While in San Antonio earlier this summer for a business conference, we had finished up for the week and decided that we wanted to get some good Mexican food while we were in town. We were staying at the La Cantera Resort for the conference and we were asking the concierge where there was really good Mexican food close by. She told us that there was a place just down the road off of Interstate 10 by the name of Pappasito's Cantina that was very good. I had seen the sign - it was tough not to as you were going by - and I immediately knew where the place was. We decided to head to Pappasito's for some good ol' Mexican food and a couple of big margaritas.
One of the problems of going to a city or an area that I'm not overly familiar with, I didn't know that Pappasito's was a chain. Had I known that, I probably would have asked to go to another Mexican restaurant. Plus, it turns out that the founders of the company were of Greek heritage, not Mexican. And, Pappasito's is part of the same corporation that owns the Pappadeux Seafood Kitchen restaurants, Pappas Bar-B-Q, Pappas Burger, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and other restauants throughout Texas, but also in Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado. (Disclaimer - I have eaten at a couple Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen's in the past and I found them to be actually quite good.)
Family patriarch H.D. Pappas immigrated from Greece in the late 19th century and eventually opened restaurants in Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee before settling in Dallas before World War II. Two of his four sons, Pete and Jim, moved to Houston just after World War II to start up a franchise that sold beer coolers to bars and restaurants in South Texas. The brothers eventually turned that venture into a restaurant supply business that was very profitable.
Though business was good for the Pappas brothers, they found that it was also very cyclical - there would be a lull for new restaurants during economic downtimes. In 1967, they decided to get into the restaurant business themselves and opened the Brisket House barbecue (now Pappas Bar-B-Q) and purchased the Dot Coffee Shop in downtown Houston. Jim Pappas' sons Harris, Chris and Greg joined their father and their uncle in the business in the early 70's.
After Jim Pappas died in 1982 (Pete died in 2005), the brothers took an aggressive business stance by expanding the Pappas restaurant company into highly profitable Mexican and Cajun restaurants in the Houston area. After they got up to 25 locations in the greater Houston area, they expanded into San Antonio and Austin.
The brothers opened their first upscale Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in 1993 after a reconfiguring of their Strawberry American Bistro that they originally opened in 1976. Tragically, Greg Pappas died in a car accident on a Houston highway in 1995. Harris and Chris continued on and currently still head the corporation that now has 85 restaurants under its umbrella. And their children are also involved in the company handling everything from marketing and customer relations to property management to the corporation's own meat company to culinary research for the restaurants.
Even though there are now 21 Pappasito's Cantina's in Texas, there's only the one in San Antonio. It's located on a frontage road off of I-10 on the northwest side of San Antonio between the Heubner and Wurzbach Road exits. (see map) There is a large parking lot behind the building and we were lucky to find a place to park on a busy Friday evening.
We knew that we would be in for quite a wait even though Pappasito's Cantina was a rather large place. And there were a lot of people waiting for a table near the hostess stand. One of the young girls at the stand told us that it would be about a 30 minutes wait for a table, or we could have dinner at the bar if we were so inclined. She asked for my phone number and she said that she would text me when a table came available. My colleague, John, said, "Well, I'd say it's time for a margarita!"
"Or two", I replied enthusiastically.
It just so happened that a couple were getting up from their seats toward the end of the long bar. We took their seats and it wasn't long until I got a text message from the hostess stand. It said something to the effect that if we wanted to eat at the bar to text back to them. I asked John, "Do you want to just eat at the bar?"
Other people were eating at the bar and after looking around a bit, we decided to just eat there. I texted back that we'd just eat at the bar and we settled in.
After getting a couple of Herradura silver margaritas, one of the bartenders gave us a basket of fresh chips and a kick-ass smoky chipotle salsa to go with it. We decided that we needed some guacamole to go along with the chips and it wasn't long before a large plate of fresh guacamole showed up in front of us. It was very good and very rich.
I went to the restroom and discovered on my way that they were making fresh tortillas on a machine toward the back of the dining area. That was a good sign - the only thing better was if some little old lady was hand-making them on a grill.
The menu at the Pappasito's in San Antonio appears to be the same for the other 20 locations. While the menu wasn't extensive like you'd find at other Mexican restaurants, there were enough interesting items that caught my attention. First of all, they had fish tacos - either fried or grilled tilapia filets. They also had beef brisket and pulled pork tacos, as well. They had five different types of enchiladas, as well as specialties such as chicken, shrimp, beef or steak fajitas; a skewer of mesquite-grilled shrimp stuffed with cheese and jalapeños, then wrapped in bacon; and a half-rack pork ribs/shrimp combination; and a chipotle glazed salmon with a masa (or dough) encrusted crab cake.
We both went with enchiladas - John went with the beef brisket enchiladas which featured 3 enchiladas topped with a cheese sauce and fresh cilantro. The requisite refried beans (topped with shredded cheese) and Mexican rice (with chopped tomatoes) came with both dinners.
I went with a combination of the pork (2) and the brisket enchiladas (1) with a roasted chile verde/sour cream sauce on top. The pulled pork was delicious - it was shredded, moist and tender. The brisket was also good, although I couldn't get much of a mesquite taste out of the beef. Then again, I was catching what turned out to be a monster cold (my wife had gotten a bad cold on our trip to Southern California and I caught it from her) and my taster was starting to go haywire.
Although Pappasito's Cantina turned out to be a chain, I was happy enough with the food I ate there. I'm sure there are better Mexican food places in San Antonio and I made up my mind that I wouldn't mind coming back to San Antonio at some point to explore not only the town but the Hill Country that stretches north of the city. I'm sure I'll find good Mexican food if I really look in San Antonio, but if you're not familiar with the city and want good Mexican food you can't go wrong with Pappacito's. (Photo compliments My San Antonio.com)