One taste of the seafood boil at Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar and there’s no doubt it isn’t your grandmother’s seafood boil.
Unless, that is, you’re Andrew Ho, co-owner of Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar, whose grandmother’s recipes are the base of the “Viet-Cajun” culinary offerings that make your taste buds dance at the delicious pop-up turned restaurant making a name for itself in San Antonio.
Digging into a pile of crawfish, mussels, shrimp and crab legs smothered in one of Pinch’s three signature sauces, you wish you’d grown up enjoying the crawfish boils that served as typical meal for Ho family gatherings. The colorful pile of seafood is covered in a sauce so good you’ll be licking your fingers, which is more than welcome according to Sean Wen, Pinch’s co-owner and Ho’s childhood and college friend.
The idea for Pinch started with backyard boils the two would host for friends. You don’t have to be a friend to enjoy the tantalizing flavors Ho and Wen are dishing out, but the outgoing staff and inviting atmosphere at Pinch definitely make you feel like you’re a part of the gang. If you aren’t sure how to tackle a seafood boil, don’t worry — they’ll walk you through the menu and make recommendations to help you “Break Out of Your Shell,” the sign that commands one wall of the restaurant.
And if you’re not into seafood, Pinch has you more than covered, too. Featuring Southeast Asian seafood and street food, the menu includes sandwiches and bowls filled with flavor, so dig into banh mi chicken or pork and enjoy it as either a sandwich or as a delicious bowl. You can try “The Dirty Bird,” hot fried chicken, or the “The Healthy One,” featuring marinated tofu. All of Pinch’s bowls and sandwiches can be customized by adding avocado, extra meat or fried farm eggs.
Pinch also features specials, with at least one noodle special each week. I’m a bit of wuss when it comes to spicy, but the pork belly in the Spicy Pork Hot Pot special was more than worth the tingling tongue it left behind. Paired with Thai chili sausage, the pork belly balanced the heat of the sausage and made for an excellent lunch.
Setting healthier fare aside, let’s talk fries. Hand-cut, double-fried and calling your name. You can get them with flake salt, or go for the signature Pinch Fries (pictured at the top of this article), topped with crabmeat, garlic butter mayo, sriracha and scallions. If that sounds over the top, it is. And they’re so good you won’t leave any behind.
The same definitely applies to the seafood. Pinch outlines their boils in three easy steps: choose your seafood by the pound, add sides, then pick your sauce and spice level. The sides include potato, corn, sausage and steamed rice. The first three absorb the boil flavors perfectly and the last is great to sop up the sauce so you won’t leave any of that flavorful goodness behind either.
The sauces, which are what make the boils unique, are amazing. The OG Garlic Butter has bits of garlic floating in a golden sauce that’s spicy, yet sweet, thanks to a recipe that includes orange juice and brown sugar. Those additions also help the sauce cling to the seafood—giving you a fantastic reason to lick your fingers. (Or not: if you don’t want to peel the seafood yourself, Pinch will do all the work for you, just pick a sauce and spice level.)
There’s also a tantalizing Coco Curry sauce and, of course, Dragon Sauce. My spice-wimp status kept me from venturing there, but I bow to those spice fans who enjoy that level of heat. I fall into the “Mild Child” category on Pinch’s spice level. You can go for “Spice is Nice” or “Spice God.” For the record, the pairing of Dragon Sauce and Spice God scares my taste buds, but I won’t judge those who are at the top of the spice game. The “Bia” part of the restaurant’s name is coming soon: “bia” is Vietnamese for beer. Pinch’s beer and wine license is pending, but until then, you are welcome to BYOB to wash down your boil.
Pinch is a welcome addition to San Antonio’s exploding culinary scene and a great reason to venture downtown. The restaurant offers online ordering and parking is free for two hours at the Rand Garage, so what are you waiting for?
Dawn Robinette is an award-winning writer and communications expert based in San Antonio who enjoys finding new discoveries, revisiting old favorites and telling stories. She regularly writes for San Antonio Woman and Rio Magazine. Read more of her work at Alamo City Moms Blog.
Cover photo: The Pinch Fries, a great side or a start to a meal. Courtesy photo