Jacala Mexican Restaurant

27 09 2012

gordita-jacalaI really can’t remember the first time I went to Jacala Mexican Restaurant. There are probably a lot of residents of San Antonio who can’t remember either. What they probably do remember is that they can’t remember a time NOT going. Jacala has been around since 1949 and boasts that it is the oldest originally owned restaurant in San Antonio. I don’t think I have ever gone to the restaurant and not seen one of the owners there, greeting and seating. Jacala is one of those restaurants that has withstood the test of time, whose patrons bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy the food.

Granted, in my opinion, Jacala does not serve the most delicious and outstanding Mexican food in town. What they do serve is consistently good food at a good price. Even with long lines, you won’t wait long before you are seated. Restaurants serving poor food do not stick around as long as Jacala has. That, in and of itself, should be reason enough to check it out.

I recently went to Jacala with my family, my parents, and two second cousins, one of whom will be moving to San Antonio soon. One of my cousins, Carlos, had the guts to try the chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. Mole, to the uninitiated, can be a daunting dish. Made poorly, and you will forever swear off Mexican cuisine. Made well, and mole is an extremely complex sauce (Rick Bayless has an excellent description here). Although its base is stock (normally chicken), chili paste (usually from a non-spicy pepper like a pasilla), and bitter chocolate, most recipes can include upwards of 20 other spices and ingredients. In general, the mole flavor is pungent and sweet (like chocolate and raisins) all at the same time. Everyone has a different recipe for mole, some good, some bad. This one was good (not great, but good). Carlos loved it, and I respect anyone who will at least try something new (heck, he didn’t even know what an enchilada was).

The gorditas here are pretty good. The masa (or dough) is not overly grease-laden and the ground beef is not undercooked (which is a pretty common way many restaurants save money by not allowing so much shrinkage). They come two to a plate and are about 5-6 inches in diameter. As you can see by the picture, they are fairly messy to eat. The puffy tacos, although a little small, are pretty tasty. And the enchiladas, whether smothered in cheese, or topped with green sauce or mole, are pretty good.

Personally, I can’t get enough of the table sauce. If you can’t either, you should be able to find a jar with the restaurant’s name on it at your local grocer (assuming you live in San Antonio). If you have not checked out Jacala, I would recommend that you at least drop in to see why the rest of San Antonio loves this place.

Spice Asian Bistro

29 11 2008

rollThere are a lot of lame oriental restaurants in town. You know what I’m talking about – you’ve eaten at them. Spice Asian Bistro is not one of those. I’ve eaten there twice and been happy both times. For the most part, the menu is comprised of Thai dishes. There is also a comprehensive sushi menu as well as a few Chinese dishes as well. However, I went for the Thai food.

To be clear, I am not one of those newspaper food critics that goes in to an establishment with three other people who order and share numerous appetizers, entrees, and desserts…and again on a second or even third visit. On the other hand, I’m just a regular joe who can afford to eat out on a not-so-frequent basis. So, my wife and I order two entrees, and maybe an appetizer as well. However, those two entrees should be emblematic of the restaurant as a whole. If the food I’ve ordered is made well and tastes great, I can be fairly confident to expect the rest of the food to be just as satisfying.

And that’s exactly what I have found at Spice. Read the rest of this entry »

Zinc – upscale lounge

6 03 2008

My wife and I are not into the club scene at all. We do enjoy an occasional drink, but don’t enjoy the places that normally serve them as they cater to decadent youth focused on competitive imbibing. Not so with Zinc, located in the heart of downtown San Antonio within a short walk of the Riverwalk or the Alamo. This place has a more elegant and upscale feel than many other places do. The clientele seems different, too. At least when I’ve visited, the patrons are more subdued, enjoying the company of a small group of friends. Although the tv’s are usually showing a game, the volume is normally muted so as not to compete with the music or conversation. This is not the type of place you will need to raise your voice at to be heard.

The menu is lengthy with a good selection of wines, spirits, and specialty mixed drinks. Although I’ve never had their food, they also offer panini’s, pizza’s, and a couple of desserts as well. There is ample seating in the main bar area, as well as the adjoining lounge. On nice evenings, the outdoor courtyard is an excellent place to relax.

If you want to get away from the ordinary and step into a relaxing, adult environment, make sure to visit Zinc.

Boudro’s on the Riverwalk

6 03 2008

I wish I had gotten the jump on San Antonio’s Express News review of Boudro’s, but sometimes life gets too busy and things go by the wayside. However, I have pictures! Here’s my two cents on a recent visit.

