Guilty Pleasures @ Guilty Pleasure, Itaewon

I have a new algorithm that helps me determine whether or not something I eat is blogworthy, or will simply be shared as a square, filtered photo and a punchy caption on my Instagram. It’s impossible to explain, not because it’s arbitrary, but because it’s, like, super complex. It inputs factors like photogenicity of dishes, number of dishes deemed photogenic (need at least 3 for blog), how much I enjoy the food, how unique the food is, whether there is a deeper story and wider narrative to the meal that goes beyond just me shoveling delicious food into my mouth because I’m hungry, whether something funny or otherwise noteworthy happened during the meal, whether the meal leaves such a lasting impression that I’m still happy to blog about it three months after the event, and so on.

All that to say, any place that makes it onto my blog should feel totally honoured. Also, FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM! You will get all (well, most) of my food and none of my babble (maybe just a little bit).

The lucky star of today’s blog is a place I found out about from a Facebook post on the “Top 5 Mac and Cheese in Seoul.” Before Korea, mac and cheese was something that came out of a Kraft box and was only eaten by poor uni students when they ran out of Mee Goreng. But now that I’m practically an honorary American (sorry, that’s what expat life does to ya!) I’m totally into stuff like mac and cheese. A restaurant in Itaewon called “Guilty Pleasure” (love the name, too) had, by far, the sexiest mac and cheese on the list so it raced up to the no. 1 spot on my TBE List (To Be Eaten List – I just made that up, let’s turn it into a thing.)

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If you didn’t know this was a restaurant, the bright blue neon signage that greets you at the door could easily confuse you into thinking that the pleasures being offered here were quite a bit guiltier than moreish Southern America cuisine. But it’s just the design concept guys. The only sin being committed here is gluttony… and maybe covetousness as you look over at your neighbour’s table.

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We sat outside on the little terrace which has a VERY different vibe to the dark, moody bar inside the restaurant. The place has a great concept – “The Food You Crave,” and by “You” they mean North Americans because the menu includes all the things that my American/Canadian friends can’t shut up about – mac and cheese, biscuits, southern fried chicken, poutine, etc. The Australian version of this place would have hot chips and gravy, meat pies, sausage rolls, fish & chips, smashed avocado on toast, cheesymite scrolls… omg should I open this restaurant?! If anyone has a few hundred thousand dollars lying around and is looking for a fun but risky investment, let me know!

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The napkin’s are printed with this AWESOME quote from Bruno the dog and made me smile that special smile you smile when you go to a restaurant and realise that they share your fatty boombah food philosophy. I wanted to give the owner/chef a high five.

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The mac and cheese comes out in a souffle dish looking swag like a cheese brulee. It costs 10,000 won which is A LOT for a side dish, but it is a rather deluxe version of the American classic. Cauliflower and cheese base, bacon lardons, pulled pork and truffle oil. It’s basically impossible for the combination of all those things to not be crazy delicious.

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And crazy delicious it certainly was. The “truffle oil” wasn’t just a menu trick to justify the price tag, the flavour was really strong and there was plenty of bacon and pulled pork in there to keep things interesting. The cheese sauce was thick and tasty, like it was mostly melted cheddar with just enough milk to give it a creamy texture. The best mac and cheese I’ve ever had in my limited experience – substantial, too! Better shared between a party of three or more people… but even just me and my fellow hungry girl friend managed to clean it up pretty good.

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We also got the Cuban Sandwich (15,000 won), which is THE sandwich of the hour thanks to the movie Chef. Korea is going through a cooking show / celebrity chef CRAZE right now so the movie was really popular here and Cubanos are popping up everywhere. And honestly, as a far as sandwiches are concerned, the Cuban is worth going a but nuts over. Two types of pork (ham and roasted), a layer of pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard between crusty bread that’s buttered and toasted. I had my first one at a sandwich place in Itaewon (Rye Post) and felt confused about why this amazing thing had taken so long to become a worldwide phenomenon. Seriously, why have we been eating chicken salad sandwiches, and ham and cheese sandwiches, and roast beef sandwiches when we could have been eating Cubanos?

