Where To Eat, Sleep And Play In San Antonio
By: Amber Gibson
May 9, 2019
The military is still the largest employer in San Antonio, and most travelers think of the city in terms of family-friendly amusement parks and the San Antonio River Walk. However, the city is entering a new phase, with the trendy Pearl District and Hemisfair as paragons for new development. Later this year, Ruby City opens, expanding San Antonio’s art perspective and the Broadway Cultural Corridor stretching from The Pearl to downtown is just starting to undergo major construction as well. This is a city that’s rapidly evolving, and it seems as if the best is yet to come.
San Antonio’s rich culinary heritage was recognized a couple years ago as only the second UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in the United States. San Antonio’s strong connection to Mexico is an important element of the city’s foodways and nowhere is that connection illustrated in a more thoughtful and refined fashion than Mixtli, a tasting menu-only restaurant in an unassuming boxcar. Chefs Rico Torres and Diego Galicia serve contemporary Mexican food rooted in regional traditions and prehispanic techniques and you’ll want to book far in advance. Four chefs make, plate and serve 10 courses to just 12 diners at a time.
Feel free to shout questions directly back to the kitchen as you’re enjoying courses like charred jalapeño-lime roasted leeks topped with tomato jam in a spicy, funky chicken broth flavored with fermented garlic. The chefs explain the provenance of ingredients and inspiration behind each dish as it’s served, making for an intimate and interactive meal.
The Pearl District is a culinary epicenter of homegrown talent, including at Savor, a new restaurant created by The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, where students prepare and serve modern American cuisine as part of their associate degree curriculum. San Antonio’s first food hall is located here too, along with Cured, a restaurant specializing in housemade charcuterie. Chef Steve McHugh was San Antonio’s lone James Beard finalist this year, for Best Chef: Southwest.
Supper at Hotel Emma is much more than you might expect from a hotel restaurant. The restaurant is actually open for breakfast, lunch and dinner despite its misleading name, and Chef John Brand has a knack for cooking vegetables, in another unexpected twist for Texas. Vegetarian options comprise most of the menu, including salt and vinegar roasted Brussels sprouts and charred broccolini with za’atar and black garlic tahini.
When it comes to Tex-Mex favorites, look to local non-profit Culinaria for recommendations on the best BBQ, tacos and margaritas in town instead of relying on Yelp.
Since opening in 2015, Hotel Emma has received universally glowing accolades, the crowning glory in the Pearl District, a mixed-use development just north of downtown home to 14 mostly local retailers and 19 restaurants, bars and cafes. It’s rare to see a hotel strike just the right mix of cool and industrial with a five-star attention to detail. Repurposed elements of the old Pearl Brewery, including brewery tank private booths at Sternewirth bring the building’s history to life while Spanish porcelain tile bathrooms designed by Roman and Williams add a touch of modernity.
There are 146 rooms here and the seven top-floor suites can be accessed by a private elevator. Enjoy complimentary afternoon cocktails with a good book in the 3,700-volume library curated by San Antonio novelist Sherry Kafka Wagner or swing by for mini-yogurt parfaits and muffins in the morning. The hotel is named in honor of badass lady boss Emma Koehler, who kept the brewery running during Prohibition with a host of other businesses after her husband passed away and employed a quarter of the city before women had the right to vote.
Hotel Emma embraces local to the nth degree, supporting neighboring Pearl vendors from custom seersucker bathrobes designed and manufactured by Dos Carolinas to turndown service macarons from Bakery Lorraine. Organic lavender toiletries by Los Poblanos in Albuquerque help you drift gently off to sleep after a bath in the cast iron clawfoot tubs.
Just 30 minutes outside the city, La Cantera Resort & Spa is a bucolic wonderland, stretching across 550 acres of Texas Hill Country. The 496 rooms include 34 newly renovated villas set apart from the main resort for extra privacy. The villas have their own pool and golf carts to get around the sprawling resort at your leisure. Loma de Vida Spa is easily one of the best spas in Texas, a peaceful sanctuary with numerous spaces to unwind in privacy, including a private grotto available for small groups to reserve. They’re the only spa in Texas carrying Linda Meredith, an under-the-radar British luxury skincare line known for their oxygenating facials. La Cantera also has 36 holes of championship golf and you might spot deer, turkey, wild hogs, road runners and armadillos ambling around the course and resort.
Signature, La Cantera’s comfortably elegant restaurant with its own garden, is destination dining in its own right. Diners are predominantly local, including high-profile regulars like NBA star Tony Parker and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.
Everything in the restaurant is either custom-made or vintage, and décor is a delightful hodge-podge of Texas taxidermy, local ironwork, reclaimed pine and French antiques. Although local chef Andrew Weissman oversees the menu, the restaurant’s executive chef and pastry chef are both Frenchmen, so the South of Texas meets South of France vibe extends to the menu with dishes like Texas Akaushi strip steak with pommes château and Roquefort sauce. New this summer is a chef’s table experience that include a surprise tasting menu based on the season’s freshest ingredients while a local portrait artist illustrates your experience for a keepsake to take home.
Wake up with a rejuvenating yoga flow at Blue Cat Yoga & Healing Arts, San Antonio’s newest yoga studio in the Hemisfair neighborhood. The Yanaguana Garden opened in 2015 as the first phase of Hemisfair’s ambitious public park project and it’s already become the second busiest park in Texas. Lots of free family-friendly programming takes place throughout the year, and while the playgrounds and games are tailored towards children, adults can drink beer and wine in the park too. Cool off with a mangonada paleta from Paletería San Antonio.
Most visitors to San Antonio only swing by The Alamo, but there are four sister missions that are equally significant in San Antonio’s founding history. San Antonio Detours offers excellent group and private tours of all four, or you can visit Mission Concepcion for Sunday mariachi mass. This is the best preserved of the missions, still 80% original construction, and bilingual mass is held every Sunday, welcoming locals and visitors alike.
Mario Guajardo believes that e-commerce is the way of the future but there’s clearly still room for brick-and-mortar retail when it’s as fun as the Shops at Broadway News, a collection of air stream trailers and pre-fab buildings home to 14 independent tenants offering everything from superb coffee to a barbershop with haircuts worth waiting in line for.
This is San Antonio’s retail hidden gem, home to Bexar’s only brick-and-mortar store, along with premium hand-stitched and embroidered Mexican clothes and accessories at La Casa Frida, 70s-inspired styles at The Red Cat and plants and pottery at Tillage.
Guarjardo’s contribution to the assortment are men’s shirts inspired by western details at Richter Goods. Every shirt is hand-stitched by local seamstresses on-site in beautiful rare fabrics sourced from Japan to Italy. Most customers buy off the rack, but Guajardo is happy to create bespoke pieces too.