08 June 2009

San Antonio - A Little History

Breakfast on the Riverwalk

Mornings on the Riverwalk are peaceful. The crowds are light, the temperature pleasant. The sidewalks are wet and gleaming after being washed down for the start of a new day. Sitting along the river with a cup of coffee you can watch the birds preen and forage and the maintenance vessels skim debris from the water in a display that is subtle as well as practical, functional and alive.

It is interesting to witness the quiet upkeep of this beautiful public area. While the maintenance crews make their way around the Riverwalk the cruise boats are already carrying tourists on narrative tours and the restaurants' friendly hostesses are greeting what little foot traffic there is, pointing out their unique breakfast menus.


A long time fan of southwestern style breakfast entrees I was drawn to Zuni Grill. There we settled at a spacious table where I ordered coffee along with Vegetable and Egg Tacos with fresh fruit and pico de gallo while my husband ordered Scrambled Eggs San Antonio Style, with corn tostadas, salsa verde and melted cheese.

Both were good choices. The fresh flavor of the salsa verde and the pico de gallo along with tortillas added a bit of festive flair to the more traditional elements of eggs and bacon. We enjoyed a very pleasant and relaxed morning meal as we talked over our anniversary trip and this chance to become reacquainted with Texas and San Antonio.

City Life - Texas Style

San Antonio is larger than it seems. With a population of over one million it joins other Texas cities of Houston and Dallas on the list of the United States ten most populous cities.


The strong faith heritage of this region manifests itself in many ways. It is evident in the area's attractions, in place names and statuary, in history and in hope. Reminders of faith are unapologetically on display in the life and the art of the region. There is a certain mystical yet practical quality to the founding of the city and the culture that has evolved under the influence of Spanish, French and Mexican control followed by independence as a republic and the decision to become a part of the US.

Mission Influences

The influences of this city's long and varied history can be felt at the Cathedral of San Fernando, a few blocks south of the Riverwalk. This beautiful Catholic Cathedral is perhaps the oldest Cathedral in the US. Founded in 1731 by families from the Canary Islands at the invitation of King Phillip V of Spain, it has served the area as a spiritual center for hundreds of years. Inside the Cathedral is a sarcophagus inscribed with the names of Travis, Crockett, Bowie and other Alamo Heroes who are said to be buried at this location.


Representing the independent spirit of San Antonio, as well as the diverse backgrounds of those who have come to call this place home, stands the Alamo. This one time Spanish mission stands about a block north of the Riverwalk in a park area. It represents an important chapter in the region's history and is considered a shrine and the "cradle of Texas liberty."

River Diversions

The pulse of San Antonio does seem to beat with a steady and grounded optimism. That optimism and ingenuity can be found in the story of the Riverwalk that we heard as we took a Riverwalk Cruise on one of the many flat red boats that keep people moving along the river. After a disaster in 1921, flood control plans were drawn up with the hope of managing the flow of the San Antonio River and paving the way for the river to become an asset and the cultural center of the city. Still, it was not until this project was begun as a WPA project in the late 1930's that the development of these ambitious plans was able to get underway. In 1941 the flood control plan as well as the footbridges, stairways, and rock walls that make up the structure of the Riverwalk were completed.


From our guide, a robust Texan with a deep drawl, we learned about the World's Fair of 1968 where guests were transported along a new river channel extension by boat into the fairgrounds. We also learned about the Tower of the Americas, which was constructed as a centerpiece for HemisFair '68, and the transformation of the fairgrounds after the event was over.

Casa Rio

Once construction of the Riverwalk was completed the first restaurant to take advantage of this prime location was Casa Rio. Founded in 1946, it still stands as a centerpiece at the crossroads of the river bend and the river extension channel.


At street level Casa Rio doesn't look all that special. With an old fashioned sign on a busy city street it would hardly catch my attention at all. On the river it is another story altogether.

I first noticed the restaurant as I approached it from the sidewalk along the river extension channel. What caught my eye was the playful reflection of the colorful umbrellas in the lazy drift of the ripples sparkling on the water. I smiled, took out my camera, and tried to capture the magic of the setting: the sidewalk cafe tables, the reflection, the stonework, the golden sunshine. Festive and uplifting this bright and optimistic setting seemed to represent the colorful continuity of life along the river.

As it turned out, after taking that photo I saw picture after picture of this setting, on posters, postcards and prints, in oil or watercolor by various artists, framed by the footbridge, looking down from the footbridge, from upstream or down. The scene is iconic and every version has a lovely quality of its own.


While I was impressed with the visual setting of Casa Rio I really wasn't sure I would like the food and even passed on dining there one evening when they seemed extremely busy and quite touristy. Then one afternoon, enchanted by the light on the water and the sound of the Mariachi trio playing, I stopped under one of the dazzling umbrellas for lunch.


I ordered iced tea and a Combo Dinner with a Chicken Soft Taco and a Chalupa. It was served with rice, beans and guacamole, corn tortillas, chips and salsa. It was a feast and was quite economical. It was also quite delicious. I was prepared not to really enjoy the food as at first glance it was a bit bland in appearance and anemic in color. But sometimes first impressions are misleading. In fact the very ordinary looking Chicken Soft Taco was made from juicy and flavorful shredded chicken with green chiles. The beans, also a bit lackluster in appearance, were just right in flavor and texture. The Chalupa was crisp and tasty and the corn tortillas, thick and warm, were a nice accompaniment. My iced tea was quickly refilled and the service in general was quick and attentive. Altogether it was an extremely pleasant dining experience.

Some Personal Favorites


Having enjoyed some great Mexican food along the Riverwalk, by dinnertime I was eager to try another regional specialty, Texas Style Barbecue. I found some at The County Line. Nestled among some of the better known chain restaurants on the Riverwalk I have to say The County Line does serve up some respectable Texas barbecue, something I have missed since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. We ordered a Chicken Combo and a Five Meat Smokehouse Combo. I wanted to try a variety of items in hopes of remembering my favorites. Aside from the chicken, I really expected to like the barbecued beef brisket best. I was wrong. The brisket was good but not as fall apart tender and flavorful as the lovely, and messy, baby back ribs. I didn't even know I was fan of ribs but these were exceptional.


Last on my list of regional favorites I wanted to try was a Margarita. I got all the way back to the Commerce Street Bridge before I realized it, but as I walked through the tables at the Republic of Texas and saw even more Texas-sized Margaritas I knew I needed to try at least one. We stopped at a table and ordered a regular Margarita on the rocks and a Frozen Raspberry Margarita. As the sun set the mixture of artificial and natural light along with the lingering heat lent an exceptional glow to our pretty drinks. We sipped them as we talked over our discoveries on this long overdue visit back to the Lone Star State where we began our life together so many years ago. It was a nice way to wrap up a wonderful anniversary week.


5 comments:

Mary said...

San Antonio is a wonderful place to spend a few days. We have family in Austin and make the drive to SA evry couple of years to tour the art galleries and eat on the River Walk. I hope you are have a marvelous time.

Bellini Valli said...

Some day I would love to visit San Antonio, but for now I will do some arm chair travelling through your posts:D

Grace said...

i would eat so much tex-mex food in a city like san antonio. so much. it'd be blissful. :)

noble pig said...

Two words...beyond jealous.

Paula said...

I could have sworn I left a comment on this one! I definitely read it, and enjoyed accompanying you on your trip! That top food photo is terrific! I don't know if I've really ever had true tex-mex food, but I'd love to go to San Antonio for my first taste! :-)