San Antonio’s crowning jewel is the Alamo. It was one of five missions built by Spanish friars with the labor of Native Americans. Two of the other missions are worth a visit: San Jose and Conception. San Jose still has the homes of the Native Americans as well as the church, a chapel, and other buildings. Its Rose Window has become a symbol of San Antonio.
Conception Mission has the most authentic church in the missions’ park. The second most visited attraction is the River Walk (Paseo Del Rio). You can visit La Villita, an artisan village listed on the U.S. government’s National Register of Historic Places, on the River Walk, or take a river tour on the River Taxi.
A nighttime visit to San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the United States, is a must. The Saga, a nighttime light show telling San Antonio’s history, is played on the front of this ancient church after dark. You can watch from the Plaza across the street where there are plenty of food venders and a band.
There are museums you don’t want to miss. Institute of Texan Cultures where the many cultures that settled Texas come to life in an ever-changing series of exhibits. The Witte Museum is ranked San Antonio’s most popular museum with its blend of art, culture, and Texas natural history.
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11 Unique San Antonio Restaurants & Bars
204 Alamo Plaza San Antonio, TX 78205 // +12102234361
The Menger Hotel sits next to the Alama. I experienced a feeling of churchlike reverence when I walked into the Menger Hotel bar. Along with special cocktails, this bar serves a heaping helping of Lone Star history. It was built in 1887 as a replica of London’s House of Lords Pub. The Bar is filled with history as well as great cocktails. It was voted one of the Top 10 Most Historic Bars in the United States. Its connection with history is deep.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in April 1898, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He partnered with Army Colonel Leonard Wood to form the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. He did much of his recruiting at the Menger Bar. The regiment trained in San Antonio, Texas, and a large part of the war strategy was devised in the Menger Hotel Bar.
The diverse regiment was made up of cowboys, ranchers, and Ivy League athletes. It was known as the “Rough Riders.” The bar looks just as it did back then and it’s easy to imagine Teddy Roosevelt walking in at any moment. Many ghost tales about the bar say his spirit still visits.
The bar serves cocktails, beer, and wine, along with burgers and several appetizers. Its most famous drink is the award-winning Menger Bloody Mary. It’s made with Smirnoff Vodka, Tabasco Bloody Mary mix, a squeeze of lime, Worcester sauce, olive juice, served in a celery salt rimmed glass and garnished with olives and fresh celery.
If you are hungry for more substantial food, the Menger also has The Colonial Room, a Victorian style dining experience for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Definitely one of the most unique San Antonio restaurants.
12656 West Ave, San Antonio, TX 78216 // +12104960222
On a recent visit to San Antonio for an IPW Conference (International Pow Wow, a meeting of travel professionals from around the world.) my friends and I were looking for the best BBQ in San Antonio. When we asked a local, she suggested Two Bros BBQ Market.
We were not disappointed. It’s owned by Chef Jason Dady and his brother, Jake. One of the many awards it won was “San Antonio’s Best Barbecue” by USA Today in 2017. It’s ranked in the Top 50 BBQ Joints in the World by Texas Monthly (2013). It’s featured in Anthony Bourdain Books line, The Prophets of Smoked Meat (2013), and on Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations” (2017).
One taste of the Cherry Glazed Baby Back Ribs told me why. It had that smokey taste and the secret dry rub used on it made it amazing. I finished up with one of their Deep-Fried Strawberry Pies. It had me licking my lips to get every bit of its sweet and juicy flavor.
Even their menu is named in Texas fashion. Appetizers become “Pickin’s” and instead of Fried Cheese Sticks, they become Deep Fried Mozzarella Logs. What are called “poppers” other places are Smoked Stuffed Jalapeños. “Fixin’s” are what sides are called here. You get to choose between Creamy Cole Slaw, BBQ Beans, Creamed Corn, Mac and Cheese, or Potato Salad.
As the “Market” part of the name indicates, they sell their meat by the pound as well as for a dine-in or take-out meal. You order and pay at the counter, and they call out your name when your order is ready. If you “dine in,” you can choose to sit inside or out on the patio. The night we visited there was a great band playing. There’s a ban on weekend nights and an outside bar. One of the most unique San Antonio restaurants I’ve ever been to.
You can bring your four-legged friend on the patio.
205 East Guenther Street, San Antonio, Texas 78204 // +12102271061
I never realized San Antonio had such a large German influence but on a tour around the city, we visited the King William section and had a snack at the Gunther House Restaurant. It was the home of the German mill owner, Carl Hilmar Guenther. In 1858, Gunther sold his Fredericksburg mill, which he began in 1851. He took a five-day wagon trip and reopened in San Antonio. The rest is history. Here’s more info why it’s one of the most unique San Antonio restaurants.
