San Antonio’s River Walk is at its most spectacular in December, when more than 2,250 strings of twinkling lights cloak towering trees and set bridges aglow. Of course, the waterway is one of the top attractions in the state year-round, but the festive holiday décor and cool weather make for more pleasant strolling, shopping, and boating experiences. It’s easy to get seduced by the typical, colorful eateries that line the River Walk and promise fishbowl-size margaritas and a place to rest your feet, but these five restaurants make it worth straying from the well-beaten path. Still within steps of the River Walk, they offer a reprieve from the crowds and appeal to more adventurous palates.
Tucked inside the Valencia Hotel, Dorrego’s is one of a few Argentine-inspired restaurants in the city. Like any contemporary restaurant in Buenos Aires, the menu shows influences of Spain, Italy, and France with dishes such as paella, saltimbocca, and poached-pear salad. Order a glass of malbec (Argentina’s acclaimed red wine) and start with the warm, flaky cheese-and-corn empanadas or the provoletal, aged provolone cheese that’s broiled until bubbly and then served with roasted tomatoes and crostini. Keep your knife close at hand for locally raised steaks slathered with chimichurri oil. You’ll be reluctant to leave the sleek dining room that overlooks the River Walk.
Breakfast, 6:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Lunch, 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Dinner, 5:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m.
Chef’s Menu at Dorrego’s Bar, 2:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m.
150 E. Houston St.
At this acclaimed fine-dining restaurant, chef and owner Michael Sohocki’s devotion to old-world techniques—no blenders, mixers, ice cream machines, or anything else that requires an outlet—transports you far from the chips-and-queso crowd. The cozy dining room, artful presentation, and the staff’s attention to detail create a luxurious experience, whether you’re sitting down for a seven-course tasting menu or just munching on a quick cheese or charcuterie board. The menu, which can feature chilled-pear soup or quail ratatouille, changes daily, with all ingredients sourced within a 150-mile radius.
Open Tue–Thu 5:30 p.m.–9 p.m. and Fri–Sat 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m.
152 E. Pecan St.
Located just around the corner from Restaurant Gwendolyn, Kimura is a laid-back noodle shop serving cocktails, steaming bowls of ramen prepared with four different traditional broths, and steamed-rice-based dishes. Take a seat at the bar to warm up near the sizzling woks. It’s easy to craft a hearty meal of appetizers like yakitori, grilled chicken skewers with teriyaki sauce; gyoza, pork dumplings with ginger and garlic; and seaweed salad. Keep your strength up for holiday power-shopping with a picturesque bowl of egg-and-mushroom-topped ramen, or a tangle of yakisoba, stir-fried noodles with meat and vegetables.
Open Mon–Thu 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat 12 p.m.–11 p.m.
152 E. Pecan St.
Chef Johnny Hernandez, who also owns La Gloria and The Fruteria restaurants, gives burgers a Mexican makeover by employing indigenous ingredients (like tomatillos in the ketchup) and riffs on regional dishes. The Oaxaca burger, for instance, features a beef patty topped with mole negro, black beans, pickled red onions, avocado, and queso fresco. The Baja fish burger stars crispy cod dressed with chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, and avocado crema. But there is so much more than burgers to indulge in. Consider the queso fundido fries, fruity paletas, raspas, and Mexican-style ice creams (which are based on seasonal fruits and have a dense, gelato-like texture). The punchy art, colorful interior, and casually hip vibe create an atmosphere that is the next best thing to a ticket to Mexico City.
Open Mon–Thu 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri–Sat 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun 11 p.m.–8 p.m.
403 Blue Star
The expertly crafted—and not too sweet—cocktails at Esquire Tavern have amassed a devoted following, so the bar is typically packed. Take a cue from locals and reserve a table in the chill basement after taking in a holiday concert at the nearby Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Relax into a booth and sip a Wonderlust King, made with whiskey, amaro, vermouth, and chocolate and orange bitters. Once you’ve whet your appetite, dunk waffle-cut chips into creamy onion dip and dig into the warming Cajun beef stew with cheddar grits.