basically, the tequila you've been drinking is a watered down mess compared to the smoky, grassy wonders of mezcal. You can try upwards of 70 types, from several Mexican states at the Mezcalería with co-owner and bar manager Jesse Torres. Even if you're not into sipping tiny clay copitas, Torres has crafted a menu that introduces newbies to the fine spirit, further educates aficionados and keeps mezcal lovers more than happy.
Try La Guadalupana, a fizzy number served in a flute that rivals a French 75, or go the boozy route with a Mariposa Negra, Torres' nod to an Old Fashioned made with Olmeca Altos tequila reposado, Averna, Demerara syrup, licorice root tea and Orinoco bitters.
All the booze requires great food and you won't have to leave the premises to find it. Order the beef cheek and get to taco making with this fragrant and hearty barbacoa. Or keep things simple with an order of crunchy chicharrones and douse it with Valentina hot sauce.
It's the bar we never knew we needed but now can't live without. Our bar has come along.
- Dan Payton
- Guacamole, chorizo and chicharrones at Toro Taco.
8. Toro Taco Bar
114 Brooklyn Ave., torotacobar.com
The dichotomy of Toro Taco Bar is almost laughable. Where the heck else are you going to find fresh sea urchin at a taco joint? Turns out chefs and business partners Josh Cross and Rick Frame are just doing what comes naturally inside their tiny near East Side kitchen — making insane tacos and leaving any notion of pretention at the gate.
Opened this past March, Toro Taco is an urban oasis come sundown. Made almost entirely by hand by Frame, the joint's patio has turned into a refuge for downtown dwellers looking for a fun bite, a cold beer and Texan tunes.
Seven nights a week, Cross and a growing lineup of cooks whip up Tex-Mex favorites with a twist. Grab a few pals and load up on the chunky guacamole or gooey house queso. Spice things up with the chorizo-topped or roasted garlic versions with warm, crunchy tostadas.
Sure, you can fill up on the Valentina-laced chicharrones or keep things light with a squash-filled quesadilla, but it wouldn't be right to pay the toritos a visit without a go at those tacos. Yes, the cabrito and lengua tacos are great, but trust in Cross and his knack for stellar specials like the smoked achiote mollejas (sweetbreads) or the snapper he smokes fresh from the tanks of Groomer's Seafood.
When it comes to cool beverages, you'll find a full bar, a growing list of Mexican brews and a choice of white or red house vino to wash down your dinner. Stay tuned for a soon-to-start brunch.
- Lizzy Flowers
- Get your fill of smoked meats at Dignowity.
9. Dignowity Meats
1701 E. Houston St., dignowitymeats.com
If San Antonio is to be a #CityOnTheRise, then it's about time we start demanding more on-the-go lunch options. What's more fast-paced than a sandwich? A hot dog cart (but that's another story, which you can read on page 13) but until those are ubiquitous across the city's downtown, we'll stick to the sandwiches found at Dignowity Meats.
Opened by longtime best buds Shane Reed and Andrew Samia, Dignowity offers a casual lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and we're still waiting for that four-hour window to expand. Get there early if you want to take advantage of the full menu of smoked meats and structurally sound sandwiches created by the duo also responsible for the Crazy Carl's food truck.
Even after having their slicer stolen in early spring, the sandos were still on point. We're fans of the classic turkey caprese on ciabatta, a formidable bite made of freshly sliced turkey breast, balsamic mayo, house pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella. Take down a salumi if you're feeling spicy, as it combines hot sopressata and salami, along with a bright olive relish and a tangy house giardiniera.
Though we'd be more than happy with a bag of chips and a Coke, Dignowity Meats helps seal the deal as our favorite casual joint with creamy sharp cheddar mac that also makes an appearance in the Burnt End Melt sandwich — brisket bits, mac and sliced pears, because casual doesn't always means basic.
Place your order at the window, plug into the Wi-Fi or take it to go and enjoy it at your desk — sure beats last night's leftovers.
- Bryan Rindfuss
- The Franken-taco is worth the drive south of SA on I-37.
10. Raul's Enchilacos
101 Creekwood Drive, Floresville, (210) 394-8437, facebook.com/raulsenchilacos
Perhaps we've included Raul's Enchilacos for multiple reasons. Maybe it's to help convince partners Raul Vela IV and Saam Miremadi that San Antonio needs them inside 1604? Maybe it's because the signature enchilaco is the most wholeheartedly stoner food we've ever enjoyed? Maybe it's because the barbacoa tacos were some of the best we've ever had?
