Best of the best

These are San Antonio's best new restaurants for 2018

These are San Antonio's best new restaurants for 2018

Clementine SA hush puppies
Even hushpuppies are works of art at Castle Hills' Clementine. Clementine

San Antonio long ago arrived on the world's stage (300 years ago to be exact), but those outside the city limits haven't always paid it much attention. The spotlight, however, is starting to brighten on the city's culinary endeavors in the form of best-of lists, awards, and even James Beard nominations. 

Alamo City's food scene is as captivating as anything happening in the rest of the country, let alone the rest of Texas. And 2018’s best new restaurants prove it.

Plenty of restaurants conflate fussiness with quality, squiggling plates with off-putting sauces and stacking ingredients in an attempt to elicit oohs before diners even get to the ahhs. This Castle Hills’ eatery doesn’t need all that flash. In the hand of John Russ, a white mushroom salad dazzles with the simplest ingredients — shaved red onions and radishes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few squeezes of Valley lemons — all plopped onto the plate in an unceremonious pile.

Jerk Shack
The selfish side of me resisted further hyping up this tiny Jamaican joint. After all, why encourage one more person to join the already formidable line? But the altruistic side wants to spread the love far and wide. Culinary Institute of America graduate Nicola Blaque is simply nailing Caribbean flavors, from the jerk chicken and pork available by the pound to a take on shrimp and grits with a vibrant maque choux. The slightly shabby outdoor “dining room” notwithstanding, devour all of it as soon as it comes out the window, perhaps with a good Gewurztraminer picked up along the way.

Maverick Texas Brasserie
This Southtown newcomer had me at cheese puff, in this case dainty gougeres that seem like the very definition of sweet nothings. But the French accent aside, it’s the Texas part of the name that forms the restaurants solid core. Of-the-moment pork schnitzel has only what it needs: brown butter, some capers, and a pop of citrus. The wood grill brands Scottish salmon with a lone star. If you can stomach the Austin reference, order the Violet Crowns while perusing the menu. It’s a rare floral cocktail that doesn’t taste like grandma’s White Diamonds.

My first visit to PJ and Lindsey Edwards’ neighborhood eatery was peppered with a whole lot of dangs. Slathered honey lard on moist cornbread? Dang! Farfalle with smoke shiitake and dill? Dang! This comfy joint follows the nation’s recent fascination with reinvented Southern cuisine, but strips away every ounce of pretension. This restaurant's down-home hospitality is worthy of exclamation.

Nonna Osteria
This isn’t what a hotel restaurant is supposed to taste like. Instead of trafficking in the uninspired and bland, chef Luca Della Casa has made the Fairmount Hotel’s signature restaurant an electrifying destination. Roasted rabbit is lifted out of its sometimes gamey mire by a frisson of buttery Castelvetrano olives, veal scallopini gets a vegetal punch with dill butter, and branzino is a showpiece with gilded lily lump crab. Sure, it’s a little over the top, but no one can blame Della Casa for showing off.

Playland Pizza
With its shiny baubles, curvy furniture, and statement lighting hovering up above, Playland certainly looks like a Andrew Goodman restaurant, but one gets the sense that this is the most personal project yet for the chef and his business partner, Stefan Bower. The pies start with a sourdough crust, a blistered, mildly rangy foil to a variety of ingredients ranging from apricot glaze with a skyr-like cheese to roasted mushrooms and rapini. Each pie finishes with a sense of wonder about how the panoply of toppings work so effortlessly together.