What to Eat And Drink in San Antonio: Your Recommendations

God, it’s so hard to be away from Texas. I miss it so much. The only state my 1.5 year old daughter can identify on a map is Texas, a testament to how obsessively we harp on and on about a state where Eva’s never lived.

I certainly don’t make it back enough to get a regular dose of the drinking and eating that made my experience in Texas so delicious. Things are getting desperate. As HeyElise readers know, it wasn’t that long ago I went home to Austin for a few hours and consumed 4,000 calories in 30 minutes.

Austin, Dallas and Houston were my homes. I even lived in Waco for gloomy nine months. But San Antonio, for all its charms, I’ve only visited. One time I ran the city’s marathon. It was miserable.

So I called upon you all to help come up with recommendations for the great eating/drinking available in one of Texas’ most underrated cities. I love the Tex Mex at Rosario’s, and drinking fancy cocktails at Hotel Havana, Liz Lambert’s relatively-new joint. Here’s what you had to suggest for my editor Uri, who is headed there tomorrow:

Breakfast (which mainly consists of breakfast tacos)
Taco Haven
Get the Torres Special – beans/cheese/bacon/guac or the Dos-A-Rita
Las Palapas

Tacos:
Tito’s Tacos
Taco Taco Cafe

Cocktails/Drinks:
Friendly Spot
Feast
The Esquire

TexMex:
La Gloria
Mi Tierra
Los Barrios
Guajilo’s
Acenar

Pizza:
Dough

Burgers:
Madrid’s
Chesters

Bakery:
Guenther House for enormous, delicious sticky buns al fresco.

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That Time We Consumed 4,000 Calories In Under 30 Minutes

Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.

Empanadas to celebrate Baby Dillon, coming July 2014.

Pretty amazing. I made a game time decision to get to Austin last Saturday to attend the baby shower for Friend Hannah (of Hannah and Jed). It’s her first baby and I co-hosted along with the Austin gal pals, so I thought I should definitely be there. But after being in New York for the week, it was going to be a tough turnaround, and indeed it was. Now I have a cold.

But damn I love a deadline. Knowing I only had about five hours in town, total, I made sure Justin picked me up and we went straight to P Terry’s (best fast burger in Austin) and dashed through the drive-thru for cheeseburgers. Scarfed ‘em down on the way to El Azteca ($6.95 enchilada plate with rice/beans plus tea and a sherbert) and killed that combo meal along with my beloved flour tortillas. Had a barbecue place been across the street, we would have made the trifecta of gluttony happen, but we overdid it on chips. Still pretty proud of ourselves nonetheless.

And this should probably go without saying but, the Hannah shower was lovely — Nurse Sara hosted it at she and Andy Brown’s home, in their backyard garden. The ladies put together an event worthy of a thousand Pinterest pins.

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Thanksgiving 2013

I’m always thankful for family, and mine is particularly badass partly because it’s huge and includes a lot of foodies and eaters. So Thanksgiving with my extended family in Maryland always involves a lot of serious eating but it’s really more like a giant face-stuffing scrum than it is a “lunch” or a “dinner.” Part of the reason is because we have about 30 family members plus kids involved each year, so we don’t sit around one giant table, and we eat in phases starting at the lunch hour but powering on through til dinner. It generally includes our hyper-physical four-year-old cousin Luc beating and wailing on Stiles for a good chunk of time, and Cousin Clarence reliably brings Turducken — the Louisiana favorite involving a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. (Note: My cousins the Ho brothers enjoy some cult fame in a tiny corner of the Star Wars and kung fu choreography-loving internet for their 2002 fight video, Art of the Saber. True story.)

Our meat selections felt endless — Suk, my cousin’s wife Diem’s sister’s husband — got himself a smoker and making brisket has become a new hobby of his. So on top of two fried turkeys, the Turducken, a ham and endless sides, we had two choices of brisket — spicy and sweet. Our pals Audrey and Patrick have spent so much time flying back and forth to family this year that they stayed in town for Turkey Day, so they joined us at the Maryland festival of meat, armed with Audrey’s signature brussel sprout salad, which disappeared quickly. Gobble, gobble.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma's recipe — brussel sprout salad.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma’s recipe — brussel sprout salad.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

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Neighborhood Pig Roast Featuring Many Small Fires

The calm before the fires.

The calm before the fires.

