My kids and I took a trip to San Antonio recently. We live in Dallas, but we aren’t native Texans, so all we’ve managed to do up to this point is drive through it a few times. Since we’d heard so much about the city, we were excited to hit the ground running. After spending three whirlwind days scoping out hot spots and discovering hidden gems, there’s one thing we all agreed on: the food in San Antonio is fantastic. It wasn’t our intention to eat our way through the city, but we sure felt like we did. My kids were enthusiastic about trying new things (maybe there’s something in the water?), and I was thrilled to be able to introduce them to cuisine we don’t often try at home.
Did we have to hoist ourselves out of our chairs after each meal? Yup. Did we have a blast exploring local sites and attractions before and after each restaurant? You bet. If you want a place with culture, history, and some of the best food in Texas, head for San Antonio as soon as possible. To help you plan your trip, I’ve highlighted the spots we tried and what to eat once you sit down. And, when you’ve paid the bill and need to explore, the best things to do with kids in San Antonio while you work up an appetite (again.)
Downtown San Antonio
We stayed downtown at the Omni La Mansión del Rio. The hotel backs up to the Riverwalk; you will have direct access to the walkways from the back of the hotel. It’s a designated historic landmark, and you’ll find Spanish and Colonial influences everywhere. The charming pool area is in the very center of the property, and you’ll catch yourself admiring the dark wood, archways, and tile found everywhere. Depending on the length of your stay, you can opt for valet parking; it’s a nice perk when you come in late from your adventures.
Since we were downtown, we spent time eating here. If you plan on having breakfast, try La Panaderia. It’s a couple of blocks from The Riverwalk, and be prepared; when we arrived, there was a line out the door. It’s a fast-casual concept, and once we got an eyeful of the Mexican pan dulce (think conchas, orejas, peineta, and just about every other pastry you can imagine), we were eager to get our order in. We tried different baked goods, the egg croissant sandwich and the avocado toast accompanied by pinto beans.
An excellent place for an upscale lunch or dinner is Boudro’s. Located on the Riverwalk, it’s a cozy spot with tables inside and out. Led by executive chef Danny Ibarra, the menu is inspired by the history and traditions of South Texas. They have a wonderful Ceasar salad with a subtle Chipotle dressing, tableside guacamole, blue crab tostadas, black and white soup, and impressive entrees like blackened Gulf fish fillet, shrimp, and grits, and various cuts of steak.
After checking out the food options, there are plenty of ways to spend your day. The Alamo is a short walk from the Riverwalk, and you won’t be sorry you booked that audio tour. You can take a cruise to learn the history of the Riverwalk or wander through the historic Market Square. If you want something fun, check out El Camino Food Truck Park, where you’ll find rotating food trucks, a colorful assortment of picnic tables, and great drinks. Go to SEALife Aquarium at the Rivercenter for a break from the sun. That’s where you’ll find San Antonio’s only underwater tunnel, the Shipwreck exhibit filled with colorful fish, coral, and eels, and of course, don’t leave without getting up close and personal at the Rockpools.
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The Pearl District in San Antonio
For more food fun, head for The Pearl District. A short car or rideshare away from the heart of San Antonio, you can find everything from pizza to ramen, seafood, Caribbean street food, French comfort food, and even Peruvian-Asian fusion.
One that should be at the top of your list is Southerleigh. Located on the bottom floor of the historic Pearl Brewery, Chef Jeff Balfour perfectly blends his coastal upbringing with comfort food, creating a delightful menu. Start with a selection of raw oysters, order the watermelon salad for a fresh, tangy starter, and then order both the pressure-fried chicken (brined for 24 hours) and the cracker-crusted Gulf redfish because it’ll be impossible to decide between the two. Did we mention the cornbread side? Go ahead and get one of those too. Our only regret was that we didn’t have a chance to try everything on the menu. They have a lengthy wine menu but also offer beer brewed on-site.
