Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit my hometown - San Antonio, TX! I was able to see my family for the first time since January, and to have my Dad's epic BBQ for the 4th of July.
Anyway, I also got to hit up all the restaurants I have been missing/craving since I moved away.
First off - a San Antonio staple - Taco Taco. I know, I know - stupid name, right? And you may be daunted by the way this tiny, one room taqueria looks like it's about to fall apart. But Taco, Taco was named "The Best Tacos in America" by Bon Apetit magazine, and they were not kidding - the constant line out the door does not lie. My favorite thing to get is the breakfast tacos - served from open to close because the hours are 7-2, every day. They make their own tortillas fresh and they are huge and soft and pillowy and just perfect. Then they fill them with buttery eggs and potatoes (my favorite), bacon, or chorizo. For a full on breakfast extravaganza, make sure to get a side of their fantastic refried beans. Another favorite is the beef norteño - a flour tortilla filled to the max with refried beans, cheese, avocado, bell pepper, and tender fajita meat. You only need one to fill you up and oh my goodness, SO GOOD!
Another favorite - a Texas chain vs a San Antonio original - is Freebirds World Burrito. Don't even talk to me about Chipotle or I will get really mad. Seriously, I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. No, the only burritos for me are those rolled by my very own "roller" in the aluminum foil decorated haven that is Freebirds. What makes this chain so special? Four flavors of tortilla to start - including cayenne and, my favorite, spinach. How about choice of cheese, including queso fresco? Or an option for rice (Spanish) that doesn't have cilantro but still has flavor? Or, most importantly, refried beans! How do you have a burrito without refried beans?! I'm talking to you, Chipotle. Then you have those special ingredient options, like roasted garlic or roasted limes, and a ton of salsas and sauces to choose from. Customers also get to participate in decorating the shop - by using the foil that wrapped their burrito to make figurines and daisy chains and whatever they can think of, then placing them wherever they want. A tear comes to my eye when I think that it might be months before I get to taste my beloved Freebirds again.
Moving away from the Mexican food (which is hard to do in San Antonio - I mean, La Fonda on Main, La Fonda Sunset Ridge (not related), Tomatillos, Taco Cabana... where was I?), let's hit up some other San Antonio favorites.
Paesanos is a San Antonio institution. This Italian restaurant has been around for 40 years, and was made famous by the signature dish - Shrimp Paesano.
(image taken from restaurant website) Floured shrimp is sauteed in oil and served with a lemon, butter, and egg yolk sauce that is TO DIE FOR. Twirling long strands of spaghetti through that decadent sauce is something akin to heaven. You can actually make this at home (recipe here), but it's just oh-so-much better to get the real thing. While there is certainly lots of good food to be had at Paesanos, I can never pass this up. Neither can my family, apparently - we had a table of 6 people and everyone ordered it in some form or another - appetizer, main, add-on to steak. This San Antonio favorite is simply not to be missed.
A family favorite, though not necessarily a local institution, is Tre Trattoria - an Italian restaurant located in the boardwalk area near the Zoo and overlooking the San Antonio River. The menu is small, but all of the dishes are very good.
Here, we have a selection of small plates: house pulled mozzarella with sea salt and olive oil on charred bread; white cannellini beans with gremolota; bruschetta with house made ricotta and cherry tomatoes; and farro salad. The goat cheese, pistachio, and balsamic cipollini onion pizza is quite good; and the pappardelle with bolognese is outstanding. Favorite desserts include the ricotta cake and the seasonal crostada (raspberry and mint this trip).
Finally, on to the cream of the crop - Bohanan's Steakhouse. You can't visit Texas without getting some steak, and Bohanan's is the place to get it in San Antonio. First of all, let's talk about the FANTASTIC bar with a long list of incredibly creative cocktails with a classic flair. On this visit, I opted for the Rome with a View - an aperitif made with campari, sweet vermouth, lime juice, sugar, soda. When you are done sipping your excellently crafted cocktail, head up the elevator to the second floor for dinner. The service is impeccable and the food is even better.
Obviously the steaks here are wonderful - they use USDA Prime aged center cuts of Midwestern corn-fed beef. Off the menu they also have Akaushi beef from Japan, which is exclusive to Bohanan's in the United States. It is much more expensive ($100 for a filet), but so worth it. The heavily marbled meat just melts in your mouth, and has so much more flavor than regular beef. The chef will not cook these steaks above Medium, so don't even bother trying. Don't get a sauce to accompany it either (even though we all love bearnaise), it doesn't need it.
The sides are swoon-worthy as well: white truffle steak frites, goat cheese mashed potatoes, creamed spinach.
The seafood is also excellent, if that's your thing.
Lastly, the deserts. Along with the other selections - creme brulee, cheesecake, chocolate tart, etc... - are the "flaming specialties". A cart is brought along, and the waiter prepares one of a number of flambeed desserts tableside - choose from Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee, Strawberries Imperial, or Crêpes Suzette - all served with ice cream.
So there you have it - San Antonio favorites from me to you. If you ever get a chance to stop by my hometown, check out these places and raise a glass for me.