The 7 best hotel restaurants on the San Antonio River Walk
It used to be that any discussion of hotel restaurants along the River Walk began and ended with the epic Sunday brunch at Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansión del Rio RiverWalk, a buffet stocked with crab claws, prime rib, bananas Foster and bottomless mimosas.
But the pandemic hammered hotels especially hard, and Las Canarias has been reduced to serving only breakfast for now. No dinner, no lunch, no Sunday buffet. The same is true for hotel restaurants up and down the River Walk, with hours and menus cut back as they struggle to navigate the new normal.
Even so, there’s a reawakening light rippling across the water as the tourists come back, walking their slow penguin walk, necks craning toward the skies, where they’ll find two of the newest River Walk hotels reaching into the blue: the sleek Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk and the Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk, a jutting Lego stack of catwalks and balconies.
The Thompson and Canopy host two of the seven best hotel restaurants on the River Walk, a list I compiled after stepping into every one of the more than 20 hotel cafes, bars, bistros, pubs and coffee shops on the section of the River Walk starting at César E. Chávez Boulevard to the south and stopping at Fourth Street to the north.
The beauty of hotel restaurants is they let you eat right where you’re staying. But these seven are worth seeking out on their own merits, with seating on the river and the added luxury of a full bar for unwinding from the River Walk shuffle.
This is the second of a four-part, every-other-week series covering restaurants on the River Walk. I began with the nine best locally owned spots. I’ll rate the best chain restaurants next, on my way to naming the 10 best River Walk restaurants overall — in time to plan your cool-weather holiday treks to this underappreciated San Antonio treasure.
Ambler Texas Kitchen + Cocktails at Hotel Contessa
Ambler’s second-biggest asset might be Marriage Island just outside the restaurant’s riverfront patio, a little heart-shaped jetty of land perfect for Instagram couples on selfie patrol. Ambler’s biggest asset is a menu of Texas-inspired food that includes velvety pappardelle pasta with lamb sausage, along with a burger built from prime beef and brisket.
It’s an elevated bar-bites destination for lunch and a full-blown steakhouse by night, with cocktails like a spicy margarita that embraces mango and jalapeño. 306 W. Market St., 210-229-9222, amblersanantonio.com
Domingo Restaurante at the Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk
The broad patio that stretches to the river at the modernist Domingo is set with loveseats and pillows like a lounge on “The Bachelorette,” and it cultivates a Latin American vibe that carries through a menu of tacos, guacamole, street corn, quesadillas and Latin-influenced seafood.
Crispy Baja fish tacos and loaded green chile chicken enchiladas stand among the best Mexican food you’ll find on the River Walk, complemented by a stout and blessedly simple Signature Margarita and a frothy Oaxaca Colada with mezcal, banana liqueur and coconut cream that’s not afraid to wear pink. 123 N. St. Mary’s St., 210-404-7516, domingorestaurant.com/domingo
Dorrego’s at Hotel Valencia Riverwalk
It’s always struck me as a bold idea to have an Argentinian restaurant at the heart of a hotel’s food and beverage program. Travelers aren’t afraid to go new places, but their appetites aren’t always so adventurous.
Dorrego’s responds with food that resonates no matter its nationality, like empanadas with spiced beef inside flaky pastry shells and an iron skillet of flaming provolone cheese with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. A perfectly seared New York strip steak comes with a quartet of sauces for choose-your-own Argentinian adventure.
The dining room is bold and masculine in a reassuring way, but the veranda — where I once saw Carlos Santana pontificating at dinner — is the place for a perch among the palm fronds with a view of the river. 150 E. Houston St., 210-230-8454, dorregos.com
Landrace at the Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk
You can smell Landrace’s wood-burning grill from across the river, announcing that this is Texas food, from ranch to table. The bar and main dining room could be a clubby, upmarket restaurant most anywhere, but it’s unmistakably San Antonio along the tall curving windows of the side dining room and the patio, offering a view of the river and the glittering Tobin Center for the Performing Arts across the water.
Celebrated chef Steve McHugh’s menu leans on grilled meats and local produce, with crispy Hopi blue corn hushpuppies, a bowl with various preparations of summer squash and one of the best steaks in the city, dressed to the nines with foie gras. 111 Lexington Ave., 210-942-6026, landracetx.com
Ocho at Hotel Havana
Housed in a glass room like an art deco terrarium with the River Walk along one wall, Ocho is the playground of chef Jesse Kuykendall, who won a recent episode of the Food Network show “Chopped.” At Ocho, her brunch menu includes a tall stack of plantain cakes layered with pork carnitas made by a Laredo native who knows her way around carnitas.
The dinner menu dabbles in Latin and Cuban flavors, with specialties like arroz con pollo, chimichurri steak and lamb with mamey mole. 1015 Navarro St., 210-222-2008, havanasanantonio.com/restaurant-and-bar/ocho/
Ostra at Mokara Hotel & Spa
Fresh East Coast oysters set the tone for a well-rounded seafood experience at Ostra, perched riverside with striped beach umbrellas furling in the breeze. Those oysters go well with a spicy but refreshing pineapple jalapeño margarita served in a big martini-shaped glass.
Ostra’s not afraid to go upscale with perfectly roasted Gulf redfish on golden grits with roasted tomato. 212 W. Crockett St., 210-396-5817, omnihotels.com/hotels/san-antonio-mokara/dining/ostra
Range at Embassy Suites by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown
Chef Jason Dady’s chophouse at the Embassy Suites survived the pandemic by scaling back. No more tableside martinis and Caesar salads, no more sprawling leather-bound menus. What remains is a tightly curated dinner menu of Dady’s greatest hits at Range: a South Texas beef tartare preparation called parisa that’s fresh, tart and silky; deviled eggs topped with sweet and smoky brisket jam and a mahogany-seared rib-eye steak that fills the plate.
See the river from the second-floor window by the ballroom staircase, or go for the al fresco steakhouse experience on the patio with a bracing Tres Agaves margarita. 125 E. Houston St., 210-227-4455, rangesa.com