The factory located next to his home on the San Antonio River begun with 22 mill hands and produced about 77 barrels of flour per day. Today, it produces enough to fill over 13,000 tractor trailers a year plus many other products under 18 different brand names.
What is today the restaurant was constructed between 1915 and 1918. They were used originally as the kitchen, tea room, dining room and the outdoor arbor areas of the Guenther House. The restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Instead of traditional German dishes, they made most of the dishes served with Pioneer Flour produced in the still operating mill.
However, they do serve Strudel. The day we visited, the changing list of desserts were three types of Strudel, blackberry, cherry, and apple as well as cinnamon rolls and fudge brownies.
231 S Alamo Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205 // +12108902225
We enjoyed another touch of Germany in the Lone Star State with the best view of the Riverwalk at Little Rhein Prost Haus. It’s at the edge of the historic La Villita Village and is the oldest two-story rock building in Bexar County. Otto Bombach built it in the mid-19th century.
There are both inside and outside bars and a small bandstand for the nightly musicians. The inside is rustic with dark wood and exposed beams, but on a river parade evening, the outside tiered patio is where the action is. Servers here are great. Our server got us a second-from-the-river-tier table on a crowded river parade night when 5,000 IPW visitors were in San Antonio. Gotta love that!
Here the menu is mixed German and Texas specials. Unusual special like Kraut Balls, pork sausage and sauerkraut breaded and fried golden brown and served with Prost Sauce or their Jaeger Schnitze, a breaded pork cutlet served with bacon cabbage, buttermilk smashed potatoes, and their special Hunter’s Sauce. Then there are regular German style dishes like their Reuben Sandwich, corned beef with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island on toasted marble rye. Definitely one of the most unique San Antonio restaurants.
For those who want American traditional, there’s the Classic All-American Burger, Angus beef patty with choice of sharp Cheddar or Swiss cheese, kosher pickle, lettuce, tomato, onion on a brioche bun.
I had to try one of my favorite German foods. Their Bavarian Pretzel lived up to all my expectations. They served the huge salty pretzel with a warm bier cheese dip and Dusseldorf mustard. It was so big, I couldn’t eat it all at one time, but I took it back to my room for later. Even microwaved, it was still delicious.
136 E. Grayson Street, San Antonio Texas 78215 // +12104488300
Once a brewery, Pearl is now a blend of dining and shops with Trip Advisor Top Hotel winner, The Emma. The restaurants and bars in the Emma take you back to the days when it was a brewery with much of the old equipment intact. Beer baron, Otto Koehler, built Pearl Brewery more than 120 years ago.
The Emma was notified it was named Top Luxury Hotel in the country by Trip Advisor the night we visited. They also honored it as the nation’s overall No. 2 hotel in the same awards. Besides the over two dozen restaurants around the plaza in Pearl, there are three unique San Antonio restaurants located inside The Emma.
136 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215, United States // +12102237375
Hotel Emma’s tavern and club room. The bar is named for the Sternewirth Privilege, which entitled employees of 19th Century breweries to drink free beer during the workday. Prohibition killed that custom in most places, but Pearl Brewery continued the tradition until the 1990s.
It’s 25-foot vaulted ceiling, floor to ceiling columns, and dark wood walls lends an old-fashioned ambience to the intimate groupings of sofas, easy chairs, and banquettes. The brewery machinery, like the giant stills above the bar, reminds you this building has an interesting history.
They have an almost endless supply of any alcohol, beer, or wine you might want. They have some imaginative drink names. There’s “Six Beet Under” made with haku vodka, junmai sake, golden beet, lychee, lemon, simple, orange bitters, sparkling water, and “Ghost Writer” (Hey, I’m a writer so I gotta like this one!) It’s made with cachaça, lime, evaporated milk, simple, and sparkling water.
The most interesting drink and one related to the hotel’s name is The Three Emmas. The menu reads, “1 is great. 2 are sinful. 3 will kill you.” It’s composed of lager beer and rose cordial, amontillado sherry, gin, grapefruit, and lemon, but although possibly three of these drinks might kill you, there’s another story about three Emmas. It relates to Hotel Emma’s name.
First one is Emma Koehler, wife of the brewery owner, Otto, and namesake of the hotel. In 1910, she was in a car accident and required a full-time care.
Otto hired a home nurse for her who was also named Emma, although she went by Emmi. Randy old Otto soon began an affair with Emmi and a friend of her’s, another tall blonde, also named Emma. (Emma must have been as common as “Mary” or “Patty” then.)