Boudro’s prime ribWhereas the writer of that article did not mind being shoehorned into her table, that is the first thing I noticed when my wife and I met my parents and my aunt and uncle at Boudro’s this past weekend. I expected this upscale restaurant to be crowded (this is on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, after all), but I’ve never seen a more worthy attempt at cramming tables and chairs into such tight spots. The small table couldn’t hold all of our dishes at once, the guacamole cart just would not fit between my uncle’s chair and our neighbor, and I think I actually rubbed hair with the person sitting behind me several times. Yes, it was also loud, but you sit so close to your tablemates that it doesn’t really matter.

My first impression was not good, and neither was my second. Read the rest of this entry »

Cappyccino’s: casual, upscale, fun bar & bistro

6 03 2008

Cappy’s restaurant was opened in 1977 by Cappy and Suzy Lawton as one of the first establishments intended to revitalize the Alamo Heights area of San Antonio. Alamo Heights is an older, more affluent neighborhood that is a beautiful place to live and work. In 1996, the Lawton’s opened Cappyccino’s (“Little Cappy’s”) as an adjunct and complement to the popular and successful first restaurant. Its just across the patio from Cappy’s and offers quick and light fare. It is probably one of just a handful of full bars in San Antonio that is completely smoke-free and is a great informal place to meet for lunch, as is evidenced by the mix of casually attired as well as business-suited clientele.

The restaurant bills itself as a bistro, and its menu of burgers, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches fits the bill. Read the rest of this entry »

San Antonio Menu site

16 02 2008

There’s a new feature on this site: San Antonio Restaurant Menus. Use this guide to San Antonio’s best (or worst) restaurants and their menus by clicking on the link here, or choosing the San Antonio Menu page/tab above. I’ve organized it by Cuisine Category to make things as easy as possible to find. If you don’t find what you are looking for, leave a comment and I will add the menu if it is available.

Like any major city, San Antonio’s restaurants serve a diverse range of cuisines:

  • Alamo City Classics (the mainstays and staples everyone knows about)
  • American & Regional
  • Barbeque (BBQ)
  • Breakfast
  • Burgers
  • Continental & European
  • Cajun & Creole
  • Chinese
  • Coffee & Tea Houses
  • French
  • German
  • Home Cooking
  • Ice Cream
  • Indian
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Latin
  • Mexican
  • Middle Eastern
  • Pizza
  • Pub Grub
  • Steak
  • Seafood
  • Tapas
  • TexMex
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese
  • Many Value Restaurants

You name it, its here. Thanks for looking.

Shisha Cafe – Persian “pub grub” without the “pub”

28 01 2008

I decided to check out the Shisha Cafe this weekend because I was in the mood for something different and inexpensive. After looking through the local paper’s top dining picks for Middle Eastern fare, Shisha Cafe fit the bill and was close to where I work. The cafe occupies a small spot at the end of a strip center and has indoor and outdoor seating. Despite its name, however, I am inclined to report that this place is more of a lounge or parlor rather than a cafe, and I will have to respectfully disagree with the Express News’ assessment that the fare is worth investigating.

“Shisha” is the Arabic term for what many know and refer to as a “hooka” pipe. And as the name implies, the focus of the cafe is indeed smoking (“oh, and by the way, we serve food”). Evidence of this fact became more apparent as my family took a seat inside on plastic patio furniture and torn rattan tables. Thank goodness the music is kept at an acceptable level because I can only take so much of watching overly-produced Persian music videos featuring Western looking people singing in Guiness record-breaking tone and voice modulations. Popular American board games await on a shelf at the front counter for patrons to pass their time until the place closes at 4am. Rather than visiting a restaurant, the large bong (oops, I mean water pipe) assortment made it seem like I had entered a reincarnation of a “Magic Habits” head shop sans rock music, glow in the dark posters, and age limit warning signs.

My first disappointment is with Read the rest of this entry »

Frida’s Mexican and Latin Cuisine [CLOSED]

28 01 2008

frida kahloIf you are familiar at all with Mexican art, then you might guess that Frida’s is inspired by the art and love story of Frida Kahlo. A quote attributed to Frida says “I paint self portraits because I am the person the I know best.” If the restaurant is based on Frida’s inspiration for her art, then the menu says everything about the chef. It has been a long time since I have visited a new restaurant and really enjoyed the food, mainly because most restaurants lack innovation and render out the same standard fare that everyone else in town produces. I applaud Frida’s for taking traditional Mexican and Latin dishes and making them unique and original.