 

2013 is halfway over and it’s been a riot so far. And sorta dangerous. Baby Eva keeps testing the bounds of her survival skills, rolling herself off furniture, squeezing the dog by the jowls or trying to crawl head first down the stairs. And we grown-ups keep acting like children.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner-in-shenanigans, Justin, visited DC. (You may remember him from previous blogged-about adventures.) We had already partied ourselves into a stupor on Friday night and thought we were going to lay low on Saturday by going to a neighborhood pig roast. A bluegrass band played the faves (but I couldn’t get them to do that David Allan Coe song because they didn’t know the long spoken interlude), the pork was that perfect blend of lean and moist and outside it felt cool and dry enough to actually enjoy a picnic. So relaxing was it that we got sleepy out there, with the tunes and the beers.

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive...

One of the many lantern crashes and subsequent fires. This one, in front of the band. But at the right it appears one lantern was trying to survive…

Then, after it turned dark, we got our second wind. To celebrate homeowner/hostess Hillary’s birthday, her friends had gotten Chinese lanterns, which, if made well, are easy to light and send floating into the sky. The more, the prettier. At this party, dozens of us got lanterns and the band started playing a little soundtrack to our impromptu lantern lightings. Justin and I successfully got one lit and watched it spirit away to the cheers of the group.

But that was an exception. Most of these lanterns ended up crashing to the ground before getting any lift and promptly setting grass, chairs, bags, plates — and very nearly, children — on fire. We were able to stomp out these fires, but they happened in various places around the lawn, and sometimes at the same time. When some lanterns actually made it up in the air, they wound up crashing into trees or the roof, which made for real close calls. Eventually many of us gave up on the lanterns and cleared the yard.

Suddenly, Justin and I were amped up to party some more! Headed out to U Street after leaving the fire dangers and enjoyed a long night with some other fantastic pals. Nothing like almost setting houses and people on fire with a well-meaning Chinese lantern activity to really get you going again.

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Food for Thought Fed My Soul When I Needed It Most

Lunch under this amazing pavilion included shrimp and grits, of course.

Lunch under this amazing pavilion included shrimp and grits, of course.

After last week’s total misery, I needed to get away. So this year’s Food for Thought Conference in my old stomping grounds of Greenville, SC, couldn’t have come at a better time.

My old source and good friend, Joe Erwin, heads an advertising firm in Greenville that started with three employees and has since grown into a thriving agency with major clients, hundreds of staffers and satellite offices in New York and Detroit. A few years ago he got a notion to host a retreat where people across several different fields — entrepreneurship, marketing, communication, philanthropy and more — could come together in his beloved hometown and hear from inspiring people, interact with business leaders, share ideas and do it a.) anywhere but in over-air-conditioned hotel conference rooms and b.) while enjoying memorable meals.

“It comes from the Bible, in which King David talks about being ‘at table,’” Erwin said, as he got the conference under way on in an airy bar overlooking the Reedy River. “It’s when we’re at table that we let our defenses down and do some of our best thinking.”

I was already satisfied that I got to meet interesting people, get exposed to new ideas and move from one interesting physical space to another (the FFT conference has a no hotel conference room rule). But it all the serendipitous meetings “at tables” of delicious food that made this experience stand out.

Greenville is a smallish city but thanks to the strong influence of Southern food culture, it has more delicious restaurants than places many times its size. On opening night, the attendees got broken up into groups of 10 so that each group could go enjoy a different notable Greenville restaurant in an intimate setting. My group was lucky enough to dine in a special apartment above the restaurant Soby’s, where the chef from Greenville restaurant Devereaux’s cooked up a five course meal in the private kitchen. Seated next to Joe and across from Southwest Airlines’ thoughtful marketing man, Dave Ridley, we chatted and laughed about our past experiences, our families and our passions. Sharing a meal fosters such fast, authentic connections — the conference nurtures that notion to exciting ends.

Chef Chris Hastings and sous chef Sadesh in the kitchen of Greenville, SC's Devereaux's restaurant.

Chef Chris Hastings and sous chef Sadesh in the kitchen of Greenville, SC’s Devereaux’s restaurant.