It's definitely a combination of all three, and even if Vela and co. don't make it to San Anto within the next few months, a trip to the bright teal roadside building is in order ... like yesterday. Vela and Miremadi made sure you can't miss your destination — "TACOS" is written in bright red block font on the backside of the building. The trip is but a jaunt down I-37 South to Floresville so it's best to carve out some time if you're heading there. Park along the gravel-lined spots and head inside. No, you won't be overwhelmed by an expansive space. Instead you'll find a teensy building filled with fun Mexi-arte from luchadores in shiny masks to bright bottles of Tabasco.
Do your best to take in the giant, wall-sized chalkboard menu that, though large in size, keeps items to a minimum. You'll find the now legendary enchilaco — the lovechild of a taco and an enchilada with your choice of meat — as the star. And though it's not necessarily groundbreaking, the enchilaco is made with care and quality ingredients. Tortillas are sourced in San Antonio, salsas are made daily and meats are prepared expertly.
But don't overlook the street tacos or the nachos for that matter. An order of the Tres Hombres, topped with pulled pork, barbacoa and chicken and a pineapple-laced pico de gallo, is more than enough to feed a crowd. Get an order of street tacos for the road.
- Casey Howell
- Try the fried cauliflower.
11. Biryani Pot
9386 Huebner Rd., Suite 109 (210) 561-8874, biryanipotusa.com
Hyderabad was once a princely state during British rule of India. These days the cuisine rules and it is typified here by Biryani Pot, a simple but colorful café near the Medical Center.
A good place to start is with the street-foody egg bonda, a hard-boiled egg that's dipped in seasoned chickpea batter, deep fried and lightly dusted with chili powder. Those wanting to turn up the heat can do so with the gobi Manchurian, a popular Indo-Chinese dish with a crunchy flour and cornstarch coating and a saucy, sweet-sour-spicy kick. More batter coats the individual kernels in BP's masala pepper corn — aromatic, addictive, and in need of nothing but restraint. Beer would be good here, but, it not being available, an unusually complex salted lassi, perfumed with cinnamon and cardamom, does the job perfectly.
Goat bounds to the fore in the entrée section with the earthy-herby house special curry, generously portioned, deeply red with chilies and only marginally bony. For a less assertive take on our favorite can-chomping scavenger, consider the creamy kurma with yogurt and cashews. The meat in this dish was less abundant, but the overall impression was of greater luxury. BP's fish curry with curry leaves and black mustard seed shows off the style of the larger Andhra region which Hyderabad is a part of.
And as it's in the name, a biryani: the chicken dum (the term refers to an ancient, slow-cooking technique for meats) is suggested for its impeccable, long-grain rice, moist, marinated chicken and delicate spiciness. The friendly staff can help newbies navigate other dishes such as the various masalas and kurmas as well as curries and kormas. A mild raita, not on the menu, can be supplied by the kitchen as an accompaniment to any of the above dishes. Go for it.
- Lizzy Flowers
- Call it Tre North and get there ASAP for tender, wood-fired chicken.
12. Tre Enoteca
555 W. Bitters Rd., (210) 496-0555, facebook.com/treenoteca
By all means start with Tre's luscious lobe of freshly pulled mozzarella. It shimmers with olive oil, sparkles with sea salt, springs back from the touch ... and it just plain tastes good wrestled atop a slab of assertively grilled bread.
And this is only the beginning at this latest iteration of Jason Dady's much-massaged location in Artisan's Alley. The newly opened-up space has shed almost all traces of its most recent Asian-esque guise, there's now a bar with a space more its own, and the overall feeling is at once rustic and airily contemporary. Perfect for pizzas that, while nodding to tradition, sport toppings such as prosciutto, mint and ricotta with black cumin cream.
Pastas also seem to straddle two worlds, a case in point being a plate of fusilli with hand-ground pistachio pesto, cherry tomatoes and Parmesan; it only needed a drizzle of olive oil to bring everything together. With the new concept (which admittedly combines dishes and concepts from both Tre Trattoria and the old Bin 555) also came a new toy, a pasta extruder. It was spitting out squid ink rigatoni one night, and if the tubes tended to collapse with cooking, a lamb ragu with black truffle cream saved the day. A Washington State cabernet could be contemplated here.
However, diners in the mood for something more comforting than confrontational are not neglected. The wood-fired, free-range chicken served in a nest of arugula with piquillo peppers, lardons and fingerling potatoes can simply be enjoyed without any need for examination. Same goes for old fave, Nutella tart.