Anchored by the campus of the Culinary Institute of America, the Pearl is poised to become the city's most concentrated dining destination; quality taken into account, it already is. And with the start of construction on a new boutique hotel and the announcement of plans for even more housing units, the concentration can only continue. Its only distant rival is Southtown. – Ron Bechtol
The C.I.A.'s own restaurant, Nao (pronounced nay oh), would be a destination in its own right anywhere else; its frequently changing menu, designed to plumb all the cuisines of Latin America in rotation as a part of the school's curriculum, offers exotic tastes unfamiliar to most of us. A small but smart bar keeps the Latin vibe going with more than mere pisco sours. And around the corner, the C.I.A. also runs a busy café featuring coffees, exquisite pastries, and light lunch fare. 312 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 554-6484, naorestaurant.com
Within spittin' distance of Nao there's The Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden, and it's that "garden," decked out with picnic tables featuring wine-bottle troughs, that should enliven the space between the two restaurants come spring. Inside, the industrial-chic space frames a menu authored by chef James Moore, formerly of Max's Wine Dive. It's anchored by up-market meats, but also sprinkled with unexpected finds such as zesty meatballs and earthy mixed mushrooms with truffle oil. 312 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 354-4644, boilerhousesa.com
The menu at nearby Arcade Midtown Kitchen, opened in February, is the creation of chef Jesse Pérez, who cut his culinary teeth in San Antonio, left for exposure in larger markets, and has now returned brandishing the likes of lobster soft tacos in a masa crepe and George's Bank diver scallops with green chile corn grits. A program of barrel-aged cocktails is a feature of the bar managed by Christopher Ware. 312 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 369-9664, arcadesatx.com
Tasty, house-brewed beers are but one reason to check out The Granary 'Cue & Brew, the only restaurant (it's housed in a sensitively rehabilitated cottage) reminding us of Pearl's former residential neighbors. Tim (food) and Alex (beer) Rattray hold forth here, carrying on a brotherly battle between hand-crafted ales and stouts and the traditional 'cue that is itself played against Moroccan lamb shoulder and pork belly with a cumin rub. 602 Ave. A, (210) 228-0214, thegranarysa.com
As accomplished as these new arrivals are, Pearl has a long food heritage. The pioneers were led by Andrew Weissman, and his decision to locate at Pearl his ode to informal Italian, Il Sogno Osteria (200 E. Grayson, (210) 223-3900) and his seafood-centered Sandbar (200 E. Grayson, (210) 212-2221, sandbarsa.com) surely served as a catalyst to other aspiring entrepreneurs — including pioneering barman Steve Mahoney, whose Blue Box Bar is now a magnet for aficionados of thoughtfully stirred and shaken cocktails. 2107 Isleta, (210) 227-2583.
Chef Johnny Hernández's La Gloria both reflects San Antonio's Mexican culinary heritage and ups the ante with riffs on street foods just unfamiliar enough to require a glossary of terms. 100 E Grayson, (210) 267-9040.
Starting this year, there's an old favorite in a new location. Presumably, no 'splainin' will be required of the vegetarian menu at Green, scheduled to open at its new Pearl location in March. 200 E Grayson, Ste. 120, (210) 320-5865
Even more familiar should be the food of chef Steven McHugh, formerly of Lüke, whose Southern-centered restaurant is expected to come on line toward the end of the year.
Yes, Pearl's a' poppin'. Get there before gridlock.