The restaurant is located in the midst of a highly populated residential area in North San Antonio. One of the owners, Cathy, told us during our visit that they decided to stay away from the commercial explosion happening along the Loop 1604 corridor on the North because they wanted to promote themselves as a “neighborhood” restaurant. I will make an effort here to get the word out that Frida’s is a place that locals and visitors alike should make the trip for.

The interior of the restaurant is attractive, with table linens, comfortable seating, earth-toned hues, hand blown light pendants, and a rotating display of local artists’ works. My wife and I went during a slow period and the waitstaff was attentive and friendly. We were there for lunch and were really just looking for a light meal, so we didn’t eat much. But the quality of the food and the interesting menu will bring me back again for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Restaurant reviews online

25 01 2008

If you own a restaurant and do not have a website yet (I am an optimist, you know?), you must live under a rock. In addition, if you do not manage what is being said about your establishment online then you might as well board it up, because your prospective customers are researching your restaurant in droves.

I read an article in the “Restaurant Startup & Growth” magazine (Dec. ’07) that pointed to an interesting nationwide poll of consumers by AIS Media. No, I am not fool enough to miss the fact that AIS is a website design company (among other things), so we have to take the results with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the poll found that 89% of consumers research a restaurant on the web before visiting. Many of those people (about 57%) look at the restaurant’s website. So, what if you don’t have one? Your prospects will then sift through the rest of the info Google has provided them with for meaningful information. I’ve looked for many restaurants online to find them listed only in a directory on sites like CitySearch with just an address and phone number (gasp! Not even a map!). However, there is usually no meaningful information there to attract me to visit. Even worse is to find disparaging comments on forums, or by reviewers who search these directories. I’ll give you an example Read the rest of this entry »

Double Dave’s – awesome pepperoni rolls

25 01 2008

I was fairly poor when I was in college. I purchased a food plan to eat at the campus cafeteria, but they were closed on Sundays, leaving me to fend for myself. My most common dinner? Top Ramen, Little Caesar’s breadsticks, and a Coke, for a grand total of about $1.60. Every now and then I would splurge and go to Double Dave’s. There were two things they were well-known for: the huge selection of bottled and canned beer (around 150 selections from around the world), and the pepperoni rolls. My roommate, my girlfriend (now wife), and I would buy the pizza buffet and get outright stuffed with pepperoni rolls. Once full, we’d wrap a few extra in napkins and stuff them in our coat pockets for a late night study snack (and hope that the grease wouldn’t soak through).

There are a few DD’s around Texas now, with three of the restaurants here in San Antonio. When I found out that they opened up locations here, I was pretty excited to go. Although the format was a little different, the rolls were just as satisfying and the reminiscing was pleasant. A while back, the location I go to on NW Military at West Ave. served a number of beer selections on tap and several more in bottle or can form. On a recent visit, all of the taps were gone and the rest of the selections were slim. Never mind, though. I was here for the rolls.

If you go, opt for the buffet to get a more rounded selection. Its a little expensive (about $7.50 for an adult) but the quality of the food overall is certainly better than other pizza buffet restaurants. The pizza dough has a hint of sweetness and is a little more flaky than what you would normally expect in a pizza. Overall, the pizza is good, although not my favorite. The pepperoni rolls, however, are fantastic. The dough used has a different texture than the pizza dough. They look like straight croissants, for lack of a better explanation, and are filled with cheese and pepperoni. Look for the thinner rolls, however, since you will be able to taste the filling a little better than a fat dough roll. The dough has a paper-thin crispy crust and the rest of the roll is soft and slightly chewy. I like to dip mine in pizza sauce and my wife prefers a mix of sauce and ranch dressing. If you are interested strictly in the rolls you can order a 1/2 dozen or a dozen at a cost of about a buck a piece. Five or six fills me up pretty good.

This location (I’m not sure about the others) has several TV’s set up playing sports and there is a game room upstairs. Like I mentioned before, this may not be the place to go for value. But expect the pizza to be good and the pepperoni rolls even better.

Pho Ha Long – inexpensive Vietnamese food

11 01 2008

In the mood for Chinese tonight? Skip it, and try out a fresher, healthier, and tastier alternative to Oriental cuisine. My wife and I were reluctantly turned on to Vietnamese food back in the early 90’s (hey, as long as someone else pays, I’ll eat anything, even if it is dog). What we experienced that day was an epiphany in the way we were eating. Vietnamese food, to us, became the gateway to other food cultures like Thai and Indian. In just one lunch we realized how much we had been missing and were excited to begin our culinary quest.

