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By: Olivier J. Bourgoin
In the mid 60’s, a lot happened in San Antonio. It’s been said that ‘HemisFair’, the International World’s Fair of 1968 was the definitive event that put San Antonio on the map and on the way to becoming the major city it is today. It was during that time that a large portion of what is now known as ’The Riverwalk’, was developed; along with many other downtown buildings which in turn also became integral landmarks of the skyline. The Tower of the Americas was raised then and in order to accommodate the 6.3 million visitors that converged on our city from all corners of the planet, several hotels were built, including the first of what would become a major chain: ‘La Quinta’. The river fronted Palacio del Rio which was built in a record 202 working days, (a record of modular construction) was also completed on April 1st 1968.
All over town, other changes occurred as well. Immediately south of downtown, the urban renewal was more subtle, yet in that same year, in a neighborhood now referred to as SouthTown, a new restaurant was born.
The brainchild of Maria and Julian Treviño, El Mirador restaurant opened at its original location at the corner of Presa St. and Cesar Chavez Blvd. (formerly known as Durango Blvd.). With Hemisfair right around the corner, the enterprising couple figured there would be a built-in market to offer typical Mexican fare to the influx of hungry visitors from around the globe. Their forecast proved accurate and El Mirador was a hit from the beginning.
Julian’s experienced as a butcher came in handy. His wife Maria had already began to spread her entrepreneurial wings. She was known to have sold her homemade tortillas at La Villita on a regular basis. The couple’s skill set combination and work ethics would soon help to make ‘El Mirador’ a favorite eatery for visitors and locals alike. Within a decade, the restaurant was thriving. Having outgrown the space at its original location, the Treviño’s moved it to 722 South St. Mary’s, just one block down the street, where it continued to prosper. As a coincidental footnote, Maria Treviño was know to her staff as ‘Doña Mari’ and to her clientele, simply as Mary and the street where her restaurant is located is called St. Mary’s St.
The restaurant business is not for the faint-hearted. It requires dedication and nearly constant attention. Founder Julian Treviño died in 1998 followed by his wife Maria’s departure in February 2013. In a San Antonio Express-News article written after her death, County Judge and former San Antonio Mayor Nelson Wolff said: “El Mirador offers great food — “the best chilaquiles in town” — and a family atmosphere that sets it apart from other restaurants. Maria Treviño, until late in her life, was at the center of it all.”
Their son, also named Julian continued in their footsteps but after having been involved for 45 years in the family business Julian was ready for a breather. The opportunity for it came in the form of local developer Chris Hill. Having already successfully acquired and re-opened another iconic San Antonio landmark (The Esquire Tavern); with the stroke of a pen, Chris Hill became the proud owner of another piece of San Antonio’s history in May of this year.
Over the years, El Mirador experienced unusually low turnover. Several of the 40 + employees have worked there for years, decades even. Most of them stayed on board through the transition of ownership. For more than 40 years El Mirador has been serving an assortment of delicious, authentic Mexican fare derived from regional recipes many of which came mainly from Guanajuato which is where Maria’s family was from. Some of the other original recipes came from the city of Salinas Victoria in Nuevo Leon, Julian Treviño’s hometown.
About his own vision for El Mirador, Chris Hill said: “I am excited about taking a very good restaurant and having the opportunity of making it better. I want to bring it back to its roots and serve absolutely the freshest Farm to Table Mexican/Tex-Mex food around with better quality meats, locally sourced ingredients and eggs, that sort of thing.” He added.
During a recent interview, when asked if he was happy about the way things have turned out at The Esquire, Mr. Hill replied: “Super Happy! I am very proud of what we have achieved in just 3 years. We have received favorable Zagat ratings and mentions in Travel and Leisure and in Esquire Magazine as one of the top 16 bars in the U.S. I’m darn proud!” He quipped.
The land where the El MIrador currently sits was once the site of a home built around 1865 by Jeremiah and Katherine O’Hara. According to documents provided by Mr. Hill, the old limestone walls and a fireplace as well as what is known as ‘the Pink Room’ are vestiges from that original house. Subsequently, the property was sold to a Mr. Jim Mitchell who was reputed to have been a rider alongside World famous hunter and showman Buffalo Bill.
“El Mirador is rumored to have witnessed the anointing of more politicians for office than any other location in town, including City Hall.” Wrote Mr. Hill, in a recently released employee training manual. “It has been the subject of a New York Times review, has a regular mention in Texas Monthly as a place to go, and has been touted by ‘The Guardian’ in London as a place not to miss in San Antonio.” He also wrote.
“We also want to have a first class bar program.” Said Hill. To that effect, Houston Eaves who has been working as the Bar Manager at the Esquire for over a year, has been promoted to the position of Beverage Director over both establishments. “We are going to serve fresh homemade Sangrita and small batch Tequilas and signature cocktails with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice etc…”. Said Mr. Hill.
Asked about any future projects, Mr. Hill replied: “I also bought the building adjacent to the Esquire. It’s known as ‘the old Witte Building’. There are possibilities for several other venues.” He explained.
El Mirador: 722 S St Mary’s St, San Antonio, TX 78205. 210-225-9444. Open 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Monday. 7:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 9:00 a.m – 3:00 p.m. Sunday.