This was our second family vacation in San Antonio. Our first trip covered the more traditional sights including The Alamo and The Missions.
My daughters’ viewed this trip as a working vacation for their photo campaigns for their clothing company, Indigo Clothing Co. All vacations are working vacations they have informed me.
We focused our trip around two things: foodie stops and spending time with my husband’s good friend from college, the Bengos, whose family just so happens to pair off perfectly with ours. They were kind enough to scout the food out for us.
And so, here are our foodie finds which coincided with The River Walk and San Antonio Botanical Gardens. I hope you like TexMex too!
Best Ceviche in the World
Reservations recommended! We saw the Austin Folklorico Dance Troupe waiting with us at El Bucanero, one the signs that speaks to this restaurant’s authenticity! The large restaurant was packed and we felt like we were the only non-Mexicans, another good sign!
The table next to us celebrated a birthday and we sang along. I’d come here to celebrate my birthday too! The menu is extensive so we chose samplers in order to try as many of the different ceviches as possible.
Best Authentic Mexican Food in San Antonio (try their Fideo Soup)
Guajillo’s is unique in that it’s from a specific area in Mexico known for their spicy Guajillo pepper which is the centerpiece of their amazing salsa. We crave most things on their menu but especially their soups.
The Fideo soup, which is vermicelli pasta in a tomato broth, has roots from Italy. My kids talked about it for years after having it from their last visit. I also tried their Tortilla soup which is excellent and their Azteca soup which is spicy and warming on a cold day.
This is not a TexMex mashup but authentic fare from Mexico. It’s gourmet food in a dive atmosphere, our favorite kind of restaurant!
Best Texas BBQ in San Antonio
We had to squeeze in Texas BBQ on our last day. Our friends chose a restaurant that was close to Lick Ice Cream because they knew our kids wanted one more time there. The Smoke Shack has an actual smoke shed/shack in the back and makes the best smoked turkey that we ever had. Everything at Smoke Shack is delicious and there’s a line even on a weekday!
Best Ice Cream in San Antonio
My kids also enjoyed Mexican shave ice but they went without me so I don’t have footage. Their favorite ice cream in the U.S. is apparently Lick Ice Cream Shop.
They think the ice cream is somehow creamier yet lighter. It’s possible because they get their milk and cream locally from one source and because it’s Texas, you know it’s fresh! The flavors are unique and well balanced.
Best Chicken Fried Steak in San Antonio
When my husband and I visited San Antonio before kids — we were there for the Bengo wedding! — we somehow ate chicken fried steak every day. We didn’t have any on our second trip so we made a point to try it again to see if it was as good as our memories.
Our friends suggest Good Time Charlie’s. The chicken fried steak was a good as we remembered with a deeply crisp and salted crust surrounding the steak. Maybe I wouldn’t have had it for breakfast as it was a little heavy, but we only had so many days to squeeze in all our foodie stops.
Farmer’s Market at The Pearl
You don’t have to make it to the Farmers Market to eat well at The Pearl. There is a food court that had the best ramen that my son ever had (and he’s obsessed with ramen). Lick Ice Cream is there as well as coffee spots and restaurants.
We do recommend the Farmer’s Market for the wide range of ethnic food offered from tamales to Indian. It gets crowded and takes a small miracle to find seating though.
Best Churro in San Antonio
Admittedly, my son’s churro experiences in Boston are limited mostly to ones from Costco. When we saw a churro stand at El Mercado, he had to try it. Perhaps there are better churros at fancy tapas restaurants, but this is churro delivers value and deliciousness. We also liked shopping the market stalls inside.
We were too full to eat at Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia but the food there is amazing, with freshly made tortillas being a standout memory for us. We did stop at the Panaderia for treats to bring home. I highly recommend this restaurant for the best TexMex around!
Hotel in San Antonio and Crawfish Restaurant
We had dreamed of staying at Hotel Emma in The Pearl which was ranked one of the best hotels in the U.S. but the price for rooms spiked the week we were there so it was too pricey for us. We mostly wanted to stay there for easy access to the amazing Mexican street food restaurant near it, La Gloria, that is packed day and night.
Instead, we stayed at the much cheaper Aloft hotel in San Antonio which is part of W hotels. It’s a steal compared to Hotel Emma and provides stylish digs with an outdoor swimming pool but in the shopping mall environment. That’s fine with us!
We also enjoyed our first crawfish feast at Willie’s, lucky enough to catch the tail end of the season. Crawfish look intimidating but they are really a lot like mini lobsters, and just as delicious!
River Walk by The Pearl
It’s much less crowded and touristy to walk this portion of The River Walk than where all the shops and hotels are, about a mile or two away. We prefer this section.
A walk after stuffing ourselves from the Farmers Market was perfect and also provided a chance for Indigo Clothing Co. to leap into photoshoot mode.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
My oldest wanted to visit the Botanical Garden, a first for us. I think she was thinking it would make for a good photoshoot. It did. It was also fun to explore, even though it was a very hot day. The new children’s area has water areas for toddlers and other interactive areas that entertained our teenaged children.
San Antonio turned out to be one of the best family vacations that we’ve taken. This is due, in large part, to the hospitality of our friend, The Bengos. Still, this city has a lot to offer in terms of foodie experiences. We will miss the excellent Mexican and TexMex which we can not get in Boston. Texas BBQ has also ruined us forever. Our local BBQ will never live up to its standard.
Though we were probably in the more liberal parts of San Antonio, I expected to have at least one racist moment. We are, after all, Asian. The Texans we encountered, however, were unfailingly warm and welcoming.
Because we have a graduating senior in high school, we thought this might be the last family vacation with all of us for a while so we let her pick the destination. We had considered San Sebastian in Spain for its fabulous food but found the airfare to be too pricey.
San Antonio turned out to be perfect in every way. It wasn’t as hard on the wallet and every meal was spectacular. And spending time with family friends is priceless. As we look to our eldest leaving the nest, we realize how cherished these experiences are. The time spent together discovering great food is our kind of family bonding and memory making. We will be back!