Out of the water

9 San Antonio River Walk restaurants free of tourist trap gimmicks

9 San Antonio River Walk restaurants free of tourist trap gimmicks

San Antonio River Walk
Some River Walk restaurants are better than others. Visit San Antonio/Facebook

Dining on San Antonio's River Walk can be a dicey affair. Obnoxious chains line the banks, offering humdrum burgers and less-than-sizzling fajitas. And animatronic tigers try to distract you from good service. Luckily, the tourist traps aren’t the only game in town. From fine dining to buzzy bars, here are nine River Walk restaurants making the biggest splash with locals.

Don’t let the fact that Ácenar serves strong margaritas fool you — this isn't one of those meh Tex-Mex joints that cater to tourists. Instead, this contemporary Mexican restaurant wows with achiote marinated pork slowly roasted in banana leaves, puffy chiles rellenos stuffed with vibrantly seasoned beef and shredded pork, and guajillo rubbed grilled snapper served with a delicate cilantro garlic pesto.

Biga on the Banks
Chef Bruce Auden is constantly tinkering with the menu at this New American sparkler, but the dishes always have his signature hearty stamp. Think seared Hudson Valley foie gras anchored by trumpet mushrooms and cider duck jus or griddled ribeyes served with garlic mashed potatoes, haricots verts, a sherry sage jus, and a tumble of Shiner Bock breaded onion rings. Bonus? The wine list is as stunning as the atmosphere.

Boudro’s Texas Bistro
The cuisine coming out of Boudro’s kitchen is a tour of the rich culinary heritage of the Texas Hill Country. Smoked shrimp and crab enchiladas exist beside mesquite grilled quail, chorizo-flecked shrimp and grits, and simple preparations of fresh Gulf shrimp. Always start your meal here with expertly balanced prickly pear margarita and guacamole for two made table side with roasted tomato, serrano, and fresh lime and orange juices. We won’t tell if you order it for one.

The Esquire
It’s no secret that this oak and tin clad bar makes some of the most consistently great cocktails in the city, but chef Brooke Smith’s gastropub-style menu is equally worthy of notice. Dishes like panko fried pickles, thick-sliced bologna melts, and juicy lamb burgers cut through the strong flavors of booze, but the offerings aren’t mere bar snacks. Entrees like Big Red braised short rib empanadas and a poutine with chorizo, escabeche, and queso de freir winkingly capture the unique high-low spirit of San Antonio’s booming food scene.

The Luxury
Before you get your tuxedo out of the mothballs, know that the name of chef Andrew Weissman’s Museum Reach restaurant is a little tongue-in-cheek. From the cage pendant lamps to the swing seating held up by fire hoses, the mostly outdoor eatery looks like a particularly upscale junkyard. But Weissman’s creativity and commitment to quality are still evident in down home dishes like the double blanched fries or the huge Great Gatsby sandwich with tender sliced steak, a fried egg, and a decadent cheese sauce.

It’s difficult to think of a better place to wake up in San Antonio than Hotel Havana’s cheery eatery. Dappled light streams in from the greenhouse windows, velvet couches allow you to slump while waiting for your first cup of coffee, and no one gives you side-eye if you decide to partake in a little hair of the dog. The sweet plantain griddle cakes with crema, blueberries, and maple syrup feel like a vacation, even if you have a busy day of spreadsheets ahead.

Yes, this is primarily a place where good-looking San Antonians go to be good-looking, but the rooftop bar doesn’t leave all the glamour to the clientele. The snacks set the tone with ‘gramworthy snacks like grilled goat cheese sandwiched with sweet-savory tomato jam; duck confit tacos with pineapple, jalapeno, and lime crema; and deviled eggs that are nothing like the versions you take to family picnics.

Of course a chophouse from a noted chef Jason Dady is going to serve meaty cuts like a 44 Farms sirloin coulette or a thick bone-in pork loin chop crusted with bacon, but the real surprise here are the dishes that go off script. Start with a Wagyu shabu shabu with a basil-scented soy broth before moving on to pan-seared potato gnocchi swimming in seasonal local vegetables. And, don’t forget to order a bespoke drink off the martini cart.

Restaurant Gwendolyn
Much of the press about chef Michael Sohocki’s restaurant focuses on his quixotic quest to revive turn-of-the-century foodways, including his strict sourcing within a 150-mile radius and his commitment to not using plug-in appliances. However, that isn’t the quite the whole story. The ever-changing menu doesn’t eschew modernity altogether, allowing for the cultural cross-pollination of the Information Age (paella exists alongside Oaxacan-style pescado adobado). The commitment to the experience of dining is timeless.