When a city’s culinary scene is labeled the next big thing, it’s a double-edged sword. In the Alamo City, the buzz has inspired a new generation of local talent to dare something new, but it also attracting culinary magpies that have little in common with San Antonio.
Whether owned by relative newcomers or natives, the best new San Antonio restaurants of 2019 feel like they couldn’t exist anywhere else, even if one of them technically does. The many chain newcomers that opened this year may sport flashier interiors, but none shined brighter than these five San Antonio gems.
Carnitas Don Raúl
Long lines are not always an indication of quality (see the Black Friday crowds who riot over substandard TVs), but this San Antonio version of an acclaimed Michoacán concept is the rare eatery that lives up to the buzz. Using almost every cut of pork, save the innards, this food truck assuredly delivers near-miraculous carnitas — perfectly crisp, uncommonly moist, rapturously rich — served on corn tortillas that reward patience.
Chamoy City Limits
The brick-and-mortar version of one of San Antonio’s most popular raspas truck makes its Chinese candy and chamoy from scratch, but don’t call it elevated. That dubious foodie distinction implies that European ingredients and techniques somehow lift the foods enjoyed by people of color, that white is somehow more inventive than black or brown. As she does in her art, owner Ana Fernandez explores the intrinsic worth of South Texas in her restaurant, with nods to the rich heritage of chili queens and other entrepreneurs who have come before her. Still, with its puckering bursts of sour and sweet, it’s hardly academic.
Frustrating though it may be for his fans, acclaimed San Antonio chef Andrew Weissman has always had a sixth sense for when it’s time to try something new. While the June closure of Moshe’s Golden Falafel is certainly worth mourning, its replacement, the spectacularly easy Mr. Juicy, couldn’t have come at a better time. In the rocky tail end to the decade, nothing is more comforting than a juicy beef patty slathered with au poivre sauce.
Julia’s Bistro & Bar
On the heels of opening Italian neighborhood charmer SoHill Cafe in late 2018, Jean-Francois Poujol has delivered another stunner. Julia’s sees the chef combining the classic French forms of his youth with the Southwestern flavors of his longtime American home. It may sound like fusion to use lamb and goat cheese in a chili relleno, but it is not one developed as mere theory. Instead, it is a reflection of a unique palate cooking as autobiography.
Swine House Bodega
In a restaurant industry that increasingly takes shortcuts along the road from farm to table, this tucked away downtown shop is the real deal. Owner Joe Saenz is as passionate about animal welfare and sustainability as he is about flavor. It takes more work to employ whole animal butchery or to source vegetables from local farms. It certainly takes more time to come up with new menus every week. San Antonio should be thankful that someone makes it appear so effortless.