Since 1932, El Restaurante Azteca has cemented its culinary status as a Tex-Mex mainstay over three generations of family ownership. The original downtown chili con carne ($3.50), made following a recipe from the 1930s, whisks taste buds back to a simpler time before chili could be easily downloaded to home computers.
To chef and owner Andrew Gonzalez, the crisscrossed charbroiling on the charbroiled salmon may as well be the markings on an open palm: they both predict a diner's future happiness. He takes his beef very seriously, pairing steaks with a selection of fine wines and turning only the highest quality certified Angus patties into half-pound burgers before covering them with jalapenos and placing them on a homemade bun. In addition to handcrafting buns for burgers, Gonzalez bakes pizzas with freshly made dough. He hand-batters shrimp for frying and serving with coleslaw, or pan-sears them to decorate beds of pasta with spicy tomato sauce.
In 1853, two founders of the colony that would come to be known as Castroville built a classic Sunday Haus near the center of the new settlement. A century and a half later, that structure stands as one of the oldest in the city, and the restaurant that now calls it home doesn't take that fact lightly. The Old Alsatian Steakhouse and Ristorante retains its historic air, seating diners in one of two main dining rooms lined with old-world art and antiques, while displaying many of the building's original structural elements. Here, they serve a menu that nods to tradition, anchored by a hearty lineup of hand-cut steaks and European dishes. The selection ranges from 6-oz. cuts of sirloin and 7-oz. filet mignon to 16-oz. rib eyes, which can be eaten onsite or brought home. Cooks round out meals with plates of alsatian sausage and bratwurst, served with mustard and pickles, as well as fried calamari, jumbo shrimp, schnitzels, and more.
With the historic nature of the grounds, it's not surprising that a recent archaeological dig revealed a bounty of artifacts dating back to the Civil War. Ginger beer bottles, leather holsters, saber belt-buckles—these and a trove of other 150-year-old finds line the shelves of the restaurant's former smokehouse, which now acts as the onsite museum. Both everyday diners and attendees of special events—the space also features a grape arbor, a patio, a spacious lawn, a beer garden, and a full event center—can peruse these unique finds to learn the history of not only the restaurant itself, but a great deal of Castroville as well.
Bit of Mexico fills each burrito, quesadilla, and taco on its menu with authentic Mexican flavor. Sample the south-of-the-border succulents with a shareable starter such as the bean 'n' cheese nachos ($6.95), or test the loyalty of capsaicin-cautious taste buds with a crucible of fiery jalapeño poppers ($8.95). Early risers get their frijole fix starting at 6 a.m. with hearty breakfast dishes such as the eggs ranchero plate, with beans and hash browns ($5.95), and the appetite-demolishing Big Breakfast plate, which includes two fluffy pancakes with eggs, beans, hash browns, and your choice of meat ($6.50).
At Le Chat Noir Eatery, owner and head chef Lynn Oefinger refuses to let her cooking lapse into routine. In addition to constantly updating the menus to incorporate seasonal ingredients, she fully commits her attention to seemingly minute details, making caesar salad dressing from scratch and branding her initials into every steak. As she told San Antonio Express News in 2011, "if you take time to make it something special, people will appreciate it."
A graduate of the Texas Culinary Academy, she uses her formally refined techniques to give traditional American dishes a fusion flair, coating a po boy's shrimp in Japanese panko breadcrumbs and spicing a duck breast with Indian chai.
Wooden beams line the white walls and ceiling of the dining room, which remain clean and blank except for a few pieces of framed artwork and an art nouveau thermostat. Sheer, gauzy curtains gently filter out lights shone through the window by search-and-rescue teams specializing in endangered crème brûlée.
Owners Brian Black and Charlotte Spinks Browning recently reopened the 1947 Longhorn Saloon to host outdoor concerts on the banks of the Medina River. On Saturday, June 18, at 6 p.m., country music veterans Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, and T.G. Sheppard draw on their extensive catalogs of toe-tapping hits to entertain families, friends, and river mermaids with special guest Kevin Black. The Longhorn Saloon's venue seats 1,200 fans in front of the stage and 400 more on stadium-style seats on the hill, and accommodates an additional 2,000 standing concert-goers. Unlike weekend chores, seats are not assigned, so show up at 5 p.m. when the doors open to secure your spot of choice.