SAN ANTONIO — This city will always be known as the hub of Tex-Mex. Step into any number of restaurants and order the combo plate and a dish of extra cheesy enchiladas, tacos, and chile con queso will soon appear, with a side of refried beans. But a few innovative chefs in town are creating cuisine that is far more authentic Mexican. Other chefs will soon join them, now that the Culinary Institute of America has opened a campus in San Antonio focusing on Latin American cuisine.
La Gloria CIA-trained chef Johnny Hernandez spent 10 years crossing the Mexican countryside trying every dish and type of tequila he could get his hands on. The result is La Gloria (100 East Grayson St., 210-267-9040, www.lagloriaice
house.com, dishes from $3), his casual riverside restaurant dedicated to Mexican street food.
Sit indoors overlooking the open kitchen or al fresco under the stars, sipping a long list of tequilas between bites of tacos al pastor, chock-full of marinated pork, pineapple, and cilantro. Camarones aqua chile is a shrimp ceviche with lime juice, serrano peppers, cucumber, red onions, and ripe avocado. Arrachera en salsa de tomatillo, skirt steak topped with a tomatillo sauce, is served in a stone molcajete, paired with warm tortillas to roll up the meat.
Hernandez’s latest venture, Fruteria La Gloria, is set to open in mid-July in the burgeoning SoFlo district downtown. At lunch, try torta sandwiches and creative tostadas, while in the evening, the eatery will transform into a cocktail lounge featuring fresh fruit-infused tequila drinks.
Mariscos El Bucanero Unquestionably the finest Mexican seafood restaurant I have been to outside of Campeche, Mexico, Mariscos El Bucanero (16505 Blanco Road, 210-408-9297, meals from $4.99) opened a second restaurant in April in the northeast part of town. Triple in size, you will still have to wait in line to snag one of the coveted tables.
One bite of oysters “preparados,” fresh oysters topped with slivers of avocado, tomato, and cilantro, and you will understand the hype. Believe it when they say the shrimp ceviche is in “fire water.” Bucanero shrimp is tender pieces of shrimp, wrapped in crisp bacon. Even the prosaic fish taco is a treat here, lightly fried and placed in homemade corn tortillas.
Rosario’s If you still have a craving for Tex-Mex, try the puffy taco, a San Antonio original, at Rosario’s (910 South Alamo St., 210-223-1806, www.ro
sariossa.com, lunch starts at $4.25). The popular lunch destination deep fries a large tortilla, then tops it with a heaping pile of chicken, cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. Coupled with rice and beans, you will want to walk to your next destination, not drive.