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San Antonio Restaurants at Christmas

After experiencing it on a business trip, Sexy Nerd has wanted us to go to San Antonio, TX for almost 10 years. We've finally visited and we loved it! Don't tell New Mexico, but I think we might be Texans at heart.

I researched the best places to eat in San Antonio and put together a little food tour for us. Here are details on the restaurants we made it to, including the best things to order at each. It's a walkable city, so no car is needed for this food tour. There are also plenty of weird, quirky stories because weird, quirky things seem to happen to us.

Sadly, there was more to eat than humanly possible during our short trip. I've included a list of restaurants we still need to experience at the end of this post. Go enjoy them for us!

Where to Eat in San Antonio

San Antonio, TX = Foodie Paradise

San Antonio riverwalk at Christmas
The riverwalk in San Antonio was gussied up for the holidays. Although there are many great restaurants lining this popular tourist area, be warned that it's a nightmare on a busy night. 

We attempted to stroll along the river on the Saturday evening before Christmas and regretted it, as it was so densely crowded that people could barely walk. It was packed to the point that it seemed dangerous! We wanted to leave, but couldn't get out.

If you decide to chance it, expect to be crammed into a table with a line of drunk and smoking and swearing people hovering around you (and possibly bumping into you) while you try to eat. Many tables are right there on the sidewalk with the crowd. We returned for lunch the next day and found the riverwalk to be mostly empty - and much more enjoyable.

Riding the bus in Texas
Funny story! No, you shouldn't eat at Subway when you're in San Antonio (there are too many better, local options), but we took this photo at the beginning of our day touring the 5 missions of Missions National Historical Park, including the Alamo. (If you'd like to do this too, take the Viva 40 bus. Don't let the next thing I say deter you.) 

The bus was already running behind schedule. The driver pulled over and went into Subway to get a sandwich for later. He was a nice guy, telling us stories about each of the missions, but we couldn't help notice the screen in front of him was flashing "LATE" the entire drive. He was late picking us up later too.
San Antonio restaurants

Okay, on to our food tour:

Where to see the best Christmas tree in San Antonio
Menger Hotel

Every visitor to San Antonio should stop by the Menger Hotel, which has been continuously operating for more than 160 years, at least once. Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders here. During the holidays, you can find horse-drawn carriage rides waiting outside, including a friendly horse with glitter-painted hooves, just like a real-life My Little Pony. (My inner child couldn't contain her excitement.) 

After admiring the impressive architecture and decor in the hotel lobby, we made our way to the finale of our self-guided San Antonio food tour, located in the bar.

San Antonio Restaurants at Christmas
Menger Bar   

If you enjoy history, you'll love drinking (and checking out 2 bullet holes from Teddy Roosevelt's gun!) in the Menger Bar. We'd come for their world-famous mango ice cream, which is around $6 and includes cookie straws. There's a photo in the hotel of President Bill Clinton enjoying this ice cream. It was served at both of his inaugurations. Rumor has it, he loved it so much that he even had it sent to the White House to have on hand at all times. 

If the bar is full or if eating in a dark, old room is not a dining experience you'd like to have, you can also order this same mango ice cream in The Colonial Room, which is Menger Hotel's brightly lit, elegant restaurant. They also offer a reasonably priced breakfast buffet and sometimes have a multi-course, prix fixe meal with wine pairings on holidays.

Ocho restaurant has amazing decor
Ocho

We walked to the stunningly decorated Ocho for happy hour, having heard that their Cubano is the best sandwich ever. The secret seems to be a thick pickle slice included between the buns. I've been making all our sandwiches like this ever since. 

Their happy hour specials include large cans of local beer for only $3 each. These may have contributed to our discussion insistence that we enclose our back patio behind oversized glass garage doors when we get back home and hang a grand chandelier.

A word of warning - our waiter at Ocho was sneaky. When we ordered our Cubano to share, he casually asked if we want that with chips or fries. We didn't think much of it and went with fries, only to be surprised with a $2 upcharge for the fries on our bill. An extra $2 for fries...with a $15 sandwich! They can charge what they want, but we felt like he'd intentionally tricked us.

