Life in San Antonio looks a lot different this summer. Pools and parks are closed, the Fourth of July fizzled without fireworks, and social gatherings are limited — if they happen at all. But as the city adapts to pandemic life, so too have many Alamo City restaurants.
Before the pandemic hit, our team of judges selected eight of the best new restaurants to open in 2019 and early 2020. These standout stars range from innovative snout-to-tail eateries to fast-casual burger stands to neighborhood biscuit shops, and all have fought through their first year — a difficult feat in normal times — with grit.
Now, we pass it along to our readers to determine who will be the winner of the 2020 CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best New Restaurant. Vote for your favorites here, and then tune in on Thursday, July 23, at 7 pm as we reveal the winner during our first-ever Tastemaker Awards — Virtual Edition, hosted by Bun B. It's our way of celebrating the extraordinary spirit of the San Antonio restaurant and bar scene during this challenging time. Tickets to the virtual event are on sale now and include a Tasting Tote featuring bites, sips, and more to enjoy at home.
225 Urban Smoke
This barbecue spot, located just east of Alamo Heights, walks the line between Texas traditions and innovative Southern smoke, offering dishes for purists and adventurous eaters alike. Co-owners Daniel Jimenez and chef Samuel Ransom Jr. pride themselves on using the highest quality meats to craft their edgy spins on all things barbecue.
Currently: 225 Urban Smoke is open for in-house dining and delivery.
Alamo Biscuit Co.
The only thing better than a biscuit is an entire restaurant where biscuits are the star. Caesar Zepeda — the mastermind behind San Antonio's famed Sangria on the Burg — worked with multiple pastry chefs to perfect his biscuits, which are used in every dish at this Northwest Side eatery. The result, Zepeda told CultureMap in 2019, is a "really light and butter-forward" pastry. Order them as a flight with housemade jam or gravy, as the base for an open-faced sandwich, or alongside a breakfast platter.
Currently: Alamo Biscuit Co. is open for delivery and takeout. It is also open for in-house dining with limited capacity.
Carnitas Don Raul
Carnitas Don Raul's original location in Michoacán has had no shortage of acclaim, including an appearance on Netflix's The Taco Chronicles. Its Alamo City outpost is nearly as popular, attracting long lines and plenty of press. While every dish, from the torta to the quesadilla, is worth the wait, Don Raul's near miraculous carnitas, slow cooked for hours before being served on housemade corn tortillas and topped with fresh salsa, are truly heaven.
Currently: Carnitas Don Raul's food truck is open at 2202 Broadway St.
Fish Lonja is the seafood-obsessed sister of San Antonio's super popular Carnitas Lonja, featuring a limited but pitch-perfect menu of shrimp, fish, and octopus tostadas. Chef/owner Alejandro Paredes is meticulous with his marinades and sauces, and in a 2019 interview with CultureMap, Paredes revealed he spent two months perfecting the recipes. The attention to detail has paid off, and Fish Lonja has become a worthy addition to the Lonja mini empire.
Currently: Fish Lonja's operations have merged with Carnitas Lonja, which means that the tostadas aren't always available. Check Facebook for menu updates and order online for curbside and to-go only.
This New American eatery swooped in on the Near East Side, bringing with it an array of global influences. Owner Sue Kim mixes and matches classic international dishes, from Korean baby back ribs to pommes Darphin (a luxe version of hash browns), to craft a menu that's both far reaching and cohesive.
Currently: The Magpie is open with limited seating. It is also available for to-go ordering.
It was surprising when lauded San Antonio chef Andrew Weissman opened a fast-casual burger joint called Mr. Juicy. That the limited menu of burgers, shakes, and fries was outrageously delicious was decidedly less surprising. Since opening in Olmos Park last year, this burger spot has been heralded by critics and visitors alike for its delicious fare served at budget-friendly prices.
Currently: Mr. Juicy is open for takeout and delivery via third-party apps.
Tlahco Mexican Kitchen
Like all the restaurants vying to be named Best New Restaurant, Tlahco Mexican Kitchen has legions of devoted fans who flock to the San Pedro Street spot for breakfast and lunch. Early risers can snag breakfast classics like migas and huevos divorciados or pancakes topped with dulce de leche. Lunchgoers, meanwhile, can opt for tortas and tacos filled with al pastor, bistek, and barbacoa.
Currently: Tlahco is open for in-house dining with limited capacity
Swine House Bodega
Farm-to-table eateries have been trending for years, but this snout-to-tail concept from owner Joe Saenz is no mere copycat. Saenz's approach includes whole-animal butchery, sourcing produce from as close to the restaurant as possible, housemade sausage, and pork slow roasted on a spit. Ingredients change with the seasons resulting in an ever-changing menu.
Currently: On June 22, Swine House Bodega temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Check its website and social media pages for a reopening date.