The Chili Queens
Historic Market Square thrives today on a plaza that was gifted to the original settlers “for their use and entertainment” by the King of Spain in 1730. Throughout the early years the plazas of San Antonio were lively marketplaces, where vendors sold fresh produce, beef, venison, wild turkeys, honey and pecans.
At nightfall, the famous “Chili Queens” took over from the vendors and presided over stalls lit by distinctive glass lanterns, selling steaming bowlfuls of the spicy beef stew that they cooked at home and hauled into the market in huge earthenware ollas. The women and their trade were memorialized by O. Henry and other writers who were enchanted with the festive atmosphere and exotic fare they dished out.
The Growing City
The market moved from the main plaza, Plaza de Armas, to its current location in the 1890s to make room for an influx of new settlers. By 1900 San Antonio was the largest city in the state and the fastest-growing. A wave of immigrants from Europe, the Middle East and Asia lent their own unique flavor to the Mexican character of the market, establishing grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and social clubs.
Francesco “Don Pancho” Pizzini opened a store at the market and rented space to other immigrants, including Pete Cortez, who would eventually open Mi Tierra. Chinese immigrants settled around the market and opened a Chinese café, which also offered Mexican pan dulce.