San Antonio Restaurants Offer Huge Flavor without the Huge Expense
By Kimberly Suta
San Antonio Local Expert
Are you looking for somewhere special to enjoy an excellent meal that won't strain your wallet? Sure, San Antonio is flush with restaurants, particularly all sorts of new options in the downtown and Pearl Brewery areas, which means it's even more difficult to know where to go that won't cost you an arm and a leg.
There's a little bit of something for every palette on this budget-conscious list, and each and every one of them is quite special in their own right. They serve great food and provide excellent service to top it off! Hot Joy is one of the newest restaurants on the scene, and is quickly becoming a Southtown favorite. There aren't many places in the city you can find yummy Asian food that's not served in a divey atmosphere. You can expect quite the opposite at Hot Joy. They've made an effort to make the decor as well as the drinks and the food, thrilling to the senses, and all at a great price!
Tribeca is another local's favorite, more central to San Antonio, and a hot spot for Happy Hour drinks and snacks. You can get one of their absolutely delectable homemade pizzas for half off during happy hour.
Galpao Gaucho is another great new restaurant. Located in Stone Oak, this Brazilian steakhouse is actually owned by a Brazilian who knows authentic Brazilian-style meats. No need to spurge on one of the fancier steakhouses in town when Galpao has it all!
10 El 7 Mares
Imagine kicking back with a cold cerveza and a magnificent plate of fresh, bright shrimp and octopus ceviche marinated in lime juice and mixed with pico de gallo, avocado and Serrano peppers, the sound of the ocean waves lapping against the sand in the distance. Now, imagine you can have all that flavor right here in San Antonio and you've stepped into the world of El 7 Mares, a family-owned Mexican Seafood restaurant just a few miles west of downtown. The homemade family recipes are exceptional and the staff amazingly friendly. It's no wonder they've been around for 20 years and recently made Texas Monthly's top 50 Mexican restaurants list, a huge honor for this unassuming yet delightfully charming restaurant. Locals love the Filete a lo Macho of grilled tilapia with a creamy octopus and shrimp sauce, bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab and mozzarella and aguachiles with shrimp and scallops. Yum! ((210) 436-6056)
9 Panchos and Gringos Deli
Panchos and Gringos is an unexpected delight. Don't be put off by the dim surroundings. This family-owned and operated restaurant is truly a hidden gem. They offer a large menu of primarily breakfast foods and sandwiches. The food is inexpensive and always fresh and hot and the staff is extremely nice and attentive. For breakfast, you can enjoy a variety of omelets, pancakes, grits and scrumptious breakfast sandwiches, such as the Frenchie, HOBO, SOBO and BOBO. For lunch, enjoy their also creatively named and deliciously sandwiches such as the Brooklyn, which consists of hot grilled pastrami, hot grilled roast beef, melted cheese and house-made coleslaw on a lightly-toasted 12" bun from New York. You won't find breakfast potatoes this fantastic anywhere else in the city. The fries are also spot on. Enjoy! ((210) 227-6700)
8 MAX's Wine Dive - San Antonio
Max's Wine Dive doesn't look very divey at all, in fact, they're an upscale joint but with a pretty humble attitude. Designed to be a chill and relaxed bar and restaurant, Max's blends a casual, industrial feel with a gourmet comfort food and wines from around the world. Max's mantra is "Fried Chicken and Champagne? Why the Hell Not?" Max's claims that on, "any given night of the week, you'll find a 20-something sitting at the bar next to a 60-something; each drinking the same Aussie Shiraz with the "Texas Haute Dog" and listening to rockin' tunes from the juke box." All over the city of San Antonio we've heard exclamations of delight over the most amazing fried chicken. Upon asking, invariable the answer is Max's Wine Dive. (2104449547)
Tribeca has managed to find the right balance of great New American cuisine and exceptional service in a warm, cozy atmosphere and all at a surprisingly low price point. They're also open for lunch during the week, brunch on Sundays and happy hour for some mixologist-invented elixirs. The cuisine is eclectic and largely created with locally-sourced ingredients from a wide variety of Texas farms and ranches that Tribeca proudly displays on their website. The dishes are nothing short of divine. Where else will you find a dish made of brussel sprouts, crispy house-made pancetta, pecorino, rosemary vinaigrette and a poached farm egg that can so easily become an obsession? Other favorites include the Oven-Roasted Lockhard Quail with asparagus and wild mushroom risotto and Seared Scallops, perfectly cooked, with butternut squash risotto, sauteed spinach and lemon butter sauce. ((210) 320-0698)
6 The Monterey
The Monterey is a sweet little gastro pub located just a quick jaunt from downtown in San Antonio's arts district, Southtown. It has quickly become something of a local favorite, and the place to go for a leisurely bite to eat after an art show or really any event. The menu is small but unique, and includes some surprisingly delicious dishes such as local beets, avocado, farmer's cheese, pistachio, anise, herbs or the chilled shrimp, raw scallop, salsa brava, avocado, toast, or the grilled brisket burger, taleggio, tomato mayo, brioche or the scrumptious miso pork belly, grilled corn salad, caramel corn, cotija and cilantro. Yum! ((210) 745-2581)
