San Antonio is currently experiencing an unprecedented boon of new eateries, making it challenging for any restaurant to stand out from the crowd. Choosing the 16 nominees for this year’s Best New Restaurant has taken a ton of debate, a secret ballot, and a year’s worth of exceptional eating.
Our judges — a few editorial staff and some winners from 2022 — have spoken; now, it’s time for you to pick your standouts. Vote for your favorites in our annual bracket-style elimination challenge. To vote, click here. Don't delay: The first bracket ends at 11:59 pm on Friday, May 5.
From May 2 to May 17, you can cast your vote once a day, every day. Then, you’re invited to celebrate the winner of the 2023 Tastemaker Awards during a blowout party at the Briscoe History Museum on May 18. Nominated restaurants and chefs will show off their best bites and the winners in each category will be revealed. Buy tickets now before they sell out.
Without further ado, allow us to introduce you to the impressive list of contenders.
When longtime chef Robbie Nowlin left San Antonio, almost no one was lauding it as a culinary destination. Now that the city has blossomed into a media darling, his return is more than a homecoming. Though his stints at standard-bearers like the French Laundry no-doubt inform his contemporary cuisine (check out Allora’s luxuriously yolked pasta), this isn’t a recreation of California’s greatest hits. It’s a city catching up with its talent and seeing the worth of exactingly executed global cuisine.
Like all of Carpenter Hospitality’s upmarket restaurants, this Grayson Street stunner views as a diorama. Every detail has been fussed over, from the drape of the valances to the languoring white spider mums in each bud vase. Claudine, however, introduces effortless ease. Watched over by portraits of its namesake, guests chatter over cornbread and fried chicken. It’s like being in a country house kitchen; only the good china is always used.
This Pearl eatery had a few hiccups at the start but has now settled at the forefront of casual dining. Comfort eating is at the core, but not just through the usual tricks of breading and butter. Instead, bold flavors evoke the warmth of shared family meals. Punchy San Marzano tomatoes embrace caper and olive brine. Richly sweet caramelized onions lavish affection on rigatoni “alla vodka.”
Box St. All Day
When food trucks leap to brick-and-mortar, there’s seldom more change than air conditioning. Box Street busted open its doors with the force of Miss Congeniality. The menu was only a tiny evolution — co-owners Edward Garcia and Daniel Treviño still serve what they like to eat. But the experience of drinking a strawberry Aperol spritz in a tropical Millennial fever dream finally gives it the atmosphere it deserves.
“Elevate” can be prickly when applied to gastronomy, implying that immigrant foodways lack the sophistication to be considered serious cuisine. So, it’s refreshing that Carriqui lets South Texas food stand on its own. Yes, the team spared no expense in converting Fritz Boehler’s former saloon into a Pearl showpiece. Yes, guests can peacock with a wagyu steak. But the heart of the menu is in the Old School Nachos, a simple “ain’t broke” platter of chips topped with refried beans, jalapeño, and shredded Cheddar.
Chef and partner Berty Richter first came to prominence with Hummus Among Us, an Austin food truck that dazzled far brighter than its humble surrounds. Now at the helm of this Pearl showpiece, he makes some of the most exhilarating fare San Antonio has ever seen. Though his Jewish-Balkan offerings have expanded with a fish kofta drizzled with chermoula and a genuinely astounding knafeh, that impossibly creamy hummus is still the very first item Ladino’s menu lists. It’s still the grace that should be said before every dinner.
A tribute to the golden age of San Antonio hospitality, this unassuming spot has no use for the tweezered microgreens of contemporary culinary largesse. That approach makes a simple French omelette feel like a manifesto. It comes with a stripe of sash of sprightly hollandaise, the same sunny color as the eggs underneath. Embroidered with caviar or shaved truffle, it never loses its simple charms — reminding that the quiet ones often have the most to say.
Full Goods Diner
At first glance, Full Goods isn’t all that different from a neighborhood Jim’s. The chefs serve up pillowy pancakes, towering club sandwiches, and hearty steak and eggs. The come-as-you-are vibe is similar, too, with sneakers replacing some of Pearl’s tonier shoes. But where most diners bristle at change, this one sees the commonalities in gastronomy’s full arsenal. Chief among the flavors, of course, are those borrowed from Alamo City’s rich heritage. A diner is made more quintessentially American by embracing all of its people.
Go Fish Market
Maybe it’s grind culture, but somewhere along the way, it became American doctrine that lunch should be fast and cheap. Here’s to disrupting that norm. Though this Pearl area hot spot is open for dinner, its sunny surrounds seem most fitting for a mid-day meal. It won’t get you in and out like a fast-food meal, and certainly, a dry-aged tuna sandwich costs more than Starkist. To paraphrase the great libertine Diana Vreeland, why don’t you wash away an afternoon lull with a bottle of Luigi Bianco?
Reese Bros BBQ
With the cult-like status that some barbecue joints enjoy, some hot spots have forgotten there doesn’t have to be so much bite with the bark. Make no bones about it; the licorice black crust that forms on the brisket is as mouthwatering as it comes. But that alchemy is not just a flex obscuring the other parts of the operation. Reese Bros excels at sausage, flour tortillas, and simple market sides. It also excels at hospitality, not letting endless acclaim harden into an ego trip.
Do distinctions really matter in 2023? Yes, this downtown concept is a bar — the name even winks to it — but the pub grub is not just there to soak up all the booze. Instead, the salty salsa verde on top of a white bean and bacon fat dip begs for a beer, and the steak frites beckon for a dry martini. This is hospitality at its core, ensuring whatever is ordered delivers a dazzling experience.
Chicken sandwiches are big business. Just ask all the fast-food franchises that recently fought to be at the top of the category’s pecking order. This Olmos Park David, however, handily beats all the corporate Goliaths with impossibly crispy chicken breasts that can barely be contained by the bun. The base allows for almost a dozen variations. Still, the K-Pop truly shines thanks to its mix of gochujang, pickled cucumbers, and kimchi.
When the owners of Azuca Nuevo said help to Southtown, it was a perfect meet cute. The easy sociability of tapas seemed so perfect for the artsy neighborhood that one wondered why it hadn’t been there all along. Still, a great concept needs to be backed up by execution. Hola! announces itself with punchy flavors that travel well outside of Spain. Turns out that mixing Hawaiian, Cajun, and Middle Eastern dishes with Catalan classics teaches the whole world to sing.
Leche de Tigre
Sit at the bar at this Southtown cebicheria. Though the Peruvian specialties and pisco-based cocktails will entice from any perch, that stretch offers an extra dose of geniality as the chef team chat about guests’ experiences and offer suggestions from the menu. It’s fun to watch the action, too, as hunks of fish are whittled down into delicate slivers.
There’s really no reason to gild the lily when it comes to pizza. While chef and owner Ben Schwartz is certainly no stranger to the artful compositions of contemporary haute cuisine, he also knows when ingredients should stand alone. This Pearl food hall standout may not serve the most innovative pies. But crust this good feels like a revelation.
Beacon Hill Market & Deli
For Texans who might be perplexed why Northerners take sandwiches so seriously, this shop is the reason why. Beacon Hill’s hoagies are much more than meat slapped on a bun. Every ingredient cleverly provides structure, from the provolone foundation to the plump tomatoes kept far away from the bun. On top is a whisper-thin tangle of white onion — just enough bite to lift a hefty layer of ham and salami.
Photo courtesy of Maverick Restaurant Group