My wife and I have enjoyed Vietnamese food at a number of places around San Antonio. Unfortunately, many of the good restaurants come and go here since many are family owned and operated and just close on a whim. Similarly, a staffing change in the kitchen is almost always noticeable, since the food will take on the character and personality of the cook. Regardless, the food is always made to order and a fresh alternative to typical American food.

In general, Vietnamese food relies on rice noodles and flavorful broths, sometimes combined, and sometimes not. You won’t find dog or horse so don’t freak out, this is America after all. However, Read the rest of this entry »

The Flying Saucer – aliens and beer

8 01 2008

saucer-sandwich.jpgWell, not really aliens, but true on the beer. The Flying Saucer is a fantastic place to go in Northwest San Antonio to enjoy a beer (or several beers), listen to 70’s rock, and maybe grab a quick bite. The incredible thing about this place is the number of beers they have on tap. Many of the beers you can get all the time, and a number of selections rotate. Nevertheless, you can expect to encounter well over 100 beers on tap ranging from the most popular American beers to some of my favorite Belgian Tripel ales from the likes of Maredsous and Maudite (which may be alien to most non-beer snobs who skip the corked bottles at the store and head straight for the cases with convenient handles).

The beer menu is quite extensive and is separated by category (i.e. Belgian, Pale Ale, Dark, etc.) to make things easier to find. In addition, the prices are listed and several of the high alcohol content beers are clearly marked (and clearly more expensive). Expect there to always be several specials at reasonable prices. The two times that I have gone, a bartender and a waitress were able to make a good recommendation based on my beer preferences. The design of the menu makes it pretty easy to find something you like in the same category. Read the rest of this entry »

All roads lead to Rome’s Pizza

31 12 2007

Yeah, the title is a little tacky, but I plagiarized it from Rome’s themselves. Rome’s Pizza serves gourmet and traditional Italian/American fare, from pizzas, calzones, and strombolis, to sandwiches, salads, and Mediterranean specialties. I’ve been here a few times for lunch and taken advantage of their daily specials, which normally consist of two slices of pizza, or two servings of stromboli and a drink for under five bucks. I’ve been pleased with both.

Rome’s has been around for a while and developed a reputation for having good food and great lunch specials. The place is normally pretty full around lunch time but there is plenty of seating. The restaurant has three locations in and around San Antonio and a new location in North Austin. In addition, the owners have franchised their restaurant concept in hopes of expanding (it will be interesting to see how they do). Read the rest of this entry »

Longhorn Cafe – good food and great value

28 12 2007

Fried mushroomsThe Longhorn Cafe is one of those places you go to for value. Not the fast-food kind of value, though. The Longhorn has two locations in San Antonio and they are as far away from fast-food fare as can be. Be prepared to get full and not spend a lot of money, but expect there to be a lot of people depending on the time of day. This is the place my family goes when we don’t have a lot of time, but want to get some good food and save some dough.

The burgers at Longhorn are Read the rest of this entry »

Henry’s Puffy Tacos

14 12 2007

henry1.jpgEvery city has its staple restaurants; the ones every local is familiar with; places that help define the city’s culture; restaurants that show up in all the travel guides as a “must.” Henry’s Puffy Tacos is one of those places. They have been established in San Antonio since 1978 and claim to be the home of the original puffy taco. It is one of those places that construction workers go to for lunch, and families celebrate parties at for dinner. In addition to its good food, the restaurant promotes itself by having created the very visible and likable mascot for the San Antonio Missions.

Because of its popularity, you might encounter a long wait equal to that of well-known national food chains. Its worth it if you keep that in mind. As the name implies, puffy tacos are the specialty. So, for the uninitiated, “What is a puffy taco?” you might ask. Well, for starters, Read the rest of this entry »

Jupiter Java & Jazz [CLOSED]

12 12 2007

To be honest, I like going to Starbucks. Not because of the coffee – I make a much better cup at home on my Capresso – but because of the atmosphere. The individually owned coffee shops are slowly disappearing, not only here in San Antonio, but across the nation. Gone are all the adjectives we used to associate with coffee houses (remember when they were called that?): quaint; peculiar; funky; offbeat; eccentric; cool; hip. Only to be replaced by what can aptly be described as sophisticated monotony. I can go into any Starbucks and expect about the same thing. The same earth tones, the same furniture, the same music, the same green aprons, etc.

