San Antonio Essentials

Where to go and what to do in San Antonio? This vistor's guide leads the way.
By: Elaine Aradillas

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...


Various Locations
A regional chain that has exactly what you’re looking for -- literally. Word is that the stores tailor their products to suit the needs of a given neighborhood. Grocery shopping on Saturdays is delightful due to the free samples given away throughout the store.


Taco Cabana
Various Locations
Beginning from a taco stand in 1978, this is the premier food-to-go Tex-Mex restaurant chain of San Antonio. From breakfast tacos and chips and queso to always hot flour tortillas, Taco Cabana is perfect for the on-the-go lunch or late night takeout.


The Mexican Manhattan Restaurant
110 Soledad St.
For more than 50 years, the Karam family-owned Mexican Manhattan Restaurant has been the place for S.A.’s best Tex-Mex food. Perfect for family outings or special occasions (graduations, birthdays, anniversaries), Mexican Manhattan features a full service bar and an outdoor patio overlooking the San Antonio River. Sooner or later, everyone must try the Manhattan Dinner (guacamole salad, enchiladas, beans, rice with chili) or upgrade to the Manhattan Royal (additional beef taco and tamale).


Chris Madrid’s
1900 Blanco Road at Hollywood, 3 blocks south of Hildebrand Avenue
A locally owned family business, Chris Madrid’s is perfect for a family outing on a Saturday afternoon. Their specialty is the made-to-order hamburger, with high praise going to their crowd-pleasing Cheddar Cheezy. Also, the macho nachos (meat, beans, cheese) make a great appetizer.


Bill Miller Bar-B-Q
Various Locations
For nearly 60 years, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q has been San Antonio’s most reliable food-to-go barbecue chain. With a cafeteria-style setup, each location serves the usual assortment of beef, chicken and sausage plates, hot and fresh. It is not uncommon to stop at a Bill Miller drive-through for a po’ boy or two chopped beef sandwiches. And no meal at Bill Miller is complete without their sweet iced tea.


The Magnolia Pancake Haus
606 Embassy Oak, Suite 100 (between West Avenue and Highway 281-S, south of the Bitters Road-West Avenue intersection)
Since opening in the fall of 2000, The Magnolia Pancake Haus has prided itself on offering the best breakfast experience seven days a week. A mixture of homegrown recipes and those collected from scouring the country for the best, The Magnolia Pancake Haus serves up omelets, waffles, muffins and a healthy assortment of fresh fruits. Their world-famous pancakes have quickly become the standard that all other pancakes are measured by.


Jim's Restaurant
Various Locations
In business for over 60 years, Jim’s Restaurant (or Jim’s) is a family friendly coffee shop chain that caters to power lunches, late night bull sessions and cram sessions during final exam weeks. Coffee, Texas-style breakfast (biscuits and gravy), soups (Jim’s famous Tortilla or Canadian Cheese) and the legendary Frontier Burger all mark Jim’s as a San Antonio-living staple.


Bunsen Burgers
5456 Walzem Road (in the Walzem Shopping Center)
A rarity: A themed restaurant that isn’t tacky and possesses personality. Operated by a group of movie enthusiasts who also know how to cook and run a business, Bunsen Burgers is a 1950s sci-fi burger joint. With items like the Manhattan Project (chili cheeseburger), the Mushroom Cloud (mushroom burger), Atomic Fries (chili cheese fries) and Milky Way shakes, Bunsen Burgers is quickly becoming San Antonio’s best kept secret for lunch or dinner.


Il Song Garden
6905 Blanco Road
Since 2000, this family-owned Korean restaurant has relied on old-fashioned word-of-mouth to maintain its steady business. (They still don’t have a website.) Specialty dishes like Kalbi (beef short ribs) and chop chae bop (stir-fried noodles) are just two reasons why people return for more.

Thai Pikul
5136 Fredericksburg Road
A nondescript establishment that happens to serve some of the best Thai food in the city. From soups (Thai chicken and rice) and spring rolls to basil eggplant and tofu to the catch of the day (basil fish, ginger fish), Thai Pikul is a welcome alternative to the typical buffet-style Asian restaurants.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...


San Antonio Zoo & Aquarium
3903 N. Saint Mary's St.
Opened in 1914 (thanks to the generosity of leading citizen Col. George W. Brackenridge), the San Antonio Zoo has become a rite of passage for everyone living in S.A. Depending on your child’s sensibility, he or she will love either the Hixon Bird House or the Reptile House.


The Mission Trail and the Alamo
There are bike trails and nature walks that connect the unique missions to downtown and make up Missions National Park: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Visit the Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero) in the heart of the city.

Museum hopping on Tuesdays
Tuesdays are free at various museums, including the Witte Museum, San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum, which is always free but appreciates a donation.

La Villita
Stroll through the artisan shops that surround La Villita, which means "little village," a historic neighborhood on the south bank of the San Antonio River.

Farmers Market at Market Square
The Farmers Market at historic Market Square in downtown San Antonio always has live music from mariachis to conjunto bands on weekends.

First Friday ArtWalk
This free monthly event used to be the area’s best-kept secret, but after several stories in the local paper, expect large crowds checking out the work of local artists in galleries and restaurants that line Alamo Street. At the end of the night, head to the local microbrewery near the Blue Star Art Space.


Blue Star Arts Complex & Blue Star Brewery
1414 South Alamo, Suite 105
As part of the First Friday Art Walk, The Blue Star Brewing Co showcases a South Texas artist. The occasion gives the smart young people of Southtown (and surrounding areas) an opportunity to eat, drink and interact.


Club Cohiba
1015 Navarro (in the basement of the Havana Riverwalk Inn)
Opened in 1997, Club Cohiba is a bar and grill with a Latin flavor that attracts a mix of singles, couples and young professionals looking for a place to meet up and/or hang out. It is not unusual for people to be seen taking in the famous Riverwalk while drinking a martini and smoking a cigar.


Rosario Restaurant
910 S. Alamo
Get there early on Friday nights when salsa bands perform and the restaurant turns into a dance floor. Some of the best margaritas in town too.

Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson
The city’s swing dancing society appears for a weekly event. The music and food are great, and feel free to cut a rug.

Bonham Exchange
411 Bonham St. in downtown
Usually a gay bar, Wednesdays has always been considered the so-called straight night, but go any day of the week for a good time.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...


Brackenridge Park
3700 N. Saint Mary's St.
Adjacent to the San Antonio Zoo, Brackenridge Park is the most frequented park in all of S.A. Spread over 340 acres, Brackenridge Park is highlighted by the San Antonio River, which creates idyllic paths for walking, jogging and bicycling. The park is also home to the Brackenridge Golf Course, the oldest municipal golf course in Texas.


McAllister Park
13102 Jones-Maltsberger
The dog park here offers plenty of room for your pets to roam. Trails abound with fire hydrants, too. Dog lovers unite annually for the Pooch Parade in Alamo Heights during Fiesta, the city's annual heritage festival.

There’s always the panoramic views from the Tower of the Americas' observation deck, at 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way. Or you can get a quick peek from various rides at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. But these locales are free:

Eisenhower Park
20099 NW Military Highway
Only pedestrians are welcome, meaning no bikes, inline skates, etc. But there’s plenty of hiking trails and an observation deck that show off the city skyline.

University of the Incarnate Word
4301 Broadway
The best-kept secret for beautiful views of the Alamo city. Take a stroll near the upperclassmen dorms to see them.

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