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Little Rhein

San Antonio


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With all the focus on its Mexican heritage, restaurants, marketplace and other features, it is often forgotten that San Antonio also has a strong German influence. In the 1800s a large German population migrated to South Texas and moved into the former La Villita neighborhood. One of the modern icons from that era is the Little Rhein, a steakhouse on the south shore of the Riverwalk. As you walk along the river, when you come to the outdoor theatre, take the steps (shown below) up to the La Villita neighborhood, and you'll see the front door of the Little Rhein (above right). From the restaurant's main floor, the windows look directly down on the seats of the theatre. There's a lot of history in this building and this restaurant, but the main reason you come is for the food. There is a sizeable population in San Antonio that considers this their ONLY steak restaurant. It is in the top 10 rankings of quite a few critics.

For starters, the Little Rhein has won 11 Awards of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine, including this year. They have built their reputation on attention to detail, and the detail begins with the menu surrounding the steaks. They put a lot of effort into the starters, salads, and sides. Starters usually include escargot, crab stuffed avocado, smoked salmon and shrimp. The Little Rhein likes the play of seafood against steak. Sides usually include asparagus, spinach, onions, potatoes, and mushrooms.

Of the four salads, we especially like the beef steak tomatoes stuffed with red onion and crumbled roquefort.

Like most upscale restaurants these days, the Little Rhein offers a limited menu so they can concentrate on a few items done exceedingly well. The menu includes five steaks : prime bone in strip loin, prime ribeye, center cut filet mignon, petit center cut filet mignon, and prime porterhouse. Remember you're in Texas. These are large, thick steaks. And they are not the kind of steaks one uses A-1, Worcestershore or other sauces on. The flavor of these steaks speaks for itself.

This is also the kind of restaurant with a very knowledgeable wait staff. You need to use their insight. Always allow your waiter to recommend the best wine to accompany your order. They didn't win those 11 national wine awards without maintaing a great wine cellar, but unless you live in town and eat here every week, you can't keep up with what is current. So don't try and outguess their wine collection. Let them choose your wine for you.

However, this is a small restaurant, it has a loyal following, and many hotel concierges recommend it to their guests. We highly recommend you eat early, 5:00-6:00, or if you must eat later, call ahead for a reservation. And if you're eating on a Friday or Saturday night, you should be calling a day ahead.

But this need to eat early could be very convenient. After dinner, you should still have the daylight left to let you spend half an hour or an hour roaming around the historic La Villita area. The Little Rhein building, built in 1847 by Otto Bombach, is shown here. It was the first two story building in San Antonio except for the cathedral and missions. Bombach used it for his family residence and a store. It was later converted to a saloon and, finally, the Little Rhein. To upgrade it to restaurant quality, Frank Phelps invested quite a bit of money. The brass lights in the dining room once illuminated the Federal Courthouse in Chicago. The wooden booths are from the old train depot in Katy, Texas. The front door is one of the three remaining San Antonio front doors still being used in the building they were original to from before 1850, not counting the old missions and the cathedral. The Little Rhein has been on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1972 and is protected locally by the San Antonio Conservation Society. But the whole neighborhood is filled with 150 year old homes restored and meticulously maintained, plus art, pottery, woven goods and other small shops. So walk off your dinner by exploring this area.

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