Although it wasn’t known as Tex-Mex until Diana Kennedy published a cookbook titled The Cuisines of Mexico in 1972, the cuisine that pairs Aztec staples (like maize and beans) with herbs and spices from Spain’s Canary Islands (like cilantro and cumin) began in the Spanish missions built throughout Texas, Arizona, and California in the 17th and 18th centuries.
With new ingredients -- like flour and beef -- and cooking equipment -- like cast iron skillets -- arriving on the trains chugging into the region, the menu evolved to include the dishes you know and love today, like chile con carne, tacos, and fajitas.
From breakfast tacos and pastries in the morning to delicious barbeque or Tex-Mex for lunch, and from margaritas for happy hour to a seafood dinner at night, these eight fabulous eateries in San Antonio are restaurants you won’t want to miss!
1. The Original Donut Shop
Don’t be fooled by the name of this longtime local favorite. I mean, yes, you can absolutely get delicious cake, glazed, and filled donuts at this local gem, but just as many people visit The Original Donut Shop for the breakfast tacos. Stick with the basics by ordering bacon and eggs spooned into thick rounds of folded flour tortillas, or spice things up with chorizo and eggs.
Pro Tip: Although San Antonio is known for the Alamo, a Spanish mission that played an important role in Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico, a more recent battle erupted in 2016, the Great Breakfast Taco War. Fortunately, this war ended without any shots fired or casualties, and you’ll be sure to make lots of friends by letting the locals know you think their breakfast tacos are superior to any up the road in Austin.
2. Mi Terra Cafe And Bakery
Located in San Antonio’s Historic Market Square and open 24 hours, Mi Terra Cafe and Bakery can satisfy your Tex-Mex cravings any time of day. Enjoy handmade tamales, rolled enchiladas, or a sizzling pan of fajitas in a perpetually festive atmosphere filled with twinkle lights, pinatas, and mariachi music. Or browse the long glass case filled to the brim with delicious sweets. Mi Terra’s bakery is known for its massive buttery pecan pralines made with a half a cup of nuts. But you’ll also find a wide range of other goodies like colorful Mexican sweets such as pink coconut candy, candied pumpkin, and banderilla de coco (coconut flag), a triband coconut treat with green, white, and red layers that represent the Mexican flag. The bakery also bakes up a wide range of pastries like donuts, danish, eclairs, churros, and tres leches.
3. La Panaderia
Another great spot for breakfast in San Antonio is La Panaderia (literally “the bakery”) with two locations in the Alamo City. Be sure to try their tortas, a Mexican sandwich that layers a variety of ingredients into a fluffy-on-the-inside and crispy-on-the-outside bun. If you’re craving an alternative to breakfast tacos, order the filling bacon and egg or chorizo and egg torta. La Panaderia also offers tortas with a variety of other fillings, from basic -- like ham or turkey with cheese -- to more exotic flavors -- like Hawaiian and chicken Milanese.
As one might expect from a place called La Panaderia, the bakery also has a variety of traditional Mexican baked goods. Try a concha, a sweet roll that looks a bit like the top of a hamburger bun with seashell-like striations cut into the top. Conchas are regularly available in vanilla and chocolate as well as specialty flavors.
Pro Tip: For a great introduction to downtown San Antonio, check out this self-guided walking tour. The route is a loop, and La Panaderia is located between the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the Buckhorn Saloon, so it’s easy to pair a sightseeing tour with tortas!
4. Bird Bakery
Located at what I call 9 o’clock just off Circle Street, Bird Bakery is a great spot for breakfast, lunch, or desserts. Enjoy light breakfast fare including muffins, breads, and house-made granola, or order something a little more substantial like a slice of fluffy quiche or breakfast casserole. If you stop by Bird Bakery for lunch, you’ll discover a delicious assortment of soups and sandwiches. Stick with classics like turkey, egg salad, or a tuna melt, or enjoy something more daring like PB and JJ that spreads crunchy peanut butter and local jalapeno blackberry jam on brioche bread.