Otto set up his two girlfriends together in a house on the city’s South Side. Things didn’t go as he planned. On Nov. 12, 1914, Otto visited his two ladies, and an argument broke out. The tall, blonde Emma shot and killed Otto.
She pleaded self-defense, but before the trial, she fled to Europe and served as a WWI nurse. She returned four years later and stood trial but was found not guilty. Incidentally, it was an all-male jury, so being a good-looking blond didn’t hurt her case. She later married one of the jurors.
Nurse Emma got married and dropped out of sight.
Emma Koeher took over Pearl Brewery after Otto’s death. She kept it going through the Prohibition Era by running a dry cleaning and auto repair business and making near beer, sodas, and ice cream. She kept the entire workforce employed. As soon as Prohibition ended, she rolled out beer at exactly 12:01 AM on December 5, 1933. She died in 1947. Talk about a gem amongst the unique San Antonio restaurants.
The Larder is more of a grocery. It’s handy for folks who want to pick up a snack and a bottle of wine for a picnic or to take to their room. It’s in the old fermenting cellars, and stocks, wine, beer, baked goods, and freshly prepared foods.
136 E Grayson St, San Antonio, TX 78215, United States // +12104488351
Jorge Luis Hernández was named Executive Chef in 2022 over all of Emma’s restaurants.
Supper is Emma’s traditional American restaurant. Chef Hernández’s Mexican and Greek culinary influence adds an extra layer to Supper. It has always sought to source locally, buying its fruit, vegetables and herbs mainly from area farmers, its beef and lamb from Peeler Ranch south of San Antonio, and its dairy products from Mill King Dairy near Waco. Talk about a gem amongst the unique San Antonio restaurants.
As a farm-to-table restaurant, it serves traditional dishes like Black Angus Steaks and Crispy Hill Country Quail; but it also showcases vegetables like collard greens, roasted carrots, and braised greens.
Step out of the restaurant and you are on the San Antonio River Walk.
312 Pearl Parkway Building 6, San Antonio, TX 78215 // +12105649140
The Food Hall is a recreation of the Bottling Department where Pearl Beer was bottled. The original was destroyed by a fire in 2004. It has five unique San Antonio restaurants and a bar.
You order at whichever restaurant you wish and pick a table. When your order is ready, they call your name.
312 Pearl Pkwy Building 6, San Antonio, TX 78215, United States // +12104621505
For a pizza, slice or whole, this is one of the most unique San Antonio restaurants for that. I went with a slice of Pepperoni Pizza. It was huge; the cheese generous and stretchy, and the pepperoni was plentiful. They also serve handmade subs and salads.
My friends chose Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches from Three Six General. It’s a relatively new restaurant at the food court but it’s definitely one of the most unique San Antonio restaurants. They tested the waters at Pearl Farmers Market. Mattison Bills, the owner, began in 2019 in San Marcos specializing in locally sourced meats butchered in house.
Conclusion: Unique San Antonio Restaurants & Bars
One source I found says there are over 13,000 places to eat in San Antonio. San Antonio is a fun city to visit but traffic is heavy in some places, and it is often difficult to tell one-way streets from two-way, so drive sober and carefully there.
One perk for handicapped visitors is if you have a disabled license on your car, you can park free in any city lot or parking spot. Just be sure when you enter a lot is it a city one. There are lots of private lots where this doesn’t apply.
Visiting other destinations in Texas? Check out our other delicious guides:
- 9 Must-Try League City Restaurants
- 11 Best Restaurants In Southlake TX
- 8 Must-Try Keller Restaurants
- 10 Best Restaurants in The Woodlands, TX
- 10 Best Classic Texan Dishes
- 10 Best Frisco Restaurants
- 6 Must-Try Amarillo Restaurants
- 9 Best Restaurants In Midtown Houston Texas
- 7 Must-Try Restaurants in Katy, Texas
- 7 Must-Try South Padre Island Restaurants
- The Best Mexican Restaurants in Dallas TX
- The 8 Best Mexican Restaurants in Keller
I’m Kathleen Walls, former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, currently publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. I live in Middleburg, FL but travel extensively, mainly in the U.S. I’m the author of travel books, Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways, Finding Florida’s Phantoms, Hosts With Ghosts, and Wild About Florida series, and several novels. All available at my site, katywalls.com/.
Publications I write for include Travel the South, Roadtrippers, Travel Awaits, World Footprints, Snowbirds and RV Travelers, Family RVing, Deep South, Florida Country, and more. My photographs appear in many publications. I also do videos. I’m a proud member of International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers (IFWTA), Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA).