Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Where to Eat, Shop and Stay in San Antonio: Recommendations

I'm not a restaurant critic or a power shopper, but I am a published foodie poet as well as a bargain hunter. And surely someone with opinions. My opinions about places my family visited recently in San Antonio are no exception. So gather 'round for what to enjoy beyond the city's lovely and beloved Riverwalk.

Top of mind: Food! A dozen people you might meet in San Antonio will tell you the same thing I do: Rosario's has the best fish tacos in town. Even if you order something else, it will be good. Plus, the artsy atmosphere is a kick with overized contemporary paintings of famed latina beauties including Frida Kahlo and Rita Hayworth (a secret latina!) The flagship location is on Alamo in the historic King William neighborhood, but there are others at the Riverwalk and at the airport.

Also in King William within walking distance of Rosario's is the Madhatters Tea House and Cafe, a funky, hippy-style gathering place with good breakfasts and various rooms that offer eclectic decor and casual seating. Also try Taco Haven on 1032 S Presa, voted the best breakfast in the whole state of Texas by the Food Network magazine! Recommend the Torres Special, which is a taco that author Sandra Cisneros also favors, and includes bacon and guacamole right in the tortilla. My husband's Uncle Joe eats breakfast there every morning!

Thai food in San Antonio? Ya' can't always eat Mexican and if you head up to the north part of town, you can't do any better than Sawasdee Thai Cuisine at 6407 Blanco Road (the locals pronounce it blank'-oh). Our table mates thought the cashew chicken dish Aunt Stella ordered was the best. But pick out the hot peppers. It took Uncle Jerry about 15 minutes to recover after he bit into one to see how hot it was. All our dishes were good, accompanied with fresh, bright vegetables and served in an elegant atmosphere.

Any visit to San Antonio should include a shopping trip to Market Square/El Mercado. Shops bursting with Mexican and Tex-Mex treasures, along with ssidewalk restaurants and strolling mariachis to take you south of the border while still in the states. Unless you think of Texas, as many locals like to, as a country separate from the U.S!

Away from downtown are two shopping gems: For gift items and latino cook paraphernalia is Melissa Guerra at the Pearl Beer Factory center at 200 E. Grayson. I bought Mexican paper cut-out streamers for my son's upcoming graduation party and my daughter bought a chili pepper apron and hotpads. It's not cheap here, but has casuela flameware crockery items you may not find elsewhere.

For authentic clothing and decorative items, an indoor and outdoor mecca of choices await you at Fiesta on Main at 2025 N. Main Street. Among the hundreds of Mexican clothing items on hand, my daughter and I both found fabulous embroidered blouses which have garnered endless compliments. I have never seen as many pinatas as in this store's garage-like alcove: skulls, cupcakes, spaceships, some the size of golf carts. If I could return with a car, I would buy the dark wood room divider with colorful saints carved in relief.

The gift shop at the McNay Art Museum at 6000 N New Braunfels Ave is also a fun spot for more contemporary artsy gifts. And we did find some good towel and Bollywood-style file folder bargains at Stein Mart at 999 E Basse Rd.

One last recommendation: If you rent a car, a good place to stay is the Bonner Garden Bed & Breakfast, about halfway between the airport and downtown, in a lovely neighborhood filled with stunning vintage homes. Each room is unique, the owner couple are wonderful people and the long private pool invites you to relax and unwind. Our daughter and son-in-law stayed in The Studio room for five days (see photo above) and didn't want to leave, and my husband and I had stayed in the Ancestor's Room a few years ago.

BTW, the B&B is closeby The Foundry Coffee and Community, a volunteer-run, free-trade, green-living coffee house and the aforementioned Fiesta on Main market-style store. ◦


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