Now – Texas might not be on your top ten places to visit. And that was precisely what intrigued me about it – the fact that it was off the beaten path, off the tourist maps and was famous for two things: the TV series Dallas, and barbecue.
Over here in the UK we imagine every rootin’, tootin’ Texan would be sporting a six-shooter on their hip; at least that’s the image I had – of ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots – but after touching down in the Lone Star State this image soon dissipated.
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Being British, the first thing that struck me was the weather; I’d left a cold, rainy Britain and hit this lush, verdant, 30-degree spot – gorgeously sunny and full of life.
Shorts on, it was time to hit the town.
San Antonio is, by all accounts, a pretty funky town. It’s a charming blend of Mexicans (Texas was originally part of Mexico), old time Americans and hip kids.
The food reflects this too – true ‘Tex-Mex’, a million miles from what we get over here. Fresh salsas, slow-cooked spiced beef stews, pork tacos; grilled cheese topped with home-made chorizo, deep-fried chicken stuffed crispy treats topped with vivid, punchy green sauce, sour cream and queso fresco (a milky white subtly flavoured unaged cheese).
The joys of this cuisine in this beautiful hot state were twofold for me: the first is eating al-fresco, and the second is the raw ingredients – the tomatoes are stunningly sun-ripened, the fruit, fresh and zesty, and my favourite ingredient of all – the fresh jalapeño chilli, just hot enough to give you a tingle, but packed with all those fruity, heady notes you get from a bird’s eye.
Remnants of Southern cooking abound too – fried chicken pops up all over the place – from fresh, new hip joints to old school, middle of the sticks soul food spots.
Then there’s the burgers – the American favourite – from the hole-in-the-wall joints to the seriously out-there spots that you can find only in America.
And of course the Texan barbecue, packed with great big hunks of meat, expertly slow-cooked for hours over indirect heat in giant smokers – pulled pork, juicy beef brisket, ‘links’(sausages to you and I), pork ribs, beef ribs, turkey – all served simply with chopped white onion, pickles, crackers and housemade BBQ sauce.
Puds aren’t forgotten either – any of our regular readers will know that I’m a complete ice cream nut – and I think I may have found my ice cream super-spot in San Antonio.
Alongside the food spots, there’s the fact that San Antonio is both beautiful and charming – a river runs right through the heart of town which you can walk along for miles. Soon, the city gives way to green countryside and wildlife. There’s also a spot of history in the Alamo, the site of one of America’s most famous battles. It’s a spot that might not be on your radar – but definitely should be – Texas actually also has a beautiful coast-line for those of you who love to be by the sea.
With no further ado, here are my San Antonio eating and drinking hotspots:
La Gloria – perfect Mexican street food, in the sunshine by the San Antonio river; tacos, tortas, ceviche, sopes and much, much more – all delicious, fresh, zippy and filling
The Cove – a little bit out there but definitely worth it – this is a burger joint, car-wash and laundrette all rolled into one in a big outdoor space. Alongside organic sandwiches and salads expect some hot and happening live bands
Earl Abels – Earl’s has been serving food up to San Antonians in the know since 1933. Reputedly where Colonel Sanders developed his KFC recipe, this place is a real piece of Americana, unspoilt, and does cracking fried chicken
The Esquire Tavern – San Antonio's oldest ‘river-walk’ bar, this also lays claim to the longest wooden bar in the state; cocktails are well made in a cool-as-a-cat environment, but expect a bit of a wait
Brindles Awesome Ice Creams – amazing flavours smashed together on marble slabs at this privately owned ice cream joint – lavender and honey and bourbon bacon caramel are but a couple of the flavours on offer here. Check out the ice cream laser gun behind the counter
CIA – not the Central Intelligence Agency, this is actually a branch of the Culinary Institute of America – where you can learn to cook some classics and then eat them for lunch. Don’t miss their gorgeous bakery
Mr & Mrs G's Home Cooking – an old school soul food joint out near the city limits. Blink and you'll miss it – and don't judge a book by its cover. This place may not look like much but their fried chicken is a must-eat.
Gonzalez Food Market – don’t overdo it at Mr and Mrs G's as this spot is just next door; classic barbecue staples include brisket and pork ribs – but the specialties here are their lamb ribs (a rarity in barbecue restaurants) and sausages – a cut above the rest we tried. And trust me, we tried a lot.
For more information on visit San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Report by William Leigh