Editor’s note: Even the most devoted Thanksgiving turkey enthusiast eventually needs a change of protein. To that end, Rivard Report staff roamed the city to find hidden gems, longtime local favorites, and other independent eateries that serve slices of San Antonio’s manifold cultures. For more stories in our Escape the Turkey series, click here.
A longtime student of the San Antonio culinary scene, Sangria on the Burg owner Ceasar Zepeda can call his restaurant a post-graduation project, more than 15 years in the making.
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Zepeda went to work at Ácenar with noted local restaurateur Lisa Wong.
“I call that my master’s,” said Zepeda, who worked in the bar and kitchen for one year. “I was going to go back to school, but I thought, ‘I’m going to work for these people,’ because it’s Lisa Wong from Rosario’s. She’s a beast.”
Later, Zepeda worked at Cappy’s and then for more than a decade as general manager at its sister restaurant La Fonda on Main.
“That was my Ph.D.,” he said, noting that for 12 years, he worked with a menu that featured seven daily specials a week. “I just learned what was selling, what people gravitated toward, and if San Antonio loved it, we were going to do it. I have Rolodexes of specials.”
After spending most of his culinary career at some of San Antonio’s most iconic eateries, Zepeda opened his own concept in 2016, realizing a dream of creative freedom while putting to use his knowledge from the past decade-and-a-half.
Sangria on the Burg is located at 5115 Fredericksburg Road, north of Loop 410 and about 2 miles from the South Texas Medical Center and USAA. Zepeda had been working on plans for his own restaurant for years and finally settled on the northwest strip center location because of its proximity to large portions of the local workforce.
“Everybody wanted us to go to the Pearl,” he said, noting high rent in that area. “Even big dogs can’t afford it. … Fredericksburg [Road] is like a vein. There is always traffic. It is always busy.”
When Zepeda found his current location, which used to house Nicavid’s Bakery, he had limited funds to bring his idea to fruition.
So he enlisted a little help from his friends and family: His brother built the shelves; a college friend created wall art on wood from another friend’s fence; Zepeda’s mom created artwork resembling the Texas flag that hangs on the back wall; and a cousin put together a sign depicting the restaurant’s name.
“It is funny what you can do when you don’t have any money,” Zepeda said.
That same notion inspired some of Zepeda’s favorite dishes. Sangria’s menu has two main focuses: tacos and sliders. When Zepeda can take a less pricey cut of meat – say brisket – and make it just as delicious as an expensive cut like filet mignon, “you make it awesome and people really appreciate that.”
Zepeda views sliders and tacos as “vessels” that allow him and his chefs to try out different kinds of cuisine in a familiar, fast-casual format.
Owning his restaurant allows Zepeda to experiment with unique proteins and interesting takes on classic dishes. While diners may think of tacos purely as a Mexican dish, Zepeda considers them a blank canvas, making the restaurant hard to peg as one particular genre.
The restaurateur describes Sangria as “San Antonio food,” paying homage to the city’s many cultures, delivering both Texas barbecue and Mexican spices on one menu.
“We won’t win many [best of] awards because what are we,” Zepeda said. “We’re not Mexican, we’re not barbecue, but we do both.”
Customers’ favorite dishes include fideo and anything with brisket, although everyone has their favorite taco, Zepeda said. Diners also indulge in the restaurant’s namesake with flights of sangria, a Spanish beverage traditionally made of red wine, chopped fruit, and other ingredients.
Zepeda first started making sangria in college, prompting friends to request he bring it to parties. Years later, when he was in the process of planning his restaurant, a friend suggested bringing back the long-time favorite as a feature on the menu.
The chef started experimenting with different wines and flavors, such as grapefruit and ginger, and created the bevy of options available today. Diners can order individual glasses or flights to sample all the flavors offered.
Sangria will flow freely during Thanksgiving week, though the restaurant will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. The day after Thanksgiving is one of the restaurant’s busiest, Zepeda said.
“Family is in town, and [by that time] they have had enough of each other so they have to get out,” Zepeda said.
The restaurant offers a limited quantity of carry-out Thanksgiving meals that feed eight to 10 people and include smoked ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, and cornbread for $80. Sangria is also making limited quantities of Snickerdoodle pumpkin and Irish Car Bomb chocolate pies for $25.