Some good news

San Antonio's classic downtown Mexican restaurant reopens for first time since March

Classic downtown Mexican restaurant reopens for first time since March

Pico de Gallo River Walk
Pico de Gallo is back. Photo courtesy of La Familia Cortez

Amidst the rolling wave of pandemic-related restaurant and bar closures that San Antonio has seen in recent months, a bit of good news: Mercado-area Mexican food and cocktails stalwart Pico de Gallo is reopening its doors Friday, November 6, hosting sit-down diners for the first time since mid-March.

Pico de Gallo officially opened its doors in 1991, but the site has been a part of the Cortez family business since the ‘70s. Pedro and Cruz Cortez opened La Familia Cortez restaurant empire’s crowning jewel, Mi Tierra, in 1941, expanding with a steakhouse at 111 S. Leona St. 38 years later. Sons Jorge and David Cortez rebranded the steakhouse as Pico de Gallo, and the restaurant has since carved a sizable place for itself in the neighborhood culinary landscape, as San Antonio’s Historic Market Square has seen tremendous tourist growth over the last several decades. The restaurant is also popular among students and faculty at UTSA's downtown campus, which opened its permanent site across the street in 1997.

The pandemic has exacted a particularly heavy toll from businesses operating in San Antonio’s normally tourist-dense downtown. The Cortez family, which now oversees six restaurants in the city, stripped back operations, concentrating their business in Mi Tierra and temporarily shuttering their other four downtown-area restaurants. (The group's Northwest Side restaurant Mi Familia is currently open.)

“There just wasn’t enough traffic downtown to open our other restaurants in addition to Mi Tierra,” says director of training Mario Moreno, who began his career with La Familia Cortez at Pico de Gallo and has been with the company for 25 years. “Tourism and conventions were nonexistent and downtown offices and UTSA were working from home, so the business just wasn’t there,” he adds.

Pico de Gallo popped up briefly for a drive-thru Fiesta event and “5 Days of Cinco,” a concept during the lead-up to Cinco de Mayo where the restaurant operated food booths in its parking lot. Mi Tierra has remained open, and has launched new projects to counteract the pandemic crunch. These include a pop-up grocery store inside the restaurant, and a pizza-and-wings takeout concept called Zapata’s. (You can browse the menu, which includes Tex-Mex spins on pan-American classics like the asada- and chorizo-topped El Tapado pizza, at Doordash.)

Pico de Gallo reopens as some of its peers in the downtown region have succumbed to the economic pressures of 2020 for good. Just last week it was announced that iconic River Walk eatery Mexican Manhattan would officially end its 62-year run.

“With things slowly-but-surely picking back up, and with the playbook we developed by safely opening Mi Tierra, we felt safe and comfortable opening our doors again and welcoming back our guests,” Moreno tells CultureMap. In addition to Pico de Gallo's reopening tomorrow, there are plans to bring back downtown restaurant and oyster bar La Margarita in a few weeks.

“We’ve done what we can to survive," Moreno said. "From the pop-up grocery store in Mi Tierra to the drive-thru Fiesta, we always stay true to our culture and our traditions, no matter how crazy and new the idea is.”

Pico de Gallo reopens on Friday, November 6, at 11 am. Its updated business hours are: Sunday, 8 am to 4 pm; Monday and Thursday, 11 am to 8 pm; and Friday and Saturday, 11 am to 9 pm.