Karam’s–San Antonio, TX

Karam’s Mexican Dining Room (Closed)
121 N. Zarzamora St.
San Antonio, TX
Date of Review: Jan. 2005

Karam’s has been around for so long it is one of the few restaurants I can say I have gone to for more than 30 years. I also think it is one of the best examples of Tex-Mex food there is. So far, in fact, it has turned out to be the restaurant by which I judge Tex-Mex food. Many restaurants in Austin came close, and some had specific items that were better, but Karam’s seems to have captured the essence of Tex-Mex cooking to a point that it is almost equal in quality to other styles of Mexican cooking.

Known for its Cheese Enchiladas, I think they are some of the best I have had that are not New Mexico or El Paso style. They are interesting because the tortillas are soaked in a sauce that turns them the signature red of true Tex-Mex style.

Although the enchiladas themselves are good, a combination dinner is even better– there may be no better examples of Tex-Mex style Tamales than at Karam’s. These have a masa that is soft and seems to break away the moment a fork touches it, with a flavor that I could almost imagine all the times I had fast food and TV dinner tamales while on a student budget, but which even most Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin could not duplicate.

Karam’s is popular enough to have required building a parking lot across the street. In addition to the restaurant, Karam’s Catering, a separate portion of the building dedicated exclusively to take-out orders, does a brisk business. With the mild weather found in south Texas, the outdoor patio with a fountain is an added attraction.

I think that unless you are specifically hungry for meat items such as the fajitas at Mi Tierra, you really owe it to yourself to make Karam’s your one special San Antonio Tex-Mex meal. It is a San Antonio institution for a reason.

RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican Tex-Mex
Cost: $$
Alcohol: Beer
Special Features: Catering

Chile Index: chile 3

Most Recent Visit
Jan. 6, 2005

Number of Visits: 4

Best Items
Cheese Enchiladas, Tamales, Tacos

Special Ratings

star 5 Cheese Enchiladas
star 5 Chicken Tacos
star 5 Tamales
star 3 Refried Beans
star 5 Chips
star 4 Salsa

Menu (Date Unknown):

Menu courtesy of Eugene F. Michael El Paso Menu Collection, MS499, C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department. The University of Texas at El Paso Library.

Note to Readers:

This review is reprinted from my original web site (Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page) and the newer site (OK Gourmet).  By putting it on Steve’s Food Blog I hope to keep it accessible to readers and to preserve the information as something that I think is of historical importance for Tex-Mex restaurants.

Karam’s was quite possibly the best Tex-Mex restaurant I ever found in Texas (there were a couple in Austin that were close).  Unfortunately when I discuss Tex-Mex restaurants I often have to refer to ones that are now closed (of which Karam’s joined the ranks in about 2005).  I wrote a blog post about why I do not think the Tex-Mex food served now is as good as it was at these former restaurants which were considered leaders of the Tex-Mex restaurant world:

Why Does Tex-Mex Not Taste the Same as I Remember Growing Up?

The Karams’ daughter wrote a very informative comment about the restaurant, and it is certainly relevant to this review as well as a discussion of Tex-Mex food in general.

 

Pamela Karam’s Comment (Dec. 10, 2015):

Dear Steve,
Karam’s Mexican Dining Room of San Antonio had the absolute best Tex-Mex in the country.
My parent’s invented the style that chefs tried to copy without much luck.
All over the country to this day when I say I’m from San Antonio, strangers will ask me if I ever ate at Karam’s. Of course they go crazy about the food when I tell them who I was lucky to be.
My dad started me in the kitchen and I know the secrets to the taste of our food.
I miss a Deluxe Dinner as much as the next person.
Thank God I can whip one up when necessary..
I’m glad you enjoyed our place.
I loved it and miss it every day.

Kamps–Edmond, OK

Kamps Cafe (Closed)
3325 S. Boulevard
Edmond, OK
Kamps

Kamps in Edmond


The name 1910 keep showing up in connection to Kamps, noting the year when Bill Kamp’s Meat Market first opened in downtown Oklahoma City (Kamp’s Meat Market is currently operating at 7310 N. Western Avenue in OKC). Kamps Cafe in downtown Oklahoma City with a second location in Edmond are an outgrowth of the market, but they have a larger menu than would be expected at a regular meat market and deli.

I have only had a chance to try the restaurant one time, and this was at the Edmond location. I got an idea of the overall good quality of the food, and it is a good sign when I am happy with an item I order at random from the menu (in this case it was the grilled chicken pesto).

The dish I really wanted to try was the Hobo Pie (chicken pot pie with green chiles). It is listed on the menu as a special dish with the suggestion to “Get it while it lasts.” Unfortunately it had run out when I was there in the early evening, but I assume they have a fairly good supply if you go around noon or the early lunch hour.

The dining room was a little bit like a fast food restaurant. This is a place where you order and pick up your food at the counter, so it is a good restaurant for people who do not have a lot of time for a meal but they do want one of good quality. Other than sandwiches, though, the menu is mainly limited to salads and soups.

Kamps is popular for breakfast, and opens at 7:00 a.m. (7:30 on Sat.). It is open for dinner, but menu items are mostly the type of thing people like to have for lunch. It seemed that a lot of people were there for the WiFi, and they have a good Barista selection.

The Food

Grilled chicken pesto

Grilled chicken pesto

With a large variety of sandwiches available, I thought my choice of Grilled Chicken Pesto worked out well. It was not spicy, but the parmesan pesto ranch dressing gave an interesting flavor to the sandwich. The chicken breast had more flavor than many I have tried. The size of the sandwich was pretty good for those who want to make a dinner meal out of the food here (side dishes are relatively inexpensive).

I did not think the Pasta Salad really stood out as being special, but it was solid and was better than the side dishes at quite a few other places.

Comparisons with Other Restaurants
This was more of a straight sandwich place than other restaurants such as Cafe 7, Saturn Grill, etc. I thought the quality of the sandwich was comparable to other restaurants I have tried, and the chicken sandwich was interesting in terms of getting something fairly healthy that also tastes good. Kamps would be in my rotation if I ate enough sandwiches to have a rotation, and it seems to have unique sandwiches rather than just giving different versions of the same ones.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Sandwiches
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Jul. 26, 2017
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Grilled Chicken Pesto

Special Ratings
star 5 Grilled Chicken Pesto
star 5 Pasta Salad

Menu (Jul. 2017):

 

 

Tommy’s–Oklahoma City, OK

Tommy’s Italian-American Grill (Closed)
5516 W. Memorial Rd.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 470-5577
Tommy's

Tommy’s


Update Apr. 2019: Tommy’s is planning to move to the Waterford Hotel at N.W. 63rd and Pennsylvania Ave. and take over the now closed Bellini’s Restaurant (the owner of Tommy’s was the original owner of Bellini’s, and will reopen under the Bellini’s name).

Writing restaurant reviews has been a good discipline for me, requiring me to analyze different food and to put them on some type of objective rating scale. Of course I know it is an inexact science, but I am very sure about the things I like.

Back in the days when my restaurant visits were for the sole purpose of enjoying the food, one of the places where this was most easily accomplished was at the old Tommy’s in Northpark Mall (at N.W. 122nd and May). The owner of Tommy’s also opened Bellini’s (which is now under different ownership), but the concept of Tommy’s was a little more downscale than Bellini’s. I enjoyed both restaurants, but somehow the food at Tommy’s was more appealing to my tastes, and I particularly thought the the pizza was unmatched in the city for flavor and quality.

The new Tommy’s on Memorial Road (just east of MacArthur) opened in May 2014. The outdoor patio was not yet open at this time, and it did seem as if they had been starting slow, with a “soft opening” taking place in advance of the official one. It is a somewhat casual restaurant where one would feel comfortable dressing up, and the service certainly seems to be on par with the city’s other upscale Italian restaurants. At first I was a little apprehensive that they were trying to be more upscale than the original Tommy’s, but it seems that they have struck the appropriate balance of having good food but not making it so expensive that I have few chances to enjoy it.

Tommy's wood fired oven

Tommy’s wood fired oven

Tommy’s has built a wood fired oven for the pizzas, and the large pizza menu leads me to believe that this is a large part of their business. Even though the pizzas are excellent, they are competitively priced and are a way you can come to the restaurant on a more modest budget.

