I consider myself an expert on many foods and cultural specialties, but when it comes to Texas, I’ve got to defer to Amber Bracegirdle. Editor of the site Bluebonnets & Brownies (named after the Texas state flower), Amber’s my go-to gal when I need a prickly pear jargarita or just someone to chat about the history of Fritos with me. Today, Amber shares her most beloved San Antonio spot with Good. Food. Stories.
Every time Casey writes about her Pittsburgh favorites, it makes me homesick for my San Antonio haunts—none more so than Jim’s Restaurant.
When I was a child, my dad quite regularly had band gigs that finished in the early hours of the weekend mornings. Roused from sleep on pushed-together chairs, my sister and I would beg to be taken to Jim’s for pancakes (with obligatory whipped cream smile and strawberry eyes!) and breakfast tacos. Sitting around the largest booth in the restaurant, sipping orange juice and coloring kids’ menus with my sister and cousins David and Bobby at 4:00 am—those are some of the sweetest memories of my childhood, though they might seem a little odd to others.
Jim’s has been in business since 1947, and started, like so many mom-and-pop joints, as a side venture to recreational business. Bike stand owner G. Jim Hasslocher started out offering watermelon slices to his customers post-rental. Before long, hamburgers and onion rings joined the menu.
These days, Jim’s Restaurants are as ubiquitous in San Antonio as bodegas are in New York City. Open 24 hours, they have been the study spot for San Antonio’s cramming college students as long as anyone can remember. You’ll find every walk of Texan life in a Jim’s Restaurant at any hour of the day. Hipsters with their textbooks quite happily pass the ketchup to the rancher in the next booth, being careful not to spill any on his white 10-gallon.
You can get plenty of diner favorites here, from omelets and eggs Benedict to meatloaf and mozzarella sticks. They even have some really fabulous salads that I’m sure weren’t on the menu in the ’40s and ’50s. But there are three things every San Antonian knows to order at Jim’s: the breakfast tacos, the tortilla soup, and the chicken fried steak.
Breakfast tacos are a way of life in San Antonio. Everyone sells them, everyone eats them, and we’ll look at ya funny if you question such things. Jim’s does breakfast tacos the only way you can: hash browns with lots of butter, buttery eggs, bacon, and for good measure, refried beans with more bacon added in. Pile it all into a floury, freshly made tortilla and top it with cheddar cheese.
Could you ask for anything more heavenly Tex-Mex? The answer is no.
I could quite easily slip into a reverie filled with loving, softly spoken adjectives when I remember the first time I tasted Jim’s award-winning tortilla soup. Everything about it screams San Antonio, from the spicy broth to the handmade tortilla strips. They even bring you the bowl on a large plate so they can pile it high with more strips than will ever fit in the bowl, knowing you’ll want to dip as well as spoon the luscious soup to savor every bite.
If you’ve never had a chicken fried steak, my friend, you haven’t lived. Steak is sort of a misnomer: typically it’s made from a rough cut of chuck roast that’s been pounded until tender. Hand battered and then fried to a crispy golden brown, it is covered in cream gravy, a Southern specialty.
Cream gravy is made from flour, butter, milk, and lots of black pepper. That’s it, and oh my, is it artery-clogging delicious. A chicken fried steak covered in cream gravy is not for the faint of heart (literally), but if you’re up for the challenge, you ought to have one at least once in your life. Jim’s serves theirs with mashed potatoes, that day’s vegetable, and a side of Texas Toast for dippin’ in yer gravy.
My mouth just watered writing that last paragraph. Nothing (except maybe my family) makes me miss San Antonio quite as much as taking a walk down food memory lane.
The next time you’re in San Antonio, stop into a Jim’s Restaurant. They’re open every hour of the day, and the most expensive item on the menu will set you back a cool $11.99. Oh, and remember, Monday through Wednesday, the littlest cowpokes and cowgirls eat free.