A Southtown restaurant under construction for nearly three years at the historic site of another longtime café is set to open Friday.
The Tex-Mex eatery Rosario’s — now called Rosario’s ComidaMex & Bar — reopens Feb. 10 at the site of longtime diner El Mirador as a contemporary, two-story venue with a rooftop bar. Rosario’s formerly occupied an older stucco building on South Alamo Street.
“Our new location is warm and inviting with our signature Mexican contemporary style,” owner Lisa Wong stated. “We look forward to beginning a new era in our restaurant’s 30-year history and to serving our guests for many more generations to come.”
It’s a significant change for the Southtown site, and the restaurant did not come into being without controversy.
At 25,000 square feet, the restaurant is significantly larger than its predecessor, which was demolished to make way for the modern-style facility. Its size led to concerns over how the structure would fit into the neighborhood and a conflict between the restaurant’s owner and a neighboring eatery over a planned barrier wall between the two businesses.
Wong, who purchased the property in 2018, prevailed in both cases. In 2020, the Historic and Design Review Commission approved her request to demolish much of the former El Mirador restaurant at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. and build a new, larger structure for her restaurant.
Approval from the commission came with the stipulation that Wong preserve the 1860s-era caliche walls and kiva, remnants of the historic Jim Mitchell homestead, that El Mirador had enveloped long ago.
The homestead is one of the oldest remaining structures of its kind in San Antonio and was designated as an individual local landmark in 1988. The former El Mirador, which first opened its doors in 1967 on the eve of HemisFair ’68, moved to the site in 1978. Wong closed the restaurant in 2018.
In March 2021, the commission also voted in favor of Wong’s request to build a barrier wall between Rosario’s and the adjacent Maverick Texas Brasserie.
Maverick owner Pete Selig had strongly objected to the 20-foot wall being built next to the restaurant’s windows and a patio, which would limit natural light but not the noise and odors of a utility area. A petition was circulated on his behalf.
Despite being business partners in the River Walk restaurant Ácenar, the two restaurateurs could not agree to a compromise. It was nothing personal, Wong said at the time. “I have constraints on my property that I have to work around.”
Rather than cope with a wall built for Rosario’s, Selig enclosed the Maverick patio at his own expense, adding lighting and air conditioning — a $78,000 cost, according to construction permits. “No sunshine in our previous outdoor patio but we have created a lovely interior dining space in its place,” he told the San Antonio Report.
But Selig remains concerned about parking in the King William and Lavaca neighborhoods given the scale of the new Rosario’s. A statement from Rosario’s advises patrons to park in nearby surface lots and along South Presa Street. Maverick provides a valet car service for guests.
“We hope that the neighborhood will be able to absorb the expected huge demand for street parking by the increased size of Rosario’s and their guests,” he said.
Also on the Rosario’s site is a local landmark, the King William Garden House. Remodeled and renamed Casa Isabel in honor of Wong’s late mother, the house will be available for private parties.
The first floor of the main restaurant features 15,000 square feet of dining space, a bar and lounge area and a private party room. The upper level is a rooftop bar with views of the downtown skyline, a dedicated bar and a small-bites menu. The second floor will open in early spring.
In addition to working with Douglas Architects and Fabian’s Construction on the project, Wong also enlisted the help of local designers and art consultants, who curated a mural along the South Presa Street side of the restaurant, sculptures by Carlos Cortez on the patio and original artwork for the interior by artist Eva Marengo Sanchez.
The menu at Rosario’s features traditional Mexican dishes and a few new items are planned. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, Tuesdays through Sundays.
A second Rosario’s restaurant is located on the North Side at 9715 San Pedro Ave.