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The Cuban here is not really by the book, and while Fidel may disapprove of the liberties taken with this particular version, I give it two greasy thumbs up. It comprises homemade duck prosciutto (didn’t know such a thing existed, but I’m thankful that it does), pork loin confit, Swiss cheese, pickle, Dijon mustard aioli, on a pressed Italian roll. The cuisines of five different nations went into making this sandwich, and they should all be proud. The buttery bread and the salty-fatty meat should really be too much to stomach but the mustard and pickle do a really great job balancing things out, and before you know it all you’re left with is crumbs.

We probably could have stopped there, but you can’t eat conservatively at a place called “Guilty Pleasure.” We were here to indulge our tastebuds and fatten our bellies without shame.

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It was a really tough choice between the duck poutine (french fries topped with duck confit, served with brown duck gravy and paremesan cheese) and the buttermilk fried chicken but there is something about the words “buttermilk fried chicken” that is irresistible. This is 3/4 baby chicken with house special spice served with house buttermilk biscuits and country sausage gravy (17,000 won).

Buttermilk fried chicken usually refers to chicken that is brined in buttermilk and spices, but since the menu description only mentions buttermilk in relation to the biscuits, now I’m questioning whether there was any buttermilk involved in cooking the chicken at all. But that’s actually besides the point, because regardless of how they prepared it, the chicken was freaking good. The batter was dark gold, crispy, and light and was perfectly seasoned with Southern spices.

Honestly, I’m kind of sick of Korean Fried Chicken – it’s relies so much on sauce and marinade and the plain fried chicken (which I like best) tends to be under-seasoned so that all you can taste is frying oil. I actually miss the 11 secret herbs and spices of good ol’ KFC.

As for the biscuits and gravy… they got no love from us. We left them almost completely untouched. I’m really struggling to get on board the American style biscuits and gravy train. It’s still weird for me to see buttery scones and a chunky white sauce when, to my Aussie brain, the name suggests sweet cookies and glossy brown beef gravy. I also can’t handle eating a buttery scone-like “biscuit” with a savoury meal – it’s too weird! And let’s be honest guys, sausage gravy looks like vomit. I know ya’ll love the stuff, but come on, you can’t deny the resemblance. It’s a thick white sauce with big chunks of ground meat in it. Fair enough if you’ve grown up eating it but for me… no thank you. Not yet anyway. My Americanizzzzzation has not reached that level.

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Guilty Pleasure was one of the most satisfying non-Korean food experiences I’ve had in Seoul. The menu takes American home-cooked classics that could easily be mediocre and turns them into something a little more cosmopolitan, without sacrificing any of the high-fat, high-carb, high-flavour charm that makes this kind of food so comforting. So whether you’re a fatty, or a foodie, or a foodie-fatty like myself, there’s plenty to be enjoyed at Guilty Pleasure. Just remember to leave your conscience at the door.

Guilty Pleasure
1F, 2-10 Itaewon-ro 20-gil,
Yongsan-gu
Seoul, Korea

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Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q4: BBQ for Breakfast

With our utter failure to find an open barbecue truck on Monday and only one morning left to spend in Austin, the idea of having to leave without even trying its world famous barbecue was becoming a real possibility. We had planned a full day of of outlet shopping for Tuesday, and while I was willing to forego that for food, Matt was not and as desperate as I was, I wasn’t prepared to break up our marriage over smoked brisket.

I needed to find a place where we could eat as early and as quickly as possible, which effectively meant that we were going to have to eat barbecue for breakfast but I didn’t have a problem with that.

So this was my plan: check out of our hotel and drive to the La Barbecue truck about half an hour before its opening time of 11 am, PRAY that there isn’t a line, and hopefully be finished eating by midday, leaving us plenty of time to go shopping and stick to our schedule for remainder of the day.

I woke up that morning feeling incredibly anxious. I kept on visualising driving up to the truck, seeing a ridiculously long line, and being forced to just turn around and watch my barbecue dreams slowly fade away as we drove off into the distance . . .

Luckily, the barbecue gods decided to give me a fair go that day. We arrived at La Barbecue at 10:30 am and HOORAY there was only a handful of people waiting on the picnic benches.

