San Antonio

It's not everyday you find out your grandmother is getting a Congressional Gold Medal (albeit posthumously as she passed in 2004). Congress just passed a measure to recognize the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) for their bravery and honor during World War II. My grandma, along with 1,101 other women did everything from towing targets for gunnery practice (with live ammunition!), tested repaired aircrafts (like doing loop-di-lous and stalling out planes in air), and transported cargo and male pilots across the US, all with no military benefits. Read about it on

Kay Bailey Hutchison co-sponsored a bill to finally give these bad-ass ladies the recognition that they deserve. I don't know about you, but KBH is starting to look a lot better to me now than Rick Perry in our upcoming gubernatorial race. I may be a die-hard democrat, but I don't even know who the dem is in the race and I'm tired of that hair-sprayed egomaniac we have now.

Anyway, in honor of my grandma, shown above in her graduation photo and below jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at age 83 while wearing her WASP uniform (and a beefcake named Rocky):

I'd like to talk about her hometown of San Antonio, which is roughly an hour's drive from Austin. She moved there after college with my grandfather and raised my mom and aunt there, and remained there for the rest of her life (except for her stint as a WASP, of course). We visited there when I was growing up at least once a month it seems, so it feels like a second home to me as well.

First off, let me say that you've never had Tex-Mex food until you've eaten in San Antonio. I love Austin to death, but nothing comes close here.

Sadly, a lot of the restaurants we would go to have closed down or changed ownership. Teka Molina , which had THE MOST AMAZING REFRIED BEANS EVER closed down on St. Mary's Street, but their second location on San Pedro (owned by a different family and uses different recipes) is passable for a substitute. Seriously, when my family found out about this news you could hear wailing from here to Colorado to North Carolina. If you go to SA and are lucky to be there during the week, you MUST go to the San Pedro location and get a bean roll and a puffy taco. For me. It's closed on Sundays and has funky hours the rest of the week, so your safest bet is to go for lunch on a Friday. Or call ahead.

La Fonda was also our favorite when it was on Broadway, but when it moved onto New Braunfels they did something to mess up the food and it just didn't taste the same. It's quite the social hotspot for all the movers and shakers in town, though, so if you want to see the good old boys club of San Antonio, go there and people watch. I'll admit it's fascinating to watch some distant relatives of mine work that crowd.

There's a La Fonda location on Main St which is still really good, but it has a different menu. I still like it, it's just not what I remember from my childhood. I'd still suggest going there, because the atmosphere is really fun.

For the granddaddy of all atmosphere, go to Mi Tierra downtown by El Mercado.

It's like a party store and christmas light store had a head-on collision and threw up on the ceiling, year round. Mariachi bands play, margaritas flow, chips and salsa are aplenty. The food is pretty good too. While you wait for a table, you can sample a Mexican pastry or two or three.

If you are like the other females in my family, you'll love shopping at El Mercado nearby. It's a market featuring goods from Mexico. If you are on the market for a sombrero, turquoise jewelry or Mexican pottery, you'll love this place. (Personally, I'm missing the shopping gene, so I usually go have a beer or margarita somewhere else with the males in my family.)

Another area that brings joy to the shoppers in my family is La Villita, which is an old settlement that has turned into an arts and shopping mecca.

Of course, all of this is by the famous San Antonio Riverwalk, which winds its way through downtown. It's really gorgeous. Do yourself a favor and avoid the chain restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe and Hooters and go to Casa Rio, which has been there forever. A riverboat tour is a must.

If you need lodging, splurge and stay at La Mansion hotel and request a room overlooking the river. It's a gorgeous old hotel in the middle of everything.

If you have kids, take them to the San Antonio Zoo and nearby Sunken Gardens. I must have ridden the choo-choo train there a billion times as a kid.

And of course, go visit the Alamo. Let me just caution you that the PeeWee Herman reference is so played out that it's far from being amusing. Don't do it.

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