SAN ANTONIO — Turns out there is only one authentic Tex-Mex restaurant in this city, and everyone knows what it is.
Acenar. “Only Mexican restaurant on the River Walk,” says a cabbie, dismissing the others. Oh, sorry, we meant La Fonda on Main. “How’d you hear about that one?” says an impressed local. No, wait, it’s El Mirador. “That’s the only Mexican restaurant I go to,” says a matron in a gift shop. Mi Tierra, others insist.
Take your pick, chances are it will be fun, festive and better food than you’ve had elsewhere. That’s one of the charms of San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million that somehow manages to remain true to its downhome, multi-cultural roots. The estimated 6,000 people attending the American Farm Bureau Federation convention here this week have discovered a city that’s proud of its history and confident of where it’s going.
“It’s still polite,” says a lifelong resident on the connecting flight from Dallas-Fort Worth. “It’s like any city, you stay out of the doldrums at night, but it’s laid back.”
Polite is right. Residents are happy to give directions, make recommendations and simply pass the time of day with visitors. The downtown area, with the River Walk providing pleasant access to shops, restaurants and historic sites, is a hit with tourists. It turns lively at night, when the drinks flow and western, mariachi and Texas swing music pounds from multiple venues.
But beyond the friendliness is a distinct “Don’t Mess with Texas” line that visitors shouldn’t cross. Get goofy at The Alamo, for example, and grim, armed park Rangers are likely to let you know such behavior isn’t tolerated. The shrine, site of the 13-day battle in 1836 during the Texas Revolution, is a solemn, stirring place – and don’t you forget it, sir, until you pay for that $12.95 coon skin hat in the gift shop. David Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and the other Alamo martyrs are entombed nearby at the San Fernando Cathedral in the Main Plaza downtown.
Texan pride is on display in the enormous convention hall where the meeting is held. One hallway is filled with statues of Texas notables, and it’s an impressive list: Travis, Sam Houston, Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Baines Johnson, but also Commanche leader Quanah Parker, composer Scott Joplin, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and champion golfer and track athlete Babe Zaharias.
Probably as a joke, someone on Monday hung a Canadian flag shopping bag on the outstretched hand of the statue of Stephen Austin, the “Father of Texas.”
It was removed in about two minutes.