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This is when I started to let myself get excited.

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La Barbecue is owned and run by LeAnn Mueller, who hails from a Texan barbecue dynasty. Her brother John runs John Mueller Meat Co which is a name you’ll find alongside La Barbecue on almost every “Best BBQ” list about Texas. Mueller enlisted the expertise of pitmaster John Lewis (ex-Franklin Barbecue, nicknamed the “badass brisket boy” and now moving on to open his own restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina) and after swinging open its trailer doors in late 2012, La Barbecue very quickly become a top contender in the Austin BBQ stakes.

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I didn’t really expect such a famous food hotspot to look so… dingy. I guess all the money goes into the meats and the pitmaster’s salary.

This is the firepit trailer. It fits thirty-two briskets, twenty-four racks of beef ribs, sixteen racks of pork ribs, three whole turkey breasts, and six pork butts. Basically, an entire farm of animal carcasses (sorry vegetarians!)

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The menu is written out in marker on big sheet of butcher’s paper confirming that absolutely zero dollars are going into design and decor here. As 11am approached and a line began to form, we studied the menu and realized that our original plan of just walking up to the counter and saying “one of everything, please!” wasn’t going to work out, especially with beef ribs costing $22 + tax per pound, and each rib weighing almost 2 lbs.

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In the line there was a mix of people who were clearly tourists (couples like us who were over-excited, stressed about what to order, and taking photos all over the place), and men who were there by themselves or with a mate, with their hands in their pockets just chillin’ like they were in the line at McDonalds. The guys in front of us looked like they were local regulars so we asked them for recommendations on what to order.

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They recommended the brisket (duh) and the beef ribs, and also mentioned the sausage was pretty good. Given the cost and size of the beef rib, we decided against it since Matt and I aren’t really big beef-eaters. Matt wanted pork ribs because they’re his fave, and I wanted to try some turkey because I’m a sucker for turkey meat and I’ve never had it barbecued. As we approached the counter, they gave each person a small cube of brisket as a sample. As I bit into it, the explosion of fatty, salty, juicy, smokey flavor made me shout “OMG THIS IS SO GOOD!” so loud that Matt got upset and told me to calm down and stand further away from him.

After a lot of careful thought, this was our final order: 3/4 pound brisket, 1 pound pork ribs (Matt’s choice), 1/4 pound turkey (my choice) and 1 sausage. On the side, chipotle coleslaw and pinto beans. About fifty dollars in total, including tax.

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BEHOLD THE GLORY!

I can hear my stomach weep as I look over these photos.

We sat down at a table with, not a plate, not a platter, but a TRAY full of meat and began to eat the greasiest, most carnivorous brunch of our lives.

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The pork ribs were spice-rubbed and glazed so shiny you could almost see your face in them. The meat fell off the bone like the it didn’t want anything to do with it, and in my opinion these were the best pork ribs I’ve had in my life. Matt prefers his ribs saucier, but he still polished these off within minutes.

The turkey breast was just okay – grilled as a breast alone it didn’t have the juiciness off turkey meat bathed in butter and roasted whole for hours in the oven. It would be good in a sandwich, but by itself it was just taking up precious stomach space I needed to reserve for brisket.

Did someone say brisket?

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OH-OHHH!

These days, any old food photo is hashtag food porn, but the brisket in this picture is so fleshy and sensual that it almost makes me blush. Covered in a crusty black salt and pepper rub that fades into a scarlet smoke ring, there’s a layer of perfectly rendered fat dripping into the butcher’s paper, and the meat falls apart on impact with tray.

Brisket is not a naturally tender cut of meat (it’s a muscle that acts as a cow’s collarbone) so cooking it well is a labour of love and at La Barbecue, it spends twelve to fifteen hours in the pit. If something takes FIFTEEN hours to cook (not including the time it takes to pre-rub and rub) you can be pretty confident that the final product is worth the effort.