For some of that French comfort food we mentioned, try Brasserie Mon Chou Chou. Their new breakfast options include le petit déjeuner français (French breakfast consisting of bread, jams, pastries, etc.), a delicious Croque Madam (classic French ham and cheese sandwich), fresh berries and cream, and perfectly cooked bacon. The all-day menu has things like lobster bisque, a charcuterie board, steak frites, and croquant de brie.
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Outside San Antonio City Center
Something to know about San Antonio is that you don’t have to stick close to the city center to enjoy good food.
If going to Fiesta Texas, Sea World, or Aquatica, save yourself from amusement park food and stop at The Jerk Shack before or after your day. This Caribbean restaurant has won countless awards since it opened its doors. Owned and operated by Chef Nicola (who also owns Mi Roti in the Bottling Dept. Food Hall in the Pearl District), it was hard to choose between the curry plate and the jerk chicken, but take our advice and order the jerk chicken. Chef Nicola developed her recipe after visiting family in the Caribbean, and after multiple tries, she got the spices just right. Load up on sides like masala fries, greens, plantains, homemade mac and cheese, and honey butter rolls. Trust us (or my kids), The Jerk Shack is one of the best places to eat in San Antonio.
Another great spot is Gold Feathers Birds + Beer, a locally-owned spot with a casual vibe, and the first thing you need to know is that the chicken and waffles are a must-try. I also liked the way I was able to customize my chicken wings to my palate. You can choose to have them dry or with a rub, and then pick your sauce from an impressive list: honey bbq, parmesan garlic, midnight cowboy, and the samurai jack are only a few. They have handheld sandwiches like the classic chicken fried sandwich, the Bun Mi, the Good Morning American, and the Spicy Tatanka. There’s a great list of microbrews, many of which are local and Texas-brewed beers.
Where to Walk It Off
Eat as much good food as we did, and you’ll need a place to recover between meals. San Antonio has great attractions for families with kids of all ages, and our favorite spots were all within a mile of each other.
For curious kids, be sure to spend some time at The Doseum. A hands-on science museum just for kids, enjoy exhibits like Megalopolis, where you can build your own “city,” play with light and sound in the sensation studio, and take little ones ages five and under Little Town or out to the wooden playground. Our favorite thing about The Doseum was Spy Academy. We got to pick our mission and had fun solving puzzles, collecting clues, and learning espionage skills.
The Witte Museum made it to the top of our list of favorite things to do with kids in San Antonio. The McLean Family Texas Wild Gallery features every natural region of Texas, complete with a Texas thunderstorm. We loved learning about the animals and plants in the Panhandle Plains, the East Texas Piney Woods, the Rio Grande Valley, and more. There are plenty of fossils in the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery for budding paleontologists, and the Texas Heritage Center has artifacts that span over 100 years of Lone Star State history. If you head outside, there are gardens, a treehouse, a waterworks station, and a view of the San Antonio River.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden is a special place. Not only is it home to Hardin, a restaurant that has small plate offerings like grilled cheese sandwiches, white cheddar stuffed dates, and deviled eggs, but the grounds themselves are worth a whole afternoon of exploration. Head straight for the Family Adventure Garden, where you’ll find stick huts, shaded benches, a shallow creek that winds through a limestone valley—this was my kids’ favorite place to cool off—and opportunities to make rock cairns. You can wander through the Kumamoto Garden to admire the koi fish and other traditional Japanese garden features. Beyond the garden is a sprawling lawn with Adirondack chairs placed under Hill Country live oak trees; a perfect place to relax while the kids play. We also loved the Texas Native Trail featuring three different ecological regions of the state: Hill Country, East Texas Pineywoods, and South Texas.
As we were pulling onto the highway after our whirlwind trip, my kids asked when we could come back. My answer? As soon as possible.
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This trip was paid for by Visit San Antonio but all opinions here belong to the writer.