By Chris Stouffer
I’ve heard over and over again that some of the best places to find amazing food are the small mom & pop restaurants….a hole in the wall if you will. La Gardenia on the near east side of San Antonio is no exception. I have to admit, after hearing about this place for the last couple of years, I finally gave in and decided to check it out one Wednesday afternoon while looking for a new place to eat.
La Gardenia is located at 1805 N Pine Street. Don’t let the neighborhood steer you away. The restaurant is nestled away in a cozy corner amongst what seemed like more of a residential neighborhood, which is perfect because you’re away from traffic and urban noise. I noticed people parking in the empty lot just across the street from the restaurant, but I opted to park along the side of the road. The outside didn’t seem very flashy or attention-getting, but the inside told a whole other story.
One of servers acknowledged us right away and asked that we sit where we pleased. Not even two minutes after sitting down, menus were immediately delivered to our table along with complimentary chips and salsa. Even the menus were very distinct, as each one had its own unique artwork on the cover so that no menu was the same. Interestingly enough, mine had a Mexican style wrestler in traditional lucha libre attire holding up a large flower, of what I’m guessing to be from a gardenia plant.
The menu offered many traditional Mexican breakfasts and lunch dishes including Chilaquiles, Migas, puffy tacos, and get this….BARBACOA! There was a time when barbacoa was only available in most restaurants on Sundays. I’m not sure why. Mexican tradition? Who knows? All I know is now that it’s available almost any day now, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. There were two barbacoa plates available on the menu. One clearly explained that the plate included: barbacoa, breakfast potatoes and refried beans. The other plate was simply named: barbacoa campesina.
Before I was even able to ask what the other included, as I told my server I wanted the barbacoa plate, she quickly asked if I wanted eggs. “SOLD,” was the first thing that ran through my mind, and no longer a need for an explanation as to the “campesina” part of the plate. I topped my order off with a Big Red for my drink. Big Red is a local favorite and goes hand-in-hand with barbacoa. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone in San Antonio. The plate wasn’t rushed out like many restaurants these days who sometimes seem to give me the impression the plate had been sitting there waiting to be ordered.
Instead, I was made to wait at least a good 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, I was able to enjoy sitting in the midst of all the natural lighting pouring in from the outside. Large windows surrounded the place giving me a great view of the old neighborhood. I watched as one person walked their dog and a couple of others waited at the corner for a bus. Oddly enough, I never heard a bus go by. Maybe I was just too entertained by the conversations around me. It seemed every time a patron walked in, the servers instantly knew who they were, as if this were a daily ritual. And by the delicious food that came out a short while later, I wouldn’t doubt it.
The food seemed as fresh as fresh could get. The service was not only friendly, but it seemed like the servers were genuinely concerned we were getting the best possible service. They were on top of it! And if the food weren’t enough, adjacent to the restaurant portion of the business was a bakery where everything is baked fresh daily. How can you go wrong with food, baked goods, and amazing service to boot?
If you haven’t yet tried this place, I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong. La Gardenia is on the northwest corner of N Pine and E Carson Streets in the historic Government Hill area of San Antonio. It’s Mexican cuisine at it’s finest with more than reasonable prices. Come for the great food, leave with something for your sweet tooth. Keep in mind they’re open Monday – Saturday from 6:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. For more information, call (210) 229-9702.