The first time I visited San Antonio back in the mid-‘70s, I thought it was a sleepy Texas town with a distinct Mexican flavor, not least in its restaurantes. The River Walk had a meandering charm, and, of course, the Alamo was the city’s most significant site, as important to American culture as the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore, though not as well kept up. In the decades that followed San Antonio became less sleepy, but since my last visit fifteen years ago I have seen astounding progress in every quarter, not least in its determination to become a major tourist hub in Texas.
Most significantly, the Alamo, which had become severely decrepit and compromised over the last century, is now being carefully restored and expanded to bring it close to what it was back in 1836 when attacked by a massive Mexican Army and defended by 200 Americans to the last man, Davy Crockett among them. And across from the structure’s plaza, the city is turning an entire block into a museum of Alamo and Texas history due to open in 2027.
At the Briscoe Art Museum, which has one of this country’s finest collection of western art, you can see the desperate odds the Alamo defenders faced in a large replica that shows thousands of Mexican soldiers surrounding the walls and bursting into the mission where so few gallant Americans were to set the course of Texas history towards statehood.
The museum also houses the McNutt Sculpture Garden and Ruth Bowman Bowers Women of the West Gallery
In addition, the San Antonio Museum of Art, opened in 1981 on the former site of the Lone Star Brewery, is as modern as any such instituions and impeccably organized so that only its finest pieces are arrayed and finely lighted, most donated from Nelson A. Rockefeller, Robert K. Winn, Walter F. and Lenora Brown and Gilbert M. Denman Jr, who established its collection of Art of the Ancient Mediterranean Works, including art from Egypt, Greece and Rome.
Adjacent to the Museum on the Riverwalk is a delightful Italian restaurant, Tre Trattoria (200 West Jones), where Chef Jason Dady, “inspired by Tuscan hillsides and the region’s family-style dining,” serves a classic menu of dishes that include an excellent, thin-crusted goat’s cheese pizza with balsamic-soaked onions, pistachios and saba (($19); a sumptuous pasta alla bolognese with an abundance of parmigiano-enriched meat sauce ($20); pleasing risotto with wild mushrooms and black truffle cream ($21); a very flavorful, very juicy trout with crispy skin in a salsa verde ($24); and an array of fine desserts, in particular the vanilla panna cotta with Campari-laced berry compote, rosewater and Italian meringue crumble ($12).
There are, incidentally, four other Spanish missions in San Antonio, most in better condition than the Alamo and set along a route—separated by three miles each—you can easily follow, including Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada, all restored in the early 20th century. I visited Concepción, and it is still a living church with mass services and celebrations with a brightly colorful interior.
And if you’re out that way and hanker for some Texas barbecue, head a few blocks away to South Barbecue Kitchen (2011 Mission Road), where the food is ordered through a window and eaten with gusto at a shedded outdoor patio. The meats are gently smoked and extremely tender, and I‘d recommend the brisket made from Prime Angus ($14 a half-pound), the hefty pulled pork sandwich with a vinegar bite ($8), the barbecue plate ($15) and the BBQ tacos (($8). Sadly, there are no beers or margaritas here—only soft drinks—and they don’t take cash. Funny thing was, I arrived at noon and the patio was pretty much full. When I looked around at one PM, the place had completely emptied out. I suspect Texans get a lot hungrier a lot earlier than us city slickers from New York.