From breakfast tacos to pan dulce, puffy tacos to fideo, San Antonio is known for its food. Recognized by Texas Monthly as having some of the best taquerias in the state and by UNESCO as a Creative City of Gastronomy — one of just two cities in the United States — San Antonio has certainly made its culinary mark.
While locals might have their go-to restaurants cooking up hometown favorites, when it comes to whipping them up in your own home, where do you start?
We asked San Antonio’s UNESCO-named chef ambassadors to show us the way.
First, you should understand San Antonio’s culinary culture and history.
In a city with 65% of the population identifying as Hispanic, many with Mexican heritage, the predominant culinary influence comes from south of the border. John Brand of Hotel Emma and Potluck Hospitality said Mexicans living in San Antonio cooked what they knew how, but with the ingredients they had readily available. For example, people did not have access to white cheese, so they made use of orange cheese. Black beans were subbed for pinto beans, and flour tortillas for corn tortillas. Tex-Mex was born.
Long before the advent of Tex-Mex, the Coahuiltecans relied on the mesquite tree for everything from sweetener to flour. Indigenous groups across Texas also used earth ovens to slow-cook food, a practice that local barbacoa pitmasters continue to this day.
Jesse “Chef Kirk” Kuykendall of Ocho and Milpa describes San Antonio as a place with “lots of culture, but one culture.” Although Tex-Mex may be the biggest attraction for tourists, San Antonio is a melting pot of Latin American cuisines, like Peruvian at 210 Ceviche Seafood and Mariscos, Honduran at Tienda Centro America and Guatemalan at Beto’s Alt Mex. This influence comes from chefs who have moved to the city and made it their home.
To cook the San Antonio way is to cook simply and flavorfully. To keep it simple, Kuykendall suggests starting with tacos. Grab yourself a pack of corn tortillas, cook some protein, and make a salsa — spicy if you can handle it. Top it off with fresh cilantro, onion, and jalapeño, and you have yourself a simple, yet flavorful San Antonio meal.
If you want to get more advanced, pick a recipe by your favorite local chef from San Antonio Cooks: Favorite Recipes from Local Chefs and Restaurants by Julia Celeste Rosenfeld — or look to social media chefs like Jerry Yguerabide for inspiration.
Once you have found the right recipe for you, gather the right ingredients. For Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, you’ll likely need peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and some kind of protein as your staples. Chefs recommend shopping local to support small businesses, which are integral parts of the community.
Farmers markets like the ones at Mission Marquee Plaza, Alamo Quarry and the Pearl are great bets for staying local and sustainable. Stephen Paprocki of Chef Cooperatives recommends Green Bexar Farm at the Pearl’s farmers market, the only Texas farmer he knows who grows ginger. This vendor also sells microgreens and fresh heirloom tomatoes. In addition to farmer’s markets, Brand recommends the grocery store La Michoacana and Central Provisions in Centerpoint which sells indigenous ingredients, like black gold garlic.
If you are not quite ready to cook on your own, classes around the city can teach you kitchen basics. Central Market offers a large variety of cooking classes through their cooking school and the Culinary Institute of America offers longer day classes and boot camps spanning multiple days. In addition, UNESCO hosts numerous events, like “Pueblos del Maiz,” a month-long celebration highlighting maiz as a traditional ingredient found in local foods and beverages.
Lourdes Perez shares recipes for San Antonio favorites like fideo loco and chicken on a stick on TikTok and YouTube, while Jerry Yguerabide guides his more than one million TikTok followers through recipes for dishes like pork belly chicharrones and barbacoa gorditas. Their approachable style encourages home cooks to try their hand at some South Texas favorites, whether it’s a complex, from-scratch dish or one that allows for an assist from prepped ingredients from H-E-B. Whatever your comfort level in the kitchen, you, too, can cook the San Antonio way.
Read More: How to cook the San Antonio way