Lisa Wong Buys Southtown’s El Mirador, Ending Its Run as a San Antonio Staple

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Southtown restaurant El Mirador will be closing on November 18th.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Southtown restaurant El Mirador will be closing on Nov. 18.

Four years after the original owners sold the El Mirador restaurant, the San Antonio staple of family-style Mexican cuisine has changed hands again and will close its doors Nov. 18 to make way for a new eatery sometime in 2019.

Lisa Wong, owner of Rosario’s restaurants in Southtown and on the North Side, purchased the property from Esquire Tavern owner Chris Hill for more than $3 million and said she remains in the brainstorming phase when it comes to what will fill the space in the future.

The sale marks the end of a King William institution that once was known for its family recipes and ownership and as a meeting place for San Antonio business and civic leaders.

Wong said the South St. Mary's Street location will host a restaurant of some kind, but the deal came together "fast and furious" and she hasn’t spent much time conceiving a plan yet.

“I just want to make sure that I create a space that is appealing to the neighborhood and to the city of San Antonio,” said Wong, who also manages and operates San Antonio's River Walk barge concession.

The purchase includes nearly one acre of land including four lots, the restaurant building, a 2,000-square-foot garden house, and parking lots at 722 S. St. Mary's St.

Wong said she plans to take her time to develop the right concept and also satisfy the requirements of the King William Historic District when it comes to any new construction or renovations that will be needed. She said she lives in the area and considers it home. She doesn’t have a target date for an opening.

“You know, it is designated an historic neighborhood and there is just always hurdles that you have to work through,” Wong said. “I want to do it right. There is no reason to rush it.”

Hill, an architect and developer, purchased El Mirador in 2014 from Julian Treviño, the son of original owners Julian Sr. and Mary Treviño, and his wife, Diana. Hill closed the space in 2016 for renovations before reopening in December of that year.

The restaurant first opened in 1967 as the city anticipated HemisFair ’68. It moved several times but established itself as a local landmark after relocating to its current home in 1978.

Wong said she appreciates the history of El Mirador, the Treviño family's legacy, and the restaurant’s loyal customers.

Julian Treviño and his wife were in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday in the middle of an extended vacation when they heard of the sale and closing of what was the family business for years.

“It’s not bad news,” he said in a phone interview. “We went through the angst and emotions that are associated with selling something with 45 years of family history almost five years ago when we made the decision to sell it to Chris Hill. It was a family decision, so we went through all that. There was a question of loyalty to our employees and our customers. That was paramount. Chris Hill kept his word and that was admirable. I admire him for that.”

Many of the restaurant’s employees have worked there serving a menu of Treviño family recipes for decades. Treviño said he might feel differently about the newest sale and the restaurant closing if it had been run into the ground.

“If it had deteriorated and imploded and people said, ‘This is horrible,’ and that sort of thing, that would have hurt. We wish Lisa great success.”

In May 2014, when the restaurant changed hands the first time, Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard described the impact the restaurant had as a meeting place for some of San Antonio's best-known faces during its heyday:

“The South St. Mary's Street landmark cafe was the place to be and to be seen weekday mornings in King William long before the advent of Southtown. Saturday mornings brought droves of '09ers and others to El Mirador for the cafe's signature Sopa Azteca. At one recent breakfast outing there, I saw Mayor Julián Castro in one room, and former Mayors Phil Hardberger, Howard Peak, and Ed Garza, all at different tables, meeting with people.”

Hill’s attention has been drawn in recent months toward developing a 22-story Canopy Hilton hotel at Commerce and St. Mary’s streets next to the Esquire, which sits at at 155 E. Commerce St.

In addition to owning the two Rosario’s locations, Wong also owns Ácenar on Houston Street downtown.

8 thoughts on “Lisa Wong Buys Southtown’s El Mirador, Ending Its Run as a San Antonio Staple

  1. “I just want to make sure that I create a space that is appealing to the neighborhood and to the city of San Antonio,” said Wong.

    If that were true she would leave it the way it is.

  2. It’s a beautiful & charming place that I hope Ms Wong retains. It had some issues. I think the most challenging aspect of running a successful restaurant is consistency. Both times I visited I ordered the same thing. The second time I had the pork dish it was greasy & was mostly skin, which to me was gross. Hopefully with more experirnced restaurant managenent the recipes – whatever concept goes in – are consistently yummy & offers a healthy twist.

  3. All the long term employees were fired by Wong 2 days ago. Despite the beautiful improvements to the building and grounds, Hill ran Mirador into the ground with a dysfunctional kitchen and horrid service. I will prefer to remember El Mirador in the capable hands of the Trevinos. RIP to a restaurant with a significant history in King William and all of SA.

  4. We know in our hearts that familiar things do not remain unchanged forever. I liked the aesthetic updates that Mr. Hill brought to the space and appreciated the freshly fried chips, handmade tortillas and attention to detail his management stayed on top of – even though I missed the focus on family recipes and those killer weekend soups. I do hope Ms. Wong ups her f&b game in the face of all she and her team have on their plate. As of late, her restaurants have not lived up to their once-outstanding reputation, thanks to bagged chips, prepared and preservative-filled tortillas and a pervasive “tourist service” attitude at the Southtown location. Here’s to returning both spots to their once stellar place in our locals dining scene.

  5. Yo prefiero Xochilt!

    Caldo Xochilt was the original Saturday morning only soup that made El Mirador famous. Sopa Azteca came much later.

    At its original location on the corner of South Presa and Durango, on Saturday mornings you usually had to line up outside to get one of the few tables available. We began going there in 1976 when we had small children. When we got in, our favorite waitress, Esther (Mary Trevino’s sister) would immediately bring chips and a small bowl of frijoles refritos to keep the kids occupied. It made for a fun Saturday morning.

    On the last Saturday at the old location, all the regulars just grabbed their chairs and took them to the present location on South St. Mary’s. And the legend continued.

    At the much larger place on any Saturday morning you might find Henry B. Gonzales, O’Neil Ford, Henry Cisneros, Bernard Lipshutz, Bill and Faye Sinkin, or many other historical San Antonio figures.

    Chris Hill did a wonderful job of spiffing up the place, but the tradition and the crowds faded. Under the Trevino’s recipes, Xochilt was full of big pieces of shredded chicken, rich broth, avocado, cilantro and other vegetables. Chris’s kitchen never made the dish as delicious or visually appealing. Also, there are no fresh tomatoes in carne guisada!

    Good luck Lisa. I hope you got Mary and Julian’s recipes with the deal.

  6. I hate that the employees were fired, particularly after they went through months of unemployment during the renovation. I was last there three weeks ago and my dining companion and I both were pleased with the service and quality of the food.

    As a King William resident, I have been a regular for more than 20 years and will miss El Mirador.

  7. The death of this SA institution demonstrates that the restaurant business is a hands-on business. When the Trevinos owned El Mirador, they were always there, and ran a fun, reliably good restaurant that attracted loyal regulars. It’s a shame that it had to end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *