The 6 top San Antonio restaurants defining the city's dining scene right now
If it feels like San Antonio’s dining game has leveled up over the last few years, you can thank (at least in part) these nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best Restaurant. Just like the Alamo City itself, these worthy establishments reflect they city’s diverse cultural flavors and tradition of fine Texas hospitality. Among them are restaurants that run the gamut from swanky sit-down affairs to food served at picnic tables in parking lots. The latter category is where San Antonio seems to shine brightest, at least in the national eye, with several of our nominees scoring places on big best-of lists from the likes of Esquire and GQ.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a raft of challenges for everyone in the industry, these nominees soldier on with the tenacity we’ve come to expect from hard-working hospitality teams. Learn more about them 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. It's our way of celebrating the extraordinary spirit of the San Antonio restaurant and bar scene during this challenging time. A handful of tickets to the virtual event are still on sale and include a Tasting Tote featuring bites, sips, and more to enjoy at home.
In the wide world of dining, understanding a restaurant's strengths often gets ignored in favor of pomp and gimmickry. Not so at Carnitas Lonja, the Southside’s mecca for Michoacán-style carnitas. Opened in 2018, Carnitas Lonja was immediately recognized by Esquire as one of the best new restaurants in the country — an outlier on a list generally populated with ritzy, contemporary fine dining. At Lonja, there are no “modern twists” on traditional food. Instead, it dishes out melty, crispy carnitas; homemade corn tortillas; and bright, spicy salsas akin to what one's grandmother might.
Currently: Open for takeout or outdoor dining Friday through Sunday.
In the past few years, San Antonio has burnished its growing reputation as a serious food-lover’s destination with chef Nicola Blaque’s love letter to her Caribbean roots. Since opening in 2018, the no-frills eatery has landed on a slew of coveted best-of lists, with national recognition from GQ, Esquire, and Eater. (It also won Tastemaker Award for Best New Restaurant in 2019.) The ubiquitous lines at its walk-up window, even during a pandemic, back up all the praise. Jerk Shack's menu centers around Massey’s fiery habañero jerk, a dark velvet melange of heat, spice, and citrus that works its way deep into your soul. Fans return over and over for the crispy hot jerk chicken wings served with creamy mac n’ cheese.
Currently: Open for takeout Tuesday through Saturday.
Meadow Neighborhood Eatery + Bar
There is plenty of high-end techniques to go around in chef PJ Edwards’s menu of comforting Southern fare, but don’t mistake the soignée presentation of his blackened Gulf Cobia or the decadent addition of chicken skin and pepper jelly to his buttermilk biscuits as a sign of pretension. At its core, the food at Meadow makes you feel like you’ve just been welcomed home again, to a place where you can relax and enjoy some familiar flavors prepared exceptionally well.
Currently: Open every day but Monday for dine-in and contactless curbside pickup.
Time was, chef Ming Qian’s throngs of acolytes would have to get up super early on the weekends to beat the sold-out sign at her Chinese street food stall in the Pearl Farmer’s Market. These days, while she still makes regular camp at the market, her devotees can hit up her brick-and-mortar noodle bar to get their fix of sinus-clearing Ma La noodles or sample her fusion-y selection of steamed bao. Her upcoming new restaurant, Midtown Station’s highly anticipated Ming’s, will feature upscale Southeast Asian fare.
Currently: Ming’s Noodle Bar is open for takeout Tuesday through Saturday. The Ming’s team recently returned to their stall at Pearl Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.
The once and current center of San Antonio high society, downtown’s rejuvenated St. Anthony hotel is home to Rebelle, an expansive and modish palace of contemporary fine dining. After a recent menu and concept overhaul overseen by chef Stefan Bowers, Rebelle has emerged as the Alamo City’s superlative seafood restaurant — a splurge-y, special occasion hotspot for menu items like charbroiled lobster with garlic, and an unrivaled happy hour featuring East Coast oyster shooters that won’t break the bank.
Currently: Rebelle is open for dine-in service in their spacious, social-distancing-friendly dining room.
When you think about soul food, you might not picture a bowl of bright, crisp cabbage salad topped with peanuts and lemongrass grilled pork — but maybe you should. For chef Louis Singh, dishes like his crusty French bread bành mí sandwiches, and his vermicelli rice noodles doused in nuoc mam and nestled under pickled veg and slow-cooked brisket, are what he calls Vietnamese soul food. This is what his mother grew up eating in the Mekong Delta, and in turn, raised him on as a boy growing up in Texas. His St. Mary’s Strip eatery is an ode to that heritage to be sure, but don’t overlook the addictive Sriracha butter chicken "Winghs." This former food truck as matured well into its permanent digs, and its loyal fans keep coming back for more.
Currently: Singh’s is open every day but Monday for dine-in and takeout service.