That’s why it was a pleasant surprise to discover Jupiter as I was walking down S. Alamo in the historic Southtown. It was night time and the neon sign attracted my attention to the electric purple and bright red colors of the walls and furniture. I was determined to return when I finished eating dinner.

Its a small place with adequate seating with a modern look to the furnishings (Ikea rocks), lighting, and artwork. Everything is neat, organized, clean, and yet comfortable. The place is owned and operated by a husband and wife team who make you feel welcome, and who still believe in serving your coffee in a cup and saucer.

My wife and I ordered a simple cup of coffee. If you can make that right, everything else should just fall in place. The Baristas handle the two-group Faema with skill to pull great tasting cups of coffee. They support the Southtown Mainstreet Alliance when you buy the “Southtown Blend” and they carry about 17 blends of Fair Trade Coffee.

In my opinion, this is what the coffee house is about: good coffee, good atmosphere, and good people. Swing by sometime and support an institution that is fading quickly from our culinary culture.

Thai Taste tastes great

12 12 2007

thai-rolls.jpgDon’t pass up this review just because you think you don’t like Thai food. About 15 years ago I was turned on to the fantastic world of real oriental food, light years apart from the fake Chinese most Americans are used to with its doughy and fried meats drowned in sweet syrups. What I found out is that authentic oriental food is fresh, light, and healthy. Thai Taste lives up to that expectation and my family indulged in several dishes that I’ll describe to you here.

The restaurant is located in a less than conspicuous shopping strip on Evers Rd. in San Antonio, just outside of loop 410. The decor of the place could use some updating and freshening up, but that doesn’t seem to keep the mixed clientele away. The menu is easy to follow with good descriptions for you Thai virgins. Although there is a good selection of entrées, there are a couple of things I usually like to order.

We started off with the Fried Spring Rolls. These are not the egg rolls you are used to, Read the rest of this entry »

Habanero’s Grill – burritos as big as yo’ face

6 12 2007

Well, the burritos may not be as big as your face, but pretty close. First of all, let me tell you that the burritos here are nothing like the frozen little bricks you pick up at the grocery store that you have to get all carnivore on after microwaving them. In fact, the food here is as far from that as you can imagine. All the salsas are made fresh, and your burrito, starting with the tortilla, is made fresh to order.

Habanero’s has been in San Antonio since 1996 and recently opened up their second location (much closer to where I live, I might add). The menu is simple, consisting of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and a few other minor things like salads and soups. But the main attraction here are the burritos. You have two main choices: pick a Habanero’s Favorite or B.Y.O.B (build your own burrito). Read the rest of this entry »

Los Barrios, starring Bobby (Where’s the puffy taco?) Flay

4 12 2007

Barrios green sauceAny restaurant that the great Bobby Flay chooses to have a throwdown with is certainly worthy of eating at. That is the case of Los Barrios and its owner, Diana Barrios Treviño, who apparently taught Flay how to make puffy tacos back in 2000, and who had to defend her culinary treat earlier this year when Flay challenged her to a “Throwdown.” I’ve been to Los Barrios a couple of times in the past but felt it necessary to refresh my memory.

Located in the midst of a predominantly Hispanic working class neighborhood in San Antonio, Los Barrios has offered what they call Mexican Continental Cuisine for over 25 years. Due to their popularity and the opportunities available at the ever expanding Northside of San Antonio, the restaurant has recently opened a second location, known as La Hacienda de Los Barrios. We visited the original location and it was already very busy at 5:30. The establishment is clean and updated and someone with a green thumb takes very good care of the plants indoors.

To begin with, diners start off with the customary chips and salsa normally expected at Mexican restaurants. Over the course of dinner we were served five bowls of chips and each one came out crispy and warm. You might be thinking that this is a given, but it is not uncommon that I am served stale chips. Read the rest of this entry »

Amy’s – goths throwing ice cream

27 11 2007

There are many ice cream franchises around, each with their own gimmick or advertising ploy to drag you in for over-priced ice cream. However, in my mind, there is a standout in the ice cream industry that regards quality so dearly that it refuses to franchise, and that is Amy’s Ice Creams.

Amy’s is an Austin staple that started back in 1984 by Amy Miller (yes, there is a face behind the name). Most of the stores are in Austin with a couple in Houston and one in San Antonio (thanks, Amy). There are two things you can expect when you go to Amy’s: excellent ice cream and an interesting (for lack of a better word) staff. Let’s start with the ice cream.

To qualify as a bona fide ice cream, a product needs to have at least 10% butterfat. Amy’s recipes have 14% butterfat Read the rest of this entry »