5 Taps Y Tapas
Although Taps y Tapas is new, it's already on its way to becoming a huge success. Located in a house built in 1883, this fantastic restaurant and bar on the south part of North Flores, has taken the tapas concept to the next level. Not only do they offer an assortment of made-from-scratch tapas, such empanadas, tacos, tortas and our favorite, Fried Chicken Mole Lollipops served with Oaxaca cheese mash topped with micro greens, they offer 24 beers on tap, mostly local and micro-brews. The cuisine is inspired by authentic central Mexican flavors and ingredients, such as those commonly found in Oaxaca and the Yukatan. Taps Y Tapas is the perfect place to kick back and relax with friends or family after a fun day of sight-seeing. The venue is charming and homey, the staff is exceptionally friendly and the food is outstanding! They also have a fantastic patio where they play live music every weekend. ((210) 277-7174)
4 Cascabel Mexican Patio
Cascabel's is one of the best-kept secrets in San Antonio and sports a wonderful outdoor patio with umbrella-covered tables. It's different than every other Mexican food restaurant in the city because it features regional specialties from interior Mexico. You won't find the ubiquitous refried pinto beans here or even flour tortillas. Cascabel's serves everything with thick yet soft homemade corn tortillas and refried black beans that have an exceptional amount of flavor. If you want to try something unique, order the Birria, which is a rustic goat stew. If you want to play it safe, order the Huaraches, which are corn tortillas smothered in refried black beans, shredded cabbage, your choice of meat, a spicy red chile sauce and sour cream. Cascabel's will stimulate your palette without over-stimulating your bank account! ((210) 212-6456)
3 Galpao Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse
Who doesn't love a Brazilian steakhouse, but what if you could have all the things you love about it minus the fancy prices? What if there was a place where you could truly relax and savor the Picanha and other deliciously seasoned skewered meats in a family friendly atmosphere? Thanks to Galpao Gaucho, now you can! While their menu isn't quite as expansive, you miss nothing because this independently-owned restaurant has managed to hone in on what's important, namely taste and authenticity at a price point that most can afford. The Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Jovani Gava, is actually a native of Brazil who worked in the churrascaria industry for 15 years before opening up his own restaurant. Located in the Stone Oak area, they're the perfect place to go for either lunch or dinner. Just remember to bring your appetite! ((210) 497-2500)
2 Fratello's Deli
Fratello's is part restaurant, part deli, part market and wholly delicious! It's a great place to grab a quick bite to eat that's not only fresh but affordable. Their dishes come from hearty family recipes that inspire memories of sitting around the kitchen table, talking, eating, laughing and loving life. The "American Dream" brought many immigrants to America, including their Italian grandparents, uncles and aunts that settled in San Antonio, Texas. Fratello's offers beloved Italian classics such as Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, Linguine with meatballs and traditional tomato sauce. Fratello's makes all their breads from scratch. Plus, it's the only place in town you can get a bowl of Bucatini al' Amatriciana! They use premium imported Italian ingredients as well as locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. They also use Volpi, America's Oldest Maker of Dry Cured Italian Meats. You'll find a love for tradition and flavor in every Fratello's bite! ((210) 444-0277)
1 Hot Joy
Hot Joy started out as a pop-up restaurant on Monday nights when The Monterey was closed. Their Twice-Fried Chicken Wings made with crab fat caramel is now the stuff of legends and partly responsible for why they quickly gained a loyal following. Get ready for extreme sensory overload, from the explosion of color in the decor to the explosion of flavor in every dish! Hot Joy is not for the faint of heart but the daring palette. Chef Quealy Watson has an obsession with Asian food and a talent for combining ingredients in a surprisingly delicious way. "I would have never thought of that, but it really works," can often be heard around the tables at their restaurants. The Crispy Pork Belly tacos made with a Malaysian flatbread, mole ssamjang, Kewpie and herbs works. The Hot Fried Chicken made with chili oil, Szechuan peppercorn, sour chilies and oyster sauce works. Quite frankly, it all works. There is not a dish on this menu that isn't worth trying, so let you're own adventurous palette decide. (210-368-9324)
About Kimberly Suta
Kimberly A. Suta is a professional freelance writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur with a background in marketing, advertising and social media. Her first business, Midnight Sun Innovations, involved a partnership with Regal Cinemas, the largest theatre chain in the world. Kimberly has written, directed and produced several films that have screened at Texas film festivals and she produces an annual film competition at the popular Alamo Drafthouse theatre. She recently published her second novel, The Rain Queen, which can be found on Amazon.com. Kimberly currently lives and works in San Antonio, Texas, a place of much inspiration to her.
Read more about Kimberly Suta here.