Smoked and slow-cooked, the flavour of the meat is as intense as you’d expect. I’ve never had beef that tasted so … beefy. It was like rehydrated black pepper jerky – which doesn’t  make it sound very delicious but if you love beef jerky as much as I do, this is a very good thing. The meat is greasy and the flavour is intense, so eating it with white bread and chipotle slaw (the slaw is really good here btw) helps keep your tastebuds from being too overwhelmed. I’m not quite caveman enough to just eat the meat by itself.

The brisket was so different from anything I’d eaten before, I loved it just for the cultural experience and bragging rights. As much as I wanted it to be the best thing I ate in Texas, that honor still belongs to (don’t judge) my Chick-Fil-A Chicken sandwich. What was even more unexpected, however, was that it wasn’t even the best thing we ate at La Barbecue. It was shockingly upstaged by something we added to our order just because it was cheap and worth a try: the Texas Hot Guts sausage.

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The sausage is bright red like a bell pepper and is so fat it looks ready to pop like a pork intestine balloon. Sausage making is a craft of its own, so even the most expert BBQ-ers outsource to professionals. But the sausage at La Barbecue is a John Lewis original. It’s built with a foundation of coarse, greasy beef and is packed with all kinds of secret spices. It is so red, hot, and salty that it was more like a juicy beef chorizo than the BBQ sausages that I’m used to. If we ever find ourselves back at La Barbecue, we won’t be there for the brisket, we’ll be stocking up on the sausages.

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So in about thirty minutes, “Omg I think we ordered too much food” turned into an empty tray of grease-soaked butcher’s paper.

We may have eaten this meal with plastic cutlery on a damp wooden picnic table, but the food was world class. Even with my limited experience, I know it’ll be a long time before we eat barbecue this excellent again. I give it four… no, five out of five NBA championship rings.

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Now we carry a little piece of Austin with us wherever we go in the pound of weight we each gained from that one meal. “See this new chin I’ve grown? Yeah, I got that all the way from Austin, Texas.”

We knew that San Antonio was way behind Austin in the Texas BBQ rankings, but we still wanted to give it a try. San Antonio BBQ isn’t really famous outside of San Antonio, so I relied on Yelp to help me find a local favorite.

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The Big Big (great name) is ranked #1 on Yelp and is located just off the highway. Unlike the cool backyard trailer of La Barbecue, this place had more of a truck driver’s diner vibe.

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With Spurs logo painted on the wall and a friendly “You deserve to eat this good” greeting us, we liked this place from the moment we walked in. Here you can buy meats by the pound or as a plate of one or two meats with two sides of your choice.

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Even though I wasn’t a HUGE fan of the brisket at La Barbecue, I can’t resist ordering the local speciality when I travel so I got the brisket again, with some pulled pork, collard greens and pinto beans. Collard greens because I saw them on Top Chef and I’ve always wondered what they tasted like. They’re mushy and gross, it turns out. Like someone stewed up some random plants from the yard because they didn’t have any other vegetables to serve with their meat.

You can see from the photo that the brisket here was no where near as glamorous as the one at La Barbecue. It was still tender, but the smoky flavor was milder which I actually quite liked. The pulled pork was just pulled pork and was not really a smart choice on my part. I should have gone for the bbq chicken.

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Matt got the pork ribs (of course), which were good but nothing particularly special. I think he enjoyed his sweet potato casserole even more than his meat.

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I got pretty excited about the bottomless styrofoam soda cups which were as big as my face (“This is SO American!”) but people tell me this isn’t actually that big haha.

We finished our plates (with the exception of the icky collard greens) but felt like something was a bit lacking. So, as fatties do, we went back to the counter and ordered some more food. Since we had such a good sausage experience in Austin, we thought we’d try the Jalapeno sausage here too.

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Really spicy and tasty, as all sausages are, but I think the hot red sausage at La Barbecue ruined us for life. Nothing will ever come close.

This was all I was meant to get but as I was waiting in line I saw all these framed newspaper clippings raving about the peach cobbler, so I thought I’d just add that to the order for dessert.

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It was good but SUPER sweet and we could only handle a few spoonfuls.

If La Barbecue is the hipster, “fine dining” version of Texas Barbecue, The Big Bib is your friendly mom and pop’s. Cheap and cheerful – the whole meal cost us about half of our tray from La Barbecue. I give it a rarely seen, very special Kawhi smile.