The restaurant was not trying to sell me drinks, appetizers, or other items which frequently run up the cost of a meal; instead it just seemed that everything was good quality and you could pay a little more if you wanted to go that way.

Salads and Appetizers

Complimentary bread

Complimentary bread

The meal started out with complimentary Bread, and I thought it was about as good as I find in other upscale Italian restaurants. I do not know if they give free refills because I am never able to eat all of the original serving.

House salad

House salad

Salads cost extra, including the House Salad I ordered. The salad was fresh, but to me it seemed “busy” with so many ingredients it really did not have a distinguishing flavor. I do not remember the salads being particularly notable at the old Tommy’s, and probably the same is true here. It is a good filler, though, if you do not think the dinner will be enough for your appetite.

Santa Fe chicken soup

Santa Fe chicken soup

The Santa Fe Chicken Soup was a very good start to one of my meals, with a fresh flavor and large chunks of chicken. The soup contains green chile, although not very much and it is not particularly spicy.

Pizza

Margherita pizza

Margherita pizza

I was very anxious to try the Margherita Pizza, which I remember as being one of the best I have had at the old Tommy’s. This one was as good as I remembered, with excellent cheese and crust (the components of a pizza which I many times find lacking at restaurants). The toppings did not seem any better or worse than at most Italian restaurants, with the exception that it had a rather small amount of basil, but what was there was very aromatic and flavorful (thus the pizza overall still rates as one of my favorites).

Pizzas come in only one size (I believe they told me it was 14 inches), and the one I had was just about right for two people provided they both ordered salads (thus my instinct about ordering the salad was correct). The waiter told me that this pizza had a little different flavor that at the old Tommy’s because of the wood fired grill (considering how good the crust tasted, I would say this was a very good move to make at the new restaurant).

Tommy's New York pizza

Tommy’s New York pizza

Tommy’s New York Pizza is a good choice if you want meat toppings. I thought the pepperoni was best, though, and next time I would skip the sausage. For my taste I would say the Margherita pizza is better because while its toppings are on the sparse side, the New York pizza is a little over the top, particularly with the spicy sausage. The components of Tommy’s pizza I really appreciate are the crust, cheese, and sauce, and I like the pizzas that do not overwhelm these flavors with the toppings.

Lasagna

Lasagna

Lasagna

While I thought the sausage was a little much for the pizza, it is a good mix in the Lasagna (along with the beef). This was one of my favorite dishes at the old Tommy’s, and is less so now because I am not as much of a meat eater (otherwise, though, it is as good as I remembered).

Parmigiana Dishes

Chicken parmigiana

Chicken parmigiana

Chicken Parmigiana so far is my choice as the best meat item at Tommy’s. What I like most about this dish is not that it has a unique style that differentiates it from other restaurants such as Papa Dio’s or Vito’s, but that it is very much the same. The side dishes might be a little more interesting than at the other restaurants, though.

The Eggplant Parmigiana had what to me was a fatal flaw–the eggplant tasted like eggplant. This is somewhat of a joke, but I do think the eggplant is better at some other restaurants.

Chicken Picatta

Chicken picatta

Chicken picatta

The Chicken Picatta was somewhat of a surprise to me because of the fact that it was one of the best dishes I have experienced at Tommy’s (at most restaurants this would not be the case). For me the sauce had the right amount of lemon flavor and the chicken was very good as well. I always consider it a gamble when I order something that does not have red sauce, but in this case it definitely paid off.

Other Comments
I do not know the best dishes here because I mainly stick to the ones I used to order at the old Tommy’s. Having tried the chicken picatta, though, I know it is worth exploring the menu to try other items.

About fifty percent of the reason I like Tommy’s, though, is the pizza. I think it has the best crust in OKC, and the other components are good enough to make this overall one of the best in the city.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Italian
Cost: $$$ (but pizza is cheaper)
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 14, 2017
Number of Visits: 6
Best Items: Margherita Pizza, Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna, Chicken Picatta, Santa Fe Chicken Soup

Special Ratings
star 5 Margharita Pizza
star 5 New York Pizza
star 5 Chicken Parmigiana
star 5 Chicken Picatta
star 5 Lasagna
star 4 Eggplant Parmigiana
star 5 Santa Fe Chicken Soup
star 4 House Salad