We're honoring the top culinary talent in Alamo City at our Tastemaker Awards, extending to San Antonio for the very first time this year. You've met the nominees for Best New Restaurant and Chef of the Year, and now, ahead of the party on May 17, we're shining a light on San Antonio's top restaurants.
The seven nominees for Restaurant of the Year have made an impact with foodies and critics alike. They collectively reflect the recent and amazing growth in San Antonio's culinary offerings. Meet them now:
Chef Mark Bliss excited San Antonians when he and his wife/business partner, Lisa, opened Bliss in Southtown in early 2012, following a two-year break from the industry. The arrival of Bliss, the first restaurant that the couple has owned and managed, marked a new level of eclectic, experiential dining to the booming neighborhood.
The frequently changing menu focuses on new American cuisine, charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, and house-baked breads. Along with the intriguing selection of wine and beer, Bliss — set in a stylishly revamped former gas station — has been a hit.
Located off the North St. Mary's strip, The Cookhouse pays tribute to Chef Pieter Sypesteyn's home of Louisiana, demonstrating that there's more to New Orleans than the familiar aspects of Cajun and Creole. Sypesteyn showcases what he has learned from American, French, and Italian cooking and provides a more worldly culinary adventure.
The popularity of the Where Y'at food truck, with its serious takes on po' boys, gumbo, and jambalaya, stirred Sypesteyn and his wife, Susan, to open The Cookhouse in a cozy spot that offers a New Orleans style throughout. The oyster bar is a particular treat, but dishes such as roasted duck with dumplings and the classic muffuletta, are just as irresistible.
Chef Steven McHugh opened Cured in 2013 in one of many century-old renovated structures at the former Pearl Brewery, now a hub of culinary and commercial rebirth in San Antonio's urban core. McHugh and his team blend locally sourced ingredients with organic methods to create hand-crafted cured foods. Cured offers a dazzling version of farm-to-table techniques and whole-animal cooking. Nothing goes to waste at Cured, where dishes such as beer can mussels or pork cheek poutine, paired with craft cocktails and beers in a rustic-chic setting, has gone over well with fans.
McHugh says he appreciates CultureMap's recognition as the latest in honors for Cured: "It represents how far we've come as a city in a few years. To see seven of these restaurants on this list, it's pretty amazing."
Like Bliss, Feast has furthered Southtown's reputation as a destination for local foodies. Feast opened in 2011, putting a Mediterranean spin on contemporary American cuisine. Formerly of 20nine Restaurant & Wine Bar, Chef Stefan Bowers and business partner Andrew Goodman have made Feast inviting with its white walls, dangling glass mobiles, and clear acrylic chairs complemented by several offerings of small sharing plates.
The menu at Feast changes seasonally and is broken down into categories such as "oceanic," "chilled," and "crispy." Having grown up in northern California during the beginnings of the organic food movement, Bowers regionally sources his ingredients to craft items such as heritage pork belly and duck breast tostadas. Bowers and Goodman also run a newer venture, Rebelle, in the recently renovated, historic St. Anthony Hotel downtown.
"Each accolade is appreciated. We don't have a big head at Feast and Rebelle," Bowers said. "It's stiff competition, with lots of killer chefs grinding out there. We don't take honors like this for granted."
Based in Olmos Park, Folc fuses family-style plates of American cuisine with contemporary techniques. Chef/co-owner Luis Colon plays with flavors and textures to create a relatively small yet lively menu worth exploring. It's made for a sharing experience among couples and small groups.
Folc is a compact place, but it's comfortable and intimate enough to enjoy elevated offerings such as the brisket burger with fried egg, pickles, and white American cheese or fried veal sweetbreads with coffee mayonnaise. Brunch is a special time at Folc on Saturdays and Sundays: A "Family Folc" order comes with a half made-to-order chicken, eight eggs, four biscuits, and roasted fingerlings. If you're dining for one, a breaded pork cutlet with ravigote sauce, fried egg, and dressed pea tendrils — peas are given much love here — is a can't-miss proposition.
Mixtli is not so much a restaurant as it is an educational experience for diners and the cooks. Tucked away in a former train boxcar in Olmos Park, chefs/co-owners Rico Torres and Diego Galicia mix old-world and new techniques on staple Mesoamerican ingredients. Virtually everything is made in house, including masa and the cocoa that is roasted to make chocolate.
The menu changes every 45 days to focus on cuisine traditional to a different state or region of Mexico. Diners are given the chance to concentrate on and contemplate the ingredients on each plate — the traditions with which they are intertwined. Take, for example, grasshopper tostadas. Galicia and Torres note that roasted grasshoppers have long been a staple protein in Oaxaca, Mexico. There are no walk-ins at Mixtli, and with seating for only 12 people reservations are required.
"It's an honor to be recognized for our hard work at the end of the day," Torres says. "We aren't chasing awards, but trying to rescue, preserve, and promote these foods and ensure the history of the peoples associated with them."
Downtown's Restaurant Gwendolyn is a step back in time. With a touch of Victorian style, chef/owner Michael Sohocki and his colleagues craft tried-and-true recipes with no help from machines — no blenders, choppers, or deep fryers. Sohocki also strives to source his ingredients from farmers and ranchers within a 150-mile radius, maintaining a sustainable, regional food supply. Whole animals are bought, cut, dry-aged, and preserved. Everything is made in-house. Coffee for dessert is crafted with a siphon coffee maker. Fats are rendered. Bacon is smoked onsite.
The venue's name is a tribute to Sohocki's grandmother. As a result, gourmet meals transport diners to a simpler time. It's all an ode to the pre-Industrial Revolution era, an exploration of how people related to their physical surroundings before their world, back then, got bigger.