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And with a heavy heart, I now end the four-part saga that was my trip to Texas; a place I fell in love with so fast and deep I actually wept at San Antonio airport as we waited for our flight back home to Seoul.

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Texas: Austin, San Antonio, my Spurs, Sixth Street, the River Walk, Tex Mex, Chik-Fil-A, In-N-Out, and Barbecue – you are my new favourite. The hero of all my dreams. The place I would always rather be. I’ll miss you but I promise I’ll be back.

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Texas Trip of a Lifetime Q3: Eating and Drinking Down in Old San Antone

The most common response we received when we told people about this Texas trip was, “Wow, Heather, you’re such a good wife. Matt’s so lucky! I can’t believe you’re letting him go on this trip and that you’re actually going with him! I mean, San Antonio?! There is literally NOTHING in San Antonio.”

While I’ll happily accept the compliment (I’m amazing, thank you) the part about San Antonio is a little unfair. San Antonio turns out to be a really lovely city. Sure, it may not have a long list of famous attractions like Paris or New York, but it certainly has its own charms.

First of all, it is home to the mighty Spurs.

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Then, there is the Alamo which is like, a really big deal for reasons I’ve now forgotten (something to do with Texans, Mexicans, and Davey Crockett?)

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Third, there is the famous River Walk, which lines the banks of the San Antonio river with bars, cafes, and restaurants.

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During the day, its a relaxing barge ride down the river, admiring the Spanish-influenced architecture and learning about the city’s history. In the evening, it becomes a romantic stroll across footbridges and beside water sparkling from street lamps, to the music of mariachi singers.

Oh, and when the Spurs win the NBA championship, it’s where the whole city comes to celebrate and get a little bit (or a lot) crazy.

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Of course it’s touristy, but not in an obnoxious way. It’s warm, relaxed, and friendly – kind of like Sydney. Maybe that’s why we liked it so much. We were right in the middle of downtown, in the busiest area of the city, and it was still chill. “Chill” is a word that has escaped our vocabulary since moving to Korea, and I think that played a big part in how much we enjoyed this trip. It was the change of pace and scene that we didn’t even realize we were craving so badly. We were like two seventy-year-olds who just wanted to hold hands and walk slowly in a place that was small, clean, and quiet.

San Antonio isn’t really a foodie hotspot (though, I believe it is slowly growing into one). There’s no “20 Things You NEED to Eat in San Antonio” list on Buzzfeed, so I had to rely on TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews for research.

Our first stop after a lazy barge cruise was Boudro’s on the River Walk. This place had good reviews and seemed well-loved by locals and visitors alike, but what really won us were the ponchos they had laid out for outdoor diners.

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So warm and fashionable!

We ordered the “guacamole for two” ($9) which is described as “freshly prepared at your table.” Next thing we know, a massive trolley was being wheeled to our table carrying this glorious, glorious basket of avocados, limes, and oranges.

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My darling limes and avocados I MISSED YOU GUYS SO MUCH!! Avocados are a luxury item in Korea so I only get to eat them occasionally… and any restaurant that offers “guacamole” gives you a tablespoon-sized serving that you have to eat so sparingly that it kind of hurts your heart.

I’ve seen guacamole made “live” before but it was no where near as exciting as this. I mean, the avocado came on its own ROLLING STAGE! I sweetly asked the waitress for permission and she let me film the entire show.

A big juicy avo, kosher sea sealt, half a lime, a squeeze of orange juice, chopped red onion, fire roasted roma tomatoes (you can here me say “Wow” as she scoops those in) and cilantro.

WAIT. HOLD UP.

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I didn’t notice at the time, but watching the video I just realized . . . THERE IS A BOWL OF CHOPPED CHILLI ON THAT TROLLEY THAT SHE TOTALLY FORGOT TO PUT IN!

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You know what, it’s okay. I forgive her – she was clearly feeling the pressure in front of the camera. The guac was so amazing, the thought that something was missing didn’t even cross my mind. It was already packed with all kinds of superfresh flavors – the roasted tomatoes were especially good, turning this into an almost-salsa/guac hybrid dip.

