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.

Family Pho–Weatherford, OK

Family Pho and Rolls (Closed)
1021 E. Davis Ave.
Weatherford, OK
Family Pho

Family Pho and Rolls


Family Pho and Rolls follows a popular trend in serving both Vietnamese food and sushi (at least the style of sushi that includes California rolls, etc.). Outside of a couple of Chinese restaurants I think this is the only Asian restaurant in Weatherford, so I think it makes sense for this restaurant to provide any other dishes they can that would be popular in this small college town.

While Chinese food tends to become more Americanized in smaller towns, Vietnamese food has tasted pretty much the same everywhere I have tried it (but the menu choices are more limited in small towns). This is good for me because I love what most Vietnamese restaurants are serving, and these tend to be reliable choices even where Chinese restaurants are not. Family Pho was exactly as I thought it would be–good food but with a rather small menu.

After my comments about Chinese restaurants I need to point out that I have liked the ones I have tried in Weatherford. My favorite place in town, Young China, has closed, but the people at Family Pho told me the owners have now opened the Hibachi Buffet.

Vermicelli Bowl

House vermicelli

House vermicelli

The type of dish I was wanting happened to coincide with what seemed to be the restaurant’s special dish, the House Vermicelli. This did not come with my normal choice of chicken, but the pork they served had a very good flavor and is another type of meat I like. It had the added benefit of an excellent spring roll. The fish sauce was very good, and I especially liked the chile sauce (which can be seen in the small bowl on the lower right side).

Two things I normally like in a vermicelli bowl were lacking–peanuts and mint. Everything else was good enough that it pretty much made up for these deficiencies (I can say for sure that the spring roll was more satisfying than the peanuts would have been). Overall this was definitely a very good vermicelli dish.

Tea
I was disappointed that they did not have any hot tea, but iced tea was available. I would say this made the restaurant somewhat Americanized, but the food was good and it did not have a great impact on the meal.

An Assessment
Everything I had was good, but the negative aspects were the things I was not able to have (peanuts, mint, hot tea, etc.). In spite of this I would not hesitate to come back. At restaurants I usually like to order things again that I enjoyed previously (in this case it is the House Vermicelli). They do have other types of vermicelli bowls, though, as well as other items (mainly the pho and rolls implied by their name).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Mon.
Accessible: Yes, but maybe the sidewalk is a little steep
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Nov. 30, 2017
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: House Vermicelli

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Iced Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 House Vermicelli

 

Grand House Express–Edmond, OK

Grand House Express (Closed)
3209 S. Broadway
Edmond, OK
Grand House Express

Grand House Express


The previous restaurant at this location was Zen Asian Dining, a “fusion” restaurant with different cuisines whose menu has partially been retained at the new Grand House Express. The original Grand House is one of the anchor restaurants in Oklahoma City’s Asian District, being one of the largest and longest running restaurants along Classen Boulevard.

Zen was primarily a Thai restaurant, and several Thai dishes have been carried over to the new menu at Grand House Express. I thought their Thai food was overly sweet, but not having tried it at the new restaurant I really do not know how it would be now.

Dining room

Dining room

I did find out, though, that the new restaurant appears to be true to the food of the original Grand House in its Chinese menu. More specifically, it is true to part of the Grand House menu, because Grand House has a regular menu which is largely copied here and a “Chinese” menu which is absent from the selection at Grand House Express. My take on the two Grand House menus is that both are actually Chinese, but the “Chinese” menu has some more interesting items that appeal to me more. For instance, the Express restaurant does not have clay pot dishes, and generally it excludes everything that takes longer to cook than the standard stir-fry dishes served at Grand House Express.

Some Vietnamese dishes on the menu also come from Grand House, and the result is a “fusion” restaurant representing food from different Asian countries, but I think done better than I found at Zen Asian Dining.

Lunch Specials
There are several lunch specials served Monday through Friday that I would find appealing, partly because the price is a little lower but mainly because lunch portions at restaurants are more in line with my appetite. I would probably pick the items that come from Grand House (Chinese and Vietnamese) over the Zen holdovers (mainly Thai).

Stir Fried Dishes

Stir fry in XO sauce

Chicken stir fry in XO sauce

The Chicken Stir Fry in XO Sauce was my first chance to try this sauce since I had another dish with XO Sauce at the original Grand House. Although this was not a lunch special, the price was good and the sauce was still good. XO sauce is something I would describe as having a very intense flavor and is something people will probably either love or hate (I think it is rather smoky and is the Chinese version of chipotle sauce).

While I am not necessarily recommending this sauce for everybody, I did get a sense that the stir-fried dishes and the food here in general is very good. One thing for sure is that Grand House Express has items on the menu that will not be found at many other suburban Chinese restaurants.

Other Details
To me it is a good sign that the restaurant did not have what I really wanted to order, yet I still enjoyed the meal. There are probably at least a dozen other menu items that I think would be equally appealing, if not more.

I think the other Thai restaurants in Edmond are far too good for me to purposely come here and try this type of food, nevertheless there are some Thai menu items for anyone who wants to try them.

The original Grand House is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the city, and adding their food to this restaurant is a huge deal, in my opinion. It is too bad they could not include items like their clay pot dishes, but what they do have appears to be some of the best suburban food in the OKC Metro.

Probably the issue most people will have is the price, but for me it was not too bad (the menu is included below with the prices at the time I went to the restaurant).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 20, 2017
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Stir Fry in XO Sauce

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Stiry Fry in XO Sauce

 

Menu (Oct. 2017):