Many think the River Walk and downtown is just for tourists, but sometimes locals forget the ample variety of food and drink options available to them along the river and the surrounding area.
During this year’s “Bud Light, The Taste,” a three-day tasting event organized by the Paseo del Rio Association, locals and tourists alike can stroll along Houston Street and the River Walk from Sept. 13-15 and enjoy appetizer-sized signature dishes and drinks from more than 30 restaurants that will compete for a People’s Choice Award and Judges Choice Award each night.
The event will take place from 6-9 p.m. Participating restaurants include Bohanan’s Prime Steak & Seafood, Barriba Cantina, Iron Cactus Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar, Las Ramblas, Ácenar, Boudros, Lüke, and more. For a full list of restaurants and their featured dishes, click here.
According to Paseo del Rio Association Marketing & Public Relations Director Paula Schechter, the goal is to “do one thing very well,” and have the restaurants provide smaller portions of dishes or single items. This, in turn, creates an affordable way for patrons to sample delicious food and introduces them to new restaurants they might not have tried before.
“You go to the restaurant and fall in love with any of these dishes,” Schechter said. “That’s the whole concept – for people to fall in love with what they taste and experience the atmosphere in the restaurant. It’s not like some food events where people go to a tent and all the restaurants come to offer (their) dishes. This way, people become familiarized with the location.”
Schechter added that individuals can choose to take a river boat from place-to-place or merely stroll along the River Walk as they go from restaurant-to-restaurant.
Barriba Cantina, 111 W. Crockett St., will feature deviled eggs at their tasting, along with an eight-ounce pineapple margarita. Each restaurant aims to feature new or all-time favorite items in order to pique people’s interest, prompting them to come and try the full menu on another occasion.
“The (deviled eggs) dish is a long-time favorite on the menu” said Barriba Cantina General Manager Gina Hartbarger. “We add some jalapeño bacon, chipotle mayo, and a sprinkle of cayenne. It’s a simple dish, but it has many layers to it.”
Hartbarger hopes that more locals will venture downtown and experience the array of featured dishes.
“You’d be surprised how much the locals don’t come,” she said, “(but tasting events like these) get them down here. It’s friendly and there’s a lot of parking. People just need to realize that every other street is one way.”
Chef James Blanton of Iron Cactus Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar, 200 River Walk St., has a competitive bone. Last year Iron Cactus won both the Judges Choice Award and People’s Choice Award. This year, Blanton is pulling out all the stops for his dish to win during the night his restaurant is featured.
With Texas’ sweltering summer heat in mind, Blanton chose to feature a pepper-crusted tuna escabeche on a crispy wonton for his dish of choice, to give patrons a respite from the humidity and the heat. To match the color of the tuna, Blanton will pair the dish with a prickly pear margarita.
“I wanted a nice, light dish for the spring and summer down here on the River Walk where it does get hot,” he said. “I’ll just give you the best bite in town, how about that? (My dish) is light, it’s crisp, and doesn’t override the palette.”
Blanton makes his escabeche with tri-colored organic carrots, and he decided on a saku block tuna to lead the dish, a tuna that is cut from the belly of the fish. The crust on the fish has fennel, pepper, and cardamom.
“The wonton is a cool base, instead of the tortilla,” he said, “because everybody does the tortilla base. I also added a homemade carrot-habanero hot sauce atop the tuna, emulating a fried egg.”
Blanton added that his dish has “cool asian influences,” but still remains very southwestern.
“(This event and the menu items from each restaurant) is really a high-premium deal,” he said.
Ácenar’s General Manager Aaron Garza said many restaurants will have new, never-before-featured items on their menus, which is a good reason to sign up for the event.
“We will offer jicama shrimp tacos topped with fried leeks and a tamarind salsa, served with a side of spicy arbol salsa,” Garza said. “We wanted to provide a healthy version of a shrimp taco,” which is why they chose the jicama in place of a tortilla.
Ácenar will pair the dish with a spicy margarita that is made with jalapeño-infused tequila and fresh cucumber, with a chili-lime salt rim.
“We tried to add lots of flavor. We sautéed the shrimp in garlic and also added pico de gallo,” Aaron said. “We’re hoping for the best in the competition.”
Schechter said that for those who have never experienced the finest restaurants on the River Walk, this is their chance.
“What you spend at one restaurant you can spend eating in 10 of them,” she said.
Tickets are $30 for one day or $75 for all three days. To purchase tickets, click here. Tickets also can be purchased during event dates at the door of each “starting point” restaurant.
Each attendee receives a wristband, pocket guide, and a map of all featured restaurants, as well as a punch card to vote for the establishment of their choice to win each award. Punch cards will be turned in at the last restaurant and results will be posted on the San Antonio River Walk‘s official website the next day.
Top image: Pepper-crusted tuna escabeche with crispy wonton and micro cilantro next to a frozen prickly pear margarita outside of Iron Cactus Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar. Photo by Rocío Guenther.