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Accompanied with an American-sized cone of fresh tortilla chips.

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I ordered the Empanada Langosta ($15.50) because I saw it on someone else’s table and it looked incredible.

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Pan-seared lobster tail on a pepper jack cheese and spinach empanada, with avocado, crème fraiche and red pepper chipotle beurre blanc.

Is this Mexican/French fusion? Whatever it is, it works – the lobster was beautifully cooked and went really well with the rich chipotle sauce and fresh avocado. The empanada was a bit strange though – not sure why you would pair a doughy cheese dumpling with an elegant lobster tail.

Even though Boudro’s is “American” cuisine, most of the dishes have a Mexican influence, like Matt’s Blue Crab Tostada ($12.00).

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Gulf Coast seafood in a corn tortilla shell with tomato, avocado and melted jack cheese. Matt liked this so much he refused to share it with me.

We loved our meal at Boudro’s – service was amazing (because, Texas), and the food was a win both in quality and quantity. Before coming to America we were pretty worried at how annoyed we’d get at having to pay tax + tip on top of the menu prices, but we were so happy with the food and service at every single place we went we were just like,

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We went back to the riverside the next day on a non-game night for dinner at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest pub on the River Walk.

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The first thing you’ll notice as you walk in is the seemingly endless bar (the longest wooden bar top in Texas), with shelves packed with all kinds of colourful and highly lethal sprits. There’s a long line of cozy booth seats against the wall and a couple of bearded blokes in flannel shirts mixing drinks. It’s like wild wild west meets hipster small bar.

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One thing I really loved about San Antonio is how well-preserved their history is. The architecture, the landmarks, the neon signs – everything is, or looks, more than a hundred years old. The city seems to have very little interest in modernising itself – and why should it? I’ll take an old-timey saloon-style pub over a sleazy chic bar any day.

We didn’t make reservations, so they only had outdoor seating available for us. I was a bit disappointed about not being able to sit and soak in the dark, historic ambience inside, but the vibe on the balcony wasn’t bad at all.

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They sat us at a tiny table in a private corner of the balcony, overlooking the brightly lit river and, if you’d allow me to get mushy for a moment, it was really quite romantic.

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We started with cocktails. They weren’t messing around with the alcoholic concoctions here – this was hard cowboy liquor. The waitress warned me against my first choice because it was “quite boozy” (I must have “Lightwight with bad case of Asian flush” written all over my face) so I went for a breezy Pimm’s Cup (Pimm’s no. 1, lemon, cucumber, ginger beer). Matt on the other hand was like, “Give me the booziest you got!” so he ordered one (forget the name) that was basically three (or five?) shots of liquor served over a giant ice rock.

CHEERS!

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To start we ordered the deviled eggs ($7), which is the kind of appetiser Betty Draper would bring to a pot-luck, but seems to be making a “so daggy it’s cool now” come-back. You know how much I love my eggs so I’m always open to new ways to eat them. “Deviled” means hard boiled with the yolks scooped out, mixed with other things like mayonnaise and mustard, and then scooped back in again. These came with arugula and pink peppercorns.

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I’ve never experienced pink peppercorns as a salad topping before, and I don’t understand why because they were SO GOOD! They look like these gorgeous little berries, and give you a pleasant burst of light pepperiness as you bite into them. If they were more readily available, I’d sprinkle them on everything. And the deviled eggs, well, I already love hard boiled eggs and these were just pimped up versions of the same. I might need channel my inner 1970’s housewife and make these the next time I have dinner guests.

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We also ordered the chilli salt fries ($3) because I couldn’t resist (chilli & salt – my two great loves). They came with HOUSE-MADE ketchup. In fact, every single thing at the Esquire is house-made or sourced from local artisan suppliers. Man, I’ve missed this kind of snobbish obsession with food quality – quite common in Sydney, but really hard to get here in Korea.

