It seems every year brings more and more exciting things to San Antonio’s culinary offerings, whether it’s superstar chefs making their mark on the city or blossoming farmer’s markets or eatery gem discoveries in neighborhood pockets. I’ve heard local food writers agree that the last five years have particularly been in fast-forward mode when it comes to this category of the city’s growth. Herewith are four things to keep an eye out for in 2012.
1) Indulging in All Latin America Has to Offer
Authentic Mexican, certainly, will continue to grow (see #2), but we’ll be seeing more cuisines of the oft-neglected Latin American countries show up in full force like Brazil, Argentina and Peru. This is due in large part to The Culinary Institute of America, whose full-service Pan-Latin restaurant is expected to open in March, ushering in a treasure trove of visiting chefs from these countries. San Antonians will have the unique opportunity to catch guest chefs already popular in their respective countries ready to make their mark in the U.S. The city is quickly building a solid reputation with the help of the CIA: their annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference in October (my blog posts on that here and here) attracts many of the world’s foremost authorities on Latin American cuisines. In addition, the Latin American Cuisines Certificate Program begins this month at the San Antonio campus. I can only hope that the scholarship, conversations, and education that is happening in the city will percolate up and influence more of our future dining options. This year it’s going to pick up faster than ever. The Gateway to Culinary Latin America? We’re almost there.
2) Mexican, No Not Tex-Mex
Authentic dives around the city, many specializing in Mexican seafood, are wiggling their way past San Antonio’s default Tex-Mex fare. While we adore our old Tex-Mex standbys (you know what they are), the craving and appreciation for authentic Mexican cuisine grows. Places such as Mariscos El Bucanero on the east side, El Chilaquil on the west side, Camarón Pelado on the south side, and others, are being talked about often. Many are no longer considered secret places only local chefs patronize. From dives to plazas, authentic Mexican cooking is truly differentiating itself in San Antonio. Going up the dining scale, let’s not forget Chef Johnny Hernandez, whose authoritative eye and endless passion for Mexican cooking are propelling the city to savor and take note of its importance. His plans for opening future restaurants in the area are mouth-watering: Look for his Fruteria La Gloria to open in the early summer in Southtown, and watch for developments of another future restaurant project, Los Portales.
3) Savoring Southtown
The restaurants in this already eclectic, laid-back neighborhood are getting exciting, even experimental (follow The Monterrey on Twitter for this one @TheMonterreySA). When you hear of Austin looking over a little longingly, you know there must be a shift happening over here. Travel + Leisure already took note of the neighborhood this year when SA appeared on their Top Towns for Foodies. (Full disclosure: I did work with T + L on the story.) Many San Antonians have embraced newly opened places like Feast with gusto, and I’ve talked to more than one chef eyeing the area for their next restaurant. It’s the spot Chef Mark Bliss chose to open his new place to mark his homecoming. (Bliss should be opening any time now.) The already familiar foodie standbys are as strong as ever too: La Frite was delightful with the old Belgian standards (and an excellent goat’s milk cheesecake dessert special) during a recent dinner, and Cascabel’s huaraches are nothing to trample over.
4) South WW White Road
The latest hot foodie street. And it’s only one long-ish street…in southeast San Antonio no less, a rather random pocket to many. Barbecue? Check. Mexican? Check. Southern? Check. You could spend an afternoon just hopping from place to place. Here are two must-have items on this street: the amazing, perfectly seasoned, can’t-get-enough-of sausage at Gonzales Food Market (the recipe came from owner Robert Gonzales’ great-grandfather’s German friend way back when), and the fragrant, tangy shrimp tacos at Mariscos El Bucanero. Random visits have proven that this street still remains a haven for its neighborhood residents or foodies who are in the know. It’s always worth the trip.
What do you think are some other San Antonio food trends?