It surely hasn’t escaped locals' notice that the San Antonio restaurant scene is getting fancy. And as much as most people occasionally enjoy a five-course feast or top-shelf cocktail, budgets just haven’t kept up. That’s why this month we’re taking it back to the basics. These hole in the walls might not have starched napkins or dapper servers, but they are full of something better — food that pleases every time.
Candy’s Old Fashion
This downtown greasy spoon is pure Americana and not just because of the nostalgic bric-a-brac cluttering almost every surface. The burgers — eight of them — are blessedly free of aiolis and fried eggs, catfish is served with globs of tartar sauce, and fried catfish is smothered in cream gravy. Food like this doesn’t need newfangled innovations, though we never knew we needed crispy tortilla strips in a Cobb salad.
No one could call this place unsung. After all, it is usually mentioned in the same breath as some of the nation’s most lauded new restaurants. Still, chef and owner Alejandro Paredes keeps the menu and atmosphere refreshingly free of frills. His idea of expansion was to open Fish Lonja in the back of the complex with a menu of only three seafood tostadas. Like the pork available a few steps away, those dishes appear simple but are the result of rare culinary obsession.
El Ceviche de Waldito
Specializing in Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Peruvian fare, this hole in the wall near Medical Center reflects the gregarious personality of owner Waldo Castro. Framed commendations display his commitment to community while Castro himself is often seen chatting on the restaurant floor. The food is as friendly as the chef with vibrant dishes like creamy papa a la huancaína, ceviche swimming in citrusy leche de tigre, and beefy lomo saltado. Don’t skip out on the lunch buffet; it’s one of the best deals in town.
Garcia’s Mexican Food
Thank goodness for smart phones. This San Antonio classic has attracted national acclaim, which means guests usually have to play a few rounds of Candy Crush before scoring one of its few seats. Patience is rewarded with the legendary brisket and guacamole taco, a rhapsody of fat, salt, and smoke. The Tex-Mex plates don’t have quite as much swack, but it’s churlish to complain about a cheese enchilada.
Kobam’s African Restaurant
The deep orange walls of this strip mall eatery echo the West African food, which takes on dazzling sunset colors from the heavy use of tomato and peppers. Joloff rice, a kicky dish served with a choice of grilled chicken, goat, or grilled whole tilapia is a popular choice, but diners will be rewarded for taking the road less traveled. Try the egusi soup, a pleasantly pungent mix of pureed melon seeds simmered with spinach and scotch bonnets topped with smoked fish and served with yam or wheat fufu (a dough-like porridge) for rolling up and dipping.
Going against the breakfast taco tide, co-owners Raymond Zalapa and Danny Romo roused the South Side in June with diner-style dishes like chicken and biscuits, French toast, and egg sandwiches. Though stripped down, this charming spot is geared for the social media age. Check out the Texas-shaped waffle served with hand-battered fried chicken and a side of hibiscus butter colored a perfect shade of millennial pink.
Three Amigos Chinese Food
For dive bonafides, this West Side restaurant is hard to beat. The sign is shaggy, the food is scooped into styrofoam, and it operates out of a convenience store. Improbable name aside, it’s Chinese-American food excels. All the hits are here, from sweet-tangy pineapple to a hot and sour soup that feels like a warm hug.