Whether you eat it there or take it with you for later, don’t leave Bird Bakery without trying one of their freshly baked goods, including cookies, bars, and cupcakes. And if you’re visiting San Antonio with a dietary restriction or food allergy, you’ll be delighted to know that Bird Bakery has gluten-free cupcakes in all of their flavor combinations!
Pro Tip: If you leave San Antonio craving more, you can also find Bird Bakery in Dallas and Greenwood Village, Colorado.
5. Smoke Shack BBQ And Southern Kitchen
As someone who lives in the Barbeque Capital of the World, it’s always hard for me to recommend barbeque restaurants outside Kansas City. But my born-and-raised-in-KC cousin has lived in San Antonio for many years now and said that if I were going to be unfaithful to my local barbecue scene, Smoke Shack is the best place in San Antonio to cheat. Just across Broadway from the Witte Museum, it’s easy to identify by the Texas flag painted on the southern slope of its roof.
Going out for barbeque in Texas and not ordering the brisket is like visiting Maine and not eating lobster or visiting Bordeaux and not drinking wine. Don’t do it! Fortunately, Smoke Shack serves its tender brisket in a variety of ways. Enjoy it as part of a barbecue plate that includes two sides and a roll, or opt for the chopped brisket sandwich that tosses chunks of brisket in tangy barbeque sauce and bookends it with bread. Or try something a bit different by ordering the brisket grilled cheese that pairs gooey melted cheese with saucy chunks of brisket.
Pro Tip: Here are more recommendations for what to see and do, where to shop, and what to eat when you visit San Antonio, Texas.
6. La Fonda On Main
Another delicious place for Tex-Mex food in San Antonio is La Fonda on Main. Enjoy margaritas, tacos, enchiladas, and more on their beautiful patio for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Start with the campechana, a Mexican seafood cocktail that’s a bit like shrimp cocktail, only so much more. La Fonda tosses shrimp, scallops, and octopus with chunks of avocado, peppers, and cocktail sauce to make their delicious appetizer. If you’ve had your fill of “regular” tacos, you’ll be delighted to see slow-roasted duck as a taco option at La Fonda. Be sure to leave room for cinnamon sugar-dusted churros at the end of your meal!
For contemporary American cuisine, head to Bliss, where a filling station has been converted into an award-winning foodie fav. Enjoy dishes like oyster sliders, Spanish octopus, roasted quail, and goat cheesecake in a dining room with restored brick walls, wooden beams above, and natural light pouring in from the floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition to a delicious dinner menu, Bliss offers several specialty menus, including a prix fixe tasting menu that allows guests to choose a starter, entree, and dessert for a fixed price. They also offer a build-your-own charcuterie menu filled with a selection of cured meats and artisanal cheeses that pairs well with their wine list.
8. Boudro’s Texas Bistro
While there are many restaurants along the San Antonio River Walk, most providing delightful outdoor seating along the water with views of the open-top, flat-bottom boats floating by, I believe that Boudro’s Texas Bistro is the best of them all. Make any hour happy with a prickly pear margarita and amazing guacamole prepared tableside. The secret ingredient is freshly squeezed juice from one quarter of an orange, but this ingredient is really not so secret since the team at Boudro’s is willing to share the recipe so you can try to recreate the magic at home.
If you’re hungry for more than the best guacamole you’ll ever eat, Boudro’s also offers an extensive, expertly prepared menu full of Gulf Coast seafood, wood-grilled steaks, upscale Tex-Mex favorites, and more.
Pro Tip: In addition to eating at Boudro’s, here are 19 fantastic experiences on San Antonio’s River Walk. And this article shares tips for the best places to stay on the River Walk.
Whether you’re seeking Tex-Mex favorites, tender barbeque, contemporary cuisine, or delicious desserts, these are the eight restaurants you won’t want to miss in the Alamo City.