The smart money already knows that the number and quality of restaurants, breweries, distilleries, markets, and food producers in San Antonio is increasing and expanding every year. Gone are the days when it was just a place to bring the kids to see killer whales and visit amusement parks. It is now a serious adult’s playground, and can be a job to keep up with.
One restaurant that can fly under your radar, on account of its off-the-beaten-track location on the city’s east side, is Amaya’s Cocina. The building, an old gas station daubed in a 1960s purple color scheme that out-gaudys Gaudi is hard to miss at the corner of East Commerce and Hackberry and the parking methodology out front looks like one of those entropy diagrams from physics books (there is more parking across the street). All of which conceals an establishment serving good tacos and excelling in some other things on the menu.
A case in point is Amaya Meets The Pair, a poached pear salad topped with crisp bacon and jalapeño cream cheese ($5.50, breakfast and lunch). The distinctive flavor of pear mingles with a braising liquid of white wine and aromatics and an emulsion of the cream cheese with the fiery chiles. The addition of sprinkled micro greens over the top make you wonder if Caitline Nykiel, at nearby Saveurs 209, or David Gilbert, at Citrus, has not taken over the kitchen for a day and added a French section.
Another example is Fideo’s Revenge ($10, lunch), a hand-rolled pasta dish with ground beef, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh cheese for uncompromised Italian.
The reason for these unusual touches is the chef working the tiny kitchen, Victoria Benevides, trained in Paris and worked in London as the private chef of a wealthy family. She returned to San Antonio for family reasons.
There is also a respectable list of more mainstream dishes at both breakfast and lunch. We enjoyed the huevos rancheros ($7.50) where a base of papas frijoles were the consistency of mashed potato but had a black bean taste. They washed down well with Mexican coke ($2).
Lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) continues to offer the taco selection ($1.35 to $2.85) but adds more: a seafood dish Fish In The Fall ($9) which is blackened Tilapia tacos spooned with roasted garlic jalapeño crema and finished with Brussels sprouts and pear salad. A pork chop named Below The Hill 2.0 ($9.50) which is a guisada (stew) smothered pork chop on oven roasted sweet potatoes, and Butternut Tacofication ($8), baked butternut squash paired with cashew salsa and cotija on a flour tortilla.
All this is done in a made-from-scratch kitchen. That includes the pasta and even the tortillas. And it is served by cheerful staff. Amaya’s joins San Antonio’s long list of good Mexican food and is definitely worth a visit.