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I ordered the Chicken Mole ($15) for my main. The chicken leg came out on a bed of creamed corn and candied almonds with the skin so caramelised that it was rich, glossy dark brown. I’d never tried a mole sauce before because I was put off by the chocolate element, but it wasn’t at all what I expected – just a rich, spicy sauce that went really well with the smoked chicken.

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Matt was in a “Bro Food” mood so he got the Hudspeth River Ranch Lamb Burger ($20) with caramelized onion, tzatziki, tomato, chèvre (goats cheese) on a hawaiian bun. Terrible photo but the burger was incredible – the lamb patty was medium rare and juicy with gamey baby sheep goodness, perfectly paired with the tart yogurt sauce and creamy goat’s cheese.

We were so full at this point that dessert would have killed us, so we just sat on the balcony for a while, letting the “Wow, can you believe we’re actually in San Antonio?” moment sink in and already beginning to feel sad about how much we were going to miss the place. Matt suggested, half joking, half serious, “Maybe we should just move here?” and I my gut response was “There is no way I’m going to be that person who moved to a city in another country for a SPORTS TEAM.” But you know what, thinking about it a little more, that isn’t such a bad story. People have done far crazier things. Who knows? Anything can happen.

As a sort-of epilogue to this post, I wanted to write about a cafe I checked out on our last full day in SA. I woke up that morning realising I hadn’t had a proper espresso coffee in days, so I looked up “best coffee in San Antonio” and came across this place that happened to be on the way to the BBQ place we were driving to for lunch.

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The very humbly named “Local Coffee” looked pretty ordinary from the outside – marked by a cute neon sign with only half the letters lit up.

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On the inside, it’s as hipster as hipster can be with a crowd of people who all look like smart young entrepreneurs managing their own online businesses from their laptops.

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They had slow-pour coffee “prepared at brew bar” for truly discerning coffee drinkers, but I just wanted my usual espresso with steamed milk.

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Their espresso menu was simple but absolutely genius – especially for people like me who love their coffee but are also a bit soft and can’t take it black. They had four different types of milk coffees, each with a double shot and increasing quantities of milk – starting with the Macchiato (1 oz/30ml milk) up to the Latte (10 oz/300ml milk). I’d never heard of a “Cortado,” but it’s a real thing – a Spanish version of a Macchiato with a little more milk (2 oz/60ml). Yeah yeah I know that any cafe will modify the amount of milk in your drink if you ask them (though, in Korea you’d probably just get a confused look) but I love the cute simplicity of laying it out on a menu like this. And prices also vary according to the amount of milk, which I think is fair.

I wanted something comforting but not too heavy, so I opted for the Cappuccino (4 oz/120 ml milk).

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For the second time in my life (the first being at Brother Baba Budan in Melbourne more than five years ago), I took one sip and thought, “This is the perfect cup of coffee.” The fact that I’ve been drinking coffee-flavoured hot milk parading itself as a latte for more than a year in Korea may have added to how great this tasted… but man, I didn’t want the cup to end. I was kicking myself for not having found this place earlier in the trip.

We really fell unexpectedly in love with San Antonio. You know when you ask someone where their favourite place in the world is, expecting an exotic answer like the Maldives or Machu Picchu, and they tell you somewhere completely random and ordinary like “Daejon, Korea” or “Adelaide”? I think San Antonio is that place for us.

There’s a time in life for hiking the Himalayas, bungee jumping in Queenstown, or karaoke in Tokyo, but for us, San Antonio came at the exact time we needed it. It breathed fresh air into our lungs, opened our eyes to bluer sky, serenaded us with the Cancion del Mirachi, made us fresh guacamole, and reminded us what coffee should really taste like.

So when Seoul life gets us down, we’ll just sigh and say, “We’ll always have Paris San Antonio.” When we have the blues for no other reason, we’ll know it’s because we left our hearts in San Francisco Antonio. And for the rest of our days, or until we cross paths again, we’ll be California San Antonio dreamin’… WAIT. Is it possible that someone with the same heart has actually written a song dedicated to our darling city?

*Googles frantically*

Oh wow. Uh, okay I guess my affection for San Antonio isn’t as original or unique as I thought. Well, at least now I have a perfect way to end this post – with a broken song of love for good old San Antone.

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