I recently had the opportunity to travel to San Antonio, Texas (home of the Alamo and the Riverwalk). I was excited to experience the food greatly influenced by their Mexican neighbor nearby. Not only was the city deeply entrenched in Mexican art, but the food did not disappoint. From fajitas to barbeque, Texas has a cuisine that one should try at least once.
A Bit of History
The influence of Mexico on Texan food is a topic of great interest for anyone visiting this southern state. The culinary traditions of Mexico have deeply influenced Texas, and this influence is visible in the ingredients, techniques, and dishes that make up Texan cuisine. The relationship between Texas and Mexico dates back to 1821 when Texas was a part of Mexico. This period lasted until 1836 and was a time of cultural exchange and fusion, and it set the stage for the development of Texan cuisine.
One of the most significant ways that Mexico influenced Texan food is through the ingredients that are now synonymous with this cuisine. Ingredients used for thousands of years in Mexico, like corn, beans, chili peppers, and tomatoes, are now all central in the dishes offered. When the Spanish colonized Mexico in the 16th century, they introduced new ingredients such as beef, pork, and dairy products. When Texas became a part of Mexico, these ingredients, along with the indigenous Mexican ingredients, set the stage for the culinary landscape we now enjoy in Texas.
Creating a New Cuisine
With the introduction of these ingredients, Texans changed their approach to food. Corn became a staple of the Texan diet and was used to make everything from tortillas to tamales. Chili peppers became a crucial ingredient, giving heat and flavor to the world-famous chili con carne. Tomatoes made salsas, Pico de Gallo, and guacamole. Today, you can watch someone make guacamole while waiting at many Riverwalk restaurants.
Alongside fresh ingredients, Texas became the land of barbecue. The art of grilling meat to perfection is essential in Texas. From fall-of-the-bone ribs to steak, Texas is the place to be if you are a meat lover. Did you know that the fajita was invented in Texas? Grilling skirt steak and serving it with various toppings is now a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine, but its origins came from the fusion of Mexican and Texan food culture.
Tex-Mex cuisine, a blend of Mexican and Texan ingredients, techniques, and dishes, has become a distinctive style of cooking recognized worldwide. Characterized by its heavy use of cheese, meat, and spices, Tex-Mex prefers fried and crispy textures and grilling. Today, Tex-Mex restaurants serve popular dishes such as nachos, burritos, and quesadillas worldwide.
A Few of My Local Favorites
Bar Rojo – Located in the Grand Hyatt hotel, this restaurant offers a smoked tomato bisque that is out-of-this-world. Creamy, smoky, and slightly sweet with an aftertaste of heat, it is a must-try if you ever visit the city. (I am definitely going to try and make this soup!)
Country Line Restaurant – With slow-roasted, fall-off-the-bone ribs, brisket, sausage, and homemade bread, you will easily find something to eat. Established in 1975, this restaurant is located right on the Riverwalk and offers a homey atmosphere with a sauce you will be licking off your fingers as you eat. The dishes are quite generous, so make sure you either come hungry or plan to share. (The ribs I ordered I could not finish.)
Yard House – If you are a beer lover, this is the place to be. With over 150 draft beers on tap, you can easily spend your day trying out beers. (You may have a problem getting home, though). Located within the Riverwalk Mall, it is a great place to stop and then stop by for a quick bite afterward. I tried the “Vampire Taco,” a cheese-crusted tortilla filled with pork carnitas, bacon, roasted garlic, crushed avocado, salsa roja, and sour cream. However, there are so many options to choose from you may want to put this one on your list for a couple of rounds.
Paesano’s Riverwalk – I know, Italian food is not Texan food. What can I say, I love my pasta. It may be Italian, but the atmosphere is Texas. Located in a historic building on the Riverwalk, the restaurant feels like an old Spanish fortress. If you love seafood, try their Lobster Ravioli. Creamy and packed full of lobster flavor, it will not disappoint. I recommend the Artichoke and Spinach Dip (creamy and delicious) or the shrimp (buttery and full of garlic flavor).
Kilwins – Dessert is bountiful in San Antonio. There are several ice cream and confection shops to visit, but one worth the stop is Kilwins. With an old-fashioned atmosphere and a 4-minute walk from the Alamo, they serve a wide variety of homemade ice cream flavors. I tried the toasted coconut, and it did not disappoint. Again, be prepared to share (or not). The portions are generous. Note: Do not go into this store with children. You may never be able to leave.
Would I Go Again?
Absolutely! San Antonio is much like New York City – you will discover something new each time you visit. The Riverwalk area is full of people in the restaurants with outdoor seating and diverse menus that are sure to please anyone’s palette. I was only there for a short time and truly did not get a chance to experience the full flavor of Texas. I loved the vibrancy, the underlying heat in the food, and the bountiful food choices. I’ve eaten Tex-Mex food many times in Canada, but there is no comparison to the real deal. Texas, I am coming to revisit you!