Texas VS New Mexico food

Sexy Nerd and I couldn't resist ordering fresh chicharrones when we saw them on Ocho's happy hour menu for $6. Man, were we disappointed! If you're from Texas or possibly anywhere else in the USA, you probably read 'chicharrones' and expected pork rinds. In New Mexico, however, chicharrones is stewed or fried pork belly that we serve in tortillas. (Side note: If you're ever in NM, be sure to grab a chicharron burrito at El Parasol.) 

This was my first time having pork rinds. The ones at Ocho seemed waaay too salty. I had to tap the seasoning off of each one before eating it. Get the Cubano and the happy hour beer, but skip the chicharrones.

duck chalupas along the river walk
Acenar

This is where we dined along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Sexy Nerd and I shared a plate of Acenar's duck chalupas, which was about $15 and highly recommended on Yelp. Beautiful, right? They tasted as good as they looked, although we couldn't help feeling a bit guilty while we watched cute ducks float by. Chips and salsa were also included. 

San Antonio Riverwalk - view from Acenar

While eating, we overheard a commotion. A young child had accidentally dropped his $150 Apple Airpods into the river. (Why does a young child even have $150 Apple Airpods? Have I mentioned lately I love not having kids?) We watched as the mom made a scene, yelling about how she couldn't afford to get him another pair. We assumed that was the end of it.

Imagine our surprise when the boy stripped to his underwear (in December!) and his mom lowered him into the black, frigid water to fish around for the Airpods. His mom frantically insisted he get back out when a tourist boat approached, not for his safety but because being in the river is surely illegal. 

(I just Googled it and, yes, they were risking a $500 fine, plus exposure to animal waste, E. Coli, oil, grease, and other pollutants in the San Antonio River. Maybe a child endangerment charge too?)

The boy seemed happy enough, though he didn't find the Airpods. At that point, would they even have worked?

The best places to eat in San Antonio, TX
Zinc (AKA my new favorite restaurant - please open a location in Albuquerque!)

We weren't even hungry, but had read such rave reviews of the tableside guacamole (1/2 price during happy hour!) and the fish and chips at Zinc that we couldn't resist stopping in. Although happy hour was only 10 minutes from ending, our wonderful server made certain to get our order in quickly and cheerfully. 

I had a Zinc Salad, which included goat cheese, pear, pecans, tobacco onions, and more for only $4. I don't even like pears and I had no idea what tobacco onions were, but this was one of the best salads I've ever had in my life. If we lived closer, I might eat one of these every day.

Sexy Nerd and I aren't really cocktail people, but something about the atmosphere at Zinc (and the 50% happy hour discount) made the list of 10 hand-crafted cocktails catch our attention. I enjoyed a Zinc Mojito and my husband, who is obsessed with cactus, loved his Prickly Pear Margarita.

*****

I'm happy that Sexy Nerd and I were able to dine at some of the best restaurants in San Antonio during our brief vacation and am eager to return to try the others on our list. Here are the ones we didn't make it to, which are all well-reviewed online and include any notes I have from my research:

Best Dining in San Antonio
(Plus the ones featured above!)
  1. La Boulangerie: Try the mango tart, chocolate croissant, crème brûlée, and something called a cravate.
  2. Schilo's: Lunch
  3. Guenther House: During lunch, order the champagne chicken enchiladas and a cinnamon roll. I'm not certain, but online reviews have me thinking there's a cart outside the restaurant offering free coffee. Closed Tues.
  4. Cappy's: People love their toffee pudding
  5. The Lost Cajun
  6. Esquire Tavern: Happy Hour Mon-Fri, 3-7 pm
  7. Eddie V's: Dress nicely. Happy Hour Sat, 4-7 pm and Sun, 4-9 pm
  8. Cured at Pearl: Happy Hour Mon-Sat, 3-6 pm. Known for their $1 PBR, $0.50 quail legs, and the best charcuterie boards in San Antonio.
  9. Pollos Asados Los Nortenos: Share a whole chicken and add beans. Closed Mon.
  10. J. Prime: Happy Hour Tues-Sat, 4:30 - 7 pm and Sun-Mon, 4:30 - Close. It's very expensive if you order from the regular menu.
san antonio river
We love San Antonio.

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