Do the River Walk

By Kristi Willis
Photography by Jenna Noel

Ascant 80 miles from Austin, San Antonio offers a memorable weekend escape along its charming downtown River Walk. And just beyond the neon and the bustling chain restaurants that dot the famous waterway awaits an oasis of culinary treasures from area food artisans, farms and ranches. Whether you’re in search of old-world charm or contemporary chic, all can be found within a short jaunt from the San Antonio River. 

Tucked away in the King William neighborhood just south of downtown, The Monterey—with its casual, picturesque patio—has the feel of a stylish friend’s backyard picnic, and is a terrific place to wind down and reset after a long week. With a focus on small plates, the menu changes regularly to highlight seasonal ingredients. Dishes are artfully crafted and full of pleasant surprises—like the housemade pig head torchon. Paired with pickled fava beans and fresh mint, delicate slices of the galatine are the perfect balance of rich and salty against a backdrop of bright summer flavors. Other dishes, like the silky shaved squash with country ham, egg, squash blossoms and Sriracha, also reflect creativity and skill in combining ingredients not commonly served together.


For a late-night drink and snack, Ocho Lounge at the Hotel Havana—the latest from hospitality dream team Liz Lambert and Chefs Lou Lambert and Larry McGuire—gently whisks patrons away with the magical allure of Cuba. Cascading grand chandeliers frame the upstairs veranda, which is a perfect setting for sipping a Hemingway daiquiri or mojito while noshing traditional Cuban fare—like the tangy, spicy shrimp and crab campachena seafood cocktail or the creamy quesadilla studded with huitlacoche, a truffle-like delicacy that grows on corn. Satisfy your sweet tooth with churros—lightly fried doughnuts served with lemon curd and mocha café con leche.


Saturday morning, take a stroll down the River Walk to the Pearl Farmers Market, housed in the old Pearl Brewery. With almost three dozen vendors, the bustling complex offers plenty to fill your market bag. Nibble on kolaches and other baked delicacies from Biga on the Banks, or breakfast tacos from True Flavors, while sipping coffee from San Antonio Coffee Roasters.

Stop by Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina to finish your shopping. This foodie haven stocks kitchenware and food products from around the globe, particularly Latin America, and it’s tough to leave empty-handed.



Complete your visit to Pearl at La Gloria, and while away the afternoon on the patio enjoying Chef Johnny Hernandez’s Mexican street food. The intoxicating aroma of searing meat fills the restaurant and wafts out to the patio, making it difficult to narrow the choices from the menu of tacos, tostadas, tortas and ceviches. The tostada ensalada de mariscos is topped with a fresh, zesty seafood salad, and the panucho cochinita pibil—a gordita filled with black beans and topped with pork—is earthy, rich and soaked with the juices of the slow-roasted meat.

Lüke, the River Walk restaurant from New Orleans Chef John Besh, offers Big Easy flair with a spotlight on local produce, eggs, game and treasures from the Gulf—like the daily happy hour of 50-cent gulf oysters on the half shell and the popular spicy bloody mary served in a 32-ounce mason jar and garnished with two plump gulf shrimp and pickled okra spear, accompanied by a beer back.


For dinner, Chef Michael Sohocki takes diners on a culinary journey back through time with Restaurant Gwendolyn. Chef Sohocki uses only techniques available to chefs in the 1850s and sources ingredients almost exclusively from local farms such as Martinez Farm, Oak Hill Farms and Texas Quail Farms. The late-Victorian fixtures and furnishings paired with the attentive, knowledgeable staff complete the effect, for a mannered, but not stuffy, experience. Each dish on the prix-fixe dinner menu (your choice of three or five courses) reflects the kitchen’s careful restraint and culinary balancing skills—for example, the perfect marriage of velvety-soft polenta and stewed leeks topped with a tangle of gently fried leeks, served alongside a perfectly roasted quail bathed in a sharp mustard sauce.

A nightcap at the newly renovated Esquire Tavern is an ideal way to end the day. On the balcony overlooking the River Walk, you can enjoy the revelry of the evening without having to join in the fray. The Esquire’s eclectic decor—Texas dance hall meets taxidermy studio—is a lively place to toast the weekend while sipping a classic cocktail or one of the house specialties.

The next time you need a diversion, saunter down to San Antonio to immerse yourself in its innovative local food scene and sate your appetite. You won’t leave hungry.


The Monterey
1127 S. St. Mary’s St.

Ocho Lounge
1015 Navarro St.

Pearl Farmers Market
200 E. Grayson St.

La Gloria
100 E. Grayson St.

125 E. Houston St.

Restaurant Gwendolyn
152 E. Pecan St., Ste. 100

Esquire Tavern
155 E. Commerce St.

Biga on the Banks
203 S. St. Marys St.

Blue Star Brewing Company
1414 S. Alamo St., Ste. 105

The Guenther House
205 E Guenther St.

Il Sogno Osteria (at Pearl )
200 E. Grayson St., Ste. 100

The Sandbar (at Pearl)
200 E. Grayson St., Ste. 117