Perhaps I can’t stop gushing about this confab because I got the opportunity to eat grits at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I also enjoyed flavor explosions in my mouth at every meal. On the second (and my last) night, the whole group of 100 dined together at Devereaux’s, with a guest chef in the kitchen. The organizers flew in Chef Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club to cook for us. He was 2012′s James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef in the South” and dominated Bobby Flay in the sausage showdown on Iron Chef. Even if he hadn’t those accolades, the MAN CAN COOK. The meal he prepared for us last night instantly entered my top three most memorable dining experiences ever. Who knew rabbit pot pie or snapper jowl could be so delicious? Chef Hastings knew.

I had to jet before the final day, which looked amazing. But my short time was packed with highlights, including the amazing Carolina spring weather, my pre-conference catchup time with my inspiring journalist/momma pal Michelle, and becoming buddies with the COO of my ultimate favorite fast food, Taco Cabana. Todd Cuerver randomly sat at the same table at the conference lunch yesterday and I totally geeked out when I found out he was with Taco C. I had so many Taco C moments to tell him about! (Most of them involved drunkenness and flour tortillas.)

To stop the rambling and sum up: If you can make it next year, take a break from your boring lunches at Potbelly and your constant inbox grooming and get away to Greenville. Food for Thought fed my belly, but more importantly, it fed my soul when I needed it the most.

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Eating Like Professional Football Players Is Awesome

I am a proud eater. My grandma is an eater, my mom’s a foodie-slash-eater, I’m an eater, my daughter’s an eater. (I read somewhere that basically everyone from Taiwan is food-obsessed because that island is a delicious culinary taste of the rainbow.)

So my one issue with receptions and parties is that I never feel like there’s enough food. And when I want to eat more food from the limited selections available, I often hold back because it seems quite impolite to go eat four small plates of cheese.

The solution to this problem is actually quite obvious, but I didn’t discover it until tonight: Hang out with NFL ballers! They eat with abandon and they don’t think anything of it if you go for seconds. In fact, when I attended an event of theirs tonight they really encouraged me to follow a platter of chicken wings through the crowded room until I got a good plateful.

Then I watched as the buffet got set out and Shawne Merriman tore right into it without the whole waiting-for-someone-else-to-start dance. Finally, I felt no shame heaping giant quantities of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, polenta, meat and salmon on my plate. Everyone was doing it!

The players were hanging out in DC tonight because they’re all part of an MBA program at George Washington University. We got a real in-depth explainer on the state of performance enhancing drugs testing by a guy named Don Davis who used to be a Patriot. We learned about Indianapolis from a Colts player. But our favorite new friend was former Longhorn tight end Bo Scaife, who was rocking such a tight suit ensemble that I had him model it for us.

Bo models his pink ensemble for us by doing a little dance. "That turned out so provocative," he said of the photo.

Bo models his pink ensemble for us by doing a little dance. “That turned out so provocative,” he said of the photo.

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DIY Deck The Balls Party

The winner in the "Best Sweet Balls" category, Oreo Cookie Spheres by friends Matt and Bryan.

The winner in the “Best Sweet Balls” category, Oreo Cookie Spheres by friends Matt and Bryan.

 

The spouse and I have only been married for a couple of years, so we don’t really have any long running holiday traditions. The only recurring thing we do each Christmas (besides lament the tediousness of taking down decorations) is make dirty gingerbread cookies with phallus-shaped cookie cutters I got for a bachelorette party many moons ago. Then we crack each other up by decorating them in various imaginative ways.

The winners of our balls competition with their prizes.

The winners of our balls competition with their prizes.

This year, we invited friends to join us in our little tradition by pairing phallic cookie decorating with a ball-themed potluck. Everyone was asked to bring a ball-shaped food to share, and we’d vote on our favorite balls. I didn’t really think through how the competition would work but I did buy “As Seen on TV”-themed prizes, like a Shake Weight and ShamWow.

We wound up with fantastic entries, including many sweet spherical concoctions, those addictive processed cheese puff balls and even root vegetables shaped with a melon baller. Ultimately, partygoers picked winners in three categories: Best Savory Balls, Best Sweet Balls and Most Creative Balls. (Most Creative went to a rice krispie treat ball with mint M&Ms mixed in that our friend Terp called “Terry Schiavo’s Brain Ball.”) Though I should mention it’s likely that a late entry by Friend Doris may have taken the Most Creative title had she entered in time: She brought giant ice balls to drink with bourbon. Delicious.

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Three Days in Montreal

Before our bike ride up the montagne at Parc du Mont Royal, a huge green space in the heart of Montreal.

