Best of the fest

The foodie's guide to San Antonio's hottest food and wine festival

The foodie's guide to San Antonio's hottest food and wine festival

Culinaria toast
Say cheers to the return of the Culinaria Food and Wine Festival. Culinaria/Facebook

From national publications like Food & Wine to UNESCO, everyone seems to be noticing San Antonio’s culinary scene these days. But if you ask us, they are a little behind the curve. For almost two decades, locals have been toasting the best in Alamo City food and wine at the Culinaria Wine and Food Festival.

Now one of the largest food festivals in the state, Culinaria returns to the La Cantera Resort & Spa May 17-20 for four days of tastings, seminars, demos, and more showcasing some of the top chefs and bartenders in the city. More than 100 eateries are set to appear, including locals like 2M Smokehouse, La Frite, Sangria on the Berg, The Good Kind, Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar, and Guerrilla Gourmet as well as out-of-towners like Dallas' Whistle Britches, Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar, College Station-based Mad Taco, and Fort Worth’s Taco Heads.

The weekend kicks off May 17 with Bubbles, a Champagne-themed opening night event at stylish poolside bar Topaz. Guests will dive into a dizzying array of sparkling wines paired with light bites. Make a splash by wearing your most stylish resort gear and arrive early to take a selfie in front of the breathtaking Hill Country vista — one of the best views in the city.

Drink an extra cup of coffee on May 18 to make sure you make the most of one of the busiest days of the festival. A few early worms were able to score tickets to a sold-out luncheon at Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg where they will enjoy dishes from Botika, Tribeca 212, Bite, and Supper at Hotel Emma paired with wines from Becker, Lost Oak, Llano Estacado, and Haak Vineyards. If you were not one of the lucky few, don’t worry as there are still lots of good eats to be had later that night.

The Texas Grand Tasting, inside the resort’s San Antonio Ballroom, is the marquee event of the festival featuring both well-established and up-and-coming chefs. The general ticket gets you plenty, but pony up an extra $25 to access to an exclusive area with nibbles from Iron Chef Jason Dady, Shota Nakajima and Christopher Hoey of Seattle sushi hot spot Adana, and La Cantera Resort executive chef Robert Carr — plus wines selected by Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards.

Bring a hearty appetite for Saturday’s activities. The Texas Taco Showdown, an outdoor event in the resort’s West Lot, pits San Antonio’s top taco makers against each other in a friendly challenge to see who reigns supreme in the Alamo City. A panel of 10 celebrity judges featuring chefs, media personalities, and notable foodies will make the final determination about who has the top taco among three categories: modern, classic, and breakfast.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, so we’re very pleased to finally bring this unique taco championship to San Antonio,” said Culinaria president and CEO Suzanne Taranto-Etheredge in a release. “We can’t wait to see and taste the imaginative and traditional presentations of one of the beloved staples of Texas cuisine.”

But wait, there’s more. During the fest, visitors will also get to enjoy an array of culinary demonstrations, food seminars, wine, beer, and cocktails courtesy of Culinaria’s new Culinary Districts, which are open both Saturday and Sunday. The resort’s grounds will be converted into a vibrant market with pop-up restaurants and activations including spa pampering from Loma de Vida and a hydration station featuring B12 injections and IV therapy from CryoFit Alamo Heights. VIPs will have access to a swanky lounge from Top Golf, offering specially curated food and drink.

As if that wasn't enough, Gulf shrimp will be featured at a station sponsored by the Texas Department of Agriculture. An array of beverages will be also available at the wine garden; the beer lounge; or at the Yes Way Rosé Lounge, which will feature blushing selections from Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

Taranto-Etheredge said she is eager to see how festival-goers enjoy the new pop-up restaurants. “I just really wanted to have a broader presence for people to enjoy the experience and feel like they are in a restaurant on the grounds,” she explained. Signed on are Grayze on Grayson Street, La Cantera Resort & Spa, Baklovah Bakery, Las Canarias, Ostra, and Pasha Mediterranean Grill. In addition to edible treats, Pasha will also offer a hookah lounge.

“It’s a different energy for us, giving the festival-goer more than just a grab-and-go experience,” she said. “They get to slow down a bit and it gives chefs more of an opportunity to talk to the consumer about their food and beverages. The chefs are very excited about it, which tells me we are doing the right thing.”

The Culinaria festival finale arrives Sunday with Burgers, BBQ, and Beer in the West Lot. This casual, casual event is a favorite at Culinaria, and chefs will be grilling up their delicious takes on backyard fare. The organizers said guests can expect everything from Texas beer to wild game and a new frying station that will be cooking up fries and onion rings all night.

As usual, Culinaria and La Cantera are offering special rates for festival attendees who want to stay part of or the entire weekend on site. Regular and valet parking at the resort is limited. Free shuttles will circulate from and to the Shops at La Cantera north parking lot, near where the Superman roller coaster is located at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Just look for the signs upon arrival. 

Festival proceeds benefit the nonprofit arm of Culinaria, which works to advocate San Antonio as a food and wine destination through special events and education.