Before you even line up to order—as you wend your way through the big lemon-yellow and tangerine room, under the magenta and blue chandeliers and the grinning folk-art animal heads, around the statue of a fat skeleton mariachi with cherry-red eyes—you’re already having a blast, and you haven’t taken a single bite. On a quiet, wooded bend of the river a little bit south of downtown San Antonio, chef Johnny Hernandez has opened his first hamburger joint, and it is something else.
Burgerteca puts the maximum Mexican spin on the all-American burger. Are you in the mood for something that tastes like a favorite taco? Try the Al Pastor: it’s six ounces of 80 percent–lean Certified Angus chuck liberally seasoned with achiote and guajillo and ancho chiles, then tricked out with grilled pineapple, manchego cheese, and a crisp tangle of cilantro and slivered cabbage. What about something a little more health-oriented? That would be the Pacífica, two wedges of seared tuna nestled in cabbage slaw and sesame seeds, swiped with jalapeño-lime mayo, and crowned with a fan of dewy sliced avocado (it also looks great on Instagram). Or maybe you’ve decided to damn the diet for the day. Then you should definitely get the Chile con Queso. The medium-cooked patty wallows in refried beans, house-made corn chips, and a lava flow of melty white cheese. The menu goes on for seven more burgers and a couple of hot dogs, plus salads and fries (the ones with mole sauce and pickled red onion are amazing). If you can’t find something that sounds irresistible, I have to ask: Are you feeling okay?
Burgerteca is the fourth distinct Mexican concept in 49-year-old Hernandez’s string of sixteen restaurants, and it expands the skill set he introduced in 2010 at his first place, La Gloria: adapting Mexico’s culinary heritage for the tastes of modern San Antonio. Clearly, he has nailed it here. On all my visits, the tables were filled with families, outdoorsy-looking couples, and residents of nearby condos. Some were taking a break from gallery hopping at the nearby Blue Star Arts Complex, others pausing while biking the Mission Reach trail, which winds several more miles south, past four historic Spanish missions. Nobody was in a hurry. Everybody was enjoying the vibe.
But back to the food: Was everything perfect? Well, no, but I didn’t have a lot of quibbles. True, the Chicken Chipotle burger was dryish. Actually, so was the tuna. The aforementioned Queso burger was unwieldy, and the totally outrageous Enchilada burger (with two enchiladas between the buns) was a confusing mash-up. But for each individual problem, there were many things I deeply loved, like the sweetish house-made brioche-style buns and the fries (soft and pillowy inside, tender-crisp on the outside). If I had more room, I’d rave about the lineup of chilly desserts—raspas, paletas, ice creams, sorbets—many flaunting exotic tropical fruit flavors. Come summer, they’ll be a reason to visit all by themselves.
403 Blue Star, San Antonio
L&D 7 days.
Opened December 12, 2017