 

Our timing couldn’t have been better. Friday night, a rare derecho storm blasted into the sweltering DC area, knocking out power to what seemed like half the town. (More than 1.2 million homes lost power in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area.) We miraculously maintained electricity in the home but jetted off to a weekend in the much-cooler Canadian town of Montreal.

Montreal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, so all my Spanish-cramming this year was totally useless. But luckily, the French-Canadians in Montreal are far, far nicer than the French in Paris, so we ended up having a fabulous time. My rundown won’t include clubs and bars because I have been off the booze since getting knocked up, but some other highlights if you are looking for a good three-day weekend escape:

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Here I Sit, On Temptation Island

All aboard the twin engine plane by SOSA Aerolineas. Audrey was praying. I was sweating.

We learned from our condo caretaker Kent that one of the three seasons of the now defunct reality show, Temptation Island, was shot here on Roatan, where my friend Audrey and I are spending the weekend.

ROATAN, ISLA DE BAHIAS, HONDURAS — This is what it took to get here: A 5:30am flight out of DCA that we nearly missed because Audrey had set out her things to pack the night before but did not actually pack bags until I got to her house to pick her up for the airport. She had accidentally fallen asleep and ended up assembling her things in the span of 18 minutes that I gave her before I was going to head to the airport without her.

From DCA we flew to Houston, made a quick connection and then both got our first class upgrades for the longer flight into San Pedro Sula. The guy sitting next to me was super friendly and Audrey thought he might be with a drug cartel. We know not…

Arrive in San Pedro Sula to a customs area without a ceiling. Good thing we were the first off the plane because the customs situation was not swift.

Had three hours to kill before our flight to the islands. Filled the time the following ways:

A great way to pass the time at an airport.

1.) Laying out in the grass outside the airport watching some Hondurans load a casket into a truck

2.) Eating at the Wendy’s at the airport and not getting change cause they didn’t have it, later being asked to sign a guest book with comments about the food. (I just put Buen Provecho cause it’s something I learned in Spanish class.)

3.) Doing tricep dips off the airport chairs because they are the perfect height for tricep dips and Matty never lets me do them while traveling with him because he thinks I look like a total idiot. Audrey gamely joined, then…

4) Doing a set of wall sits for one minute each, also to pass the time.

5) Buying some really ugly postcards. How come all the postcards here have sexy ladies on them? I want just one, good environmental shot.

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An Open Letter to My Drinking Buddy About Our SXSW 2012 Plan

The brisket from Franklin BBQ makes me so, so happy.

Dear Justin,

It has been SO LONG (okay, like three weeks) since we’ve hung out and partied together! And South by Southwest has consistently been a real championship-level debauchery event for us. Now, because SXSW itself has gotten so out of control in recent years — WTF, there’s a list and a line to get into places like Buffalo Billiards?!? — I’d love to use this time to do off-campus, meaningful connecting with some of the coolest journos and digital media folk around.

There’s also a lot of pure Austin stuff I want to do, since the last time I was in town was so short (and most of it was in Fredericksburg.) Here is my to-do list of SX and not-so-SX stuff:

1. There is a new Bush’s Chicken down on Brodie near Slaughter. Hello?! Bush’s Chicken, a staple of my post-college diet when I lived in Waco, features the best combo of chicken trips, crinkle cut fries, yeast roll, white gravy and a 32 ounce giant sweet tea drink for UNDER $7.

2. I am going to the screening of HBO’s Game Change at the LBJ Library next Sunday. The authors of the book that inspired the movie, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, will be on hand for Q/A, and YOUR employer, The Texas Tribune, is putting it on. Hope to see you. I think I will bring our favorite movie critic, Chris Vognar, if he is free.

3. We are eating the following meals for deliciousness sake: The “Regular Dinner” at Maudies. The #2 at Dario’s. The Democrat and the Fried Avocado Tacos at Torchy’s. The fatty beef brisket at Franklin BBQ. Steak Frites at Justine’s. Beef Noodle Soup at Coco’s Cafe. Chicken Tikka Masala at G’Raj Mahal. The Love Cleanse Green Juice at Whole Foods. Assorted Dim Sum with the dim sum group at Shanghai. Family-style everything at Asia Cafe. And as for new restaurants, I still haven’t tried Contigo, which Hannah raves about.

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