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.

Some of My Favorite El Paso Lent Specials

Many restaurants in El Paso (particularly Mexican restaurants) offer Lent specials in the days leading up to Easter. These are usually served on Friday, but some restaurants have them for other holy days as well.

I found out a long time ago that this is some of the best Mexican food served, and rather than Lent being a “fast” I always found it to be a treat to enjoy the food served by these restaurants. Most Lent specials are served with fish or shrimp, but some vegetarian dishes are also available such as enchiladas (they frequently use some special sauce that is not normally served on enchiladas). The Lent specials at restaurants can really be anything as long as there is no meat.

Lentil soup

Lentil soup

My favorite Lent specials are ones that include a vegetarian lentil soup (lentejas) and the traditional bread pudding dessert (capirotada). The main plate on traditional meals usually includes mashed potatoes and either rice or bread. I usually like to get fish because the restaurants usually prepare it so well, but I think I see about two shrimp specials on the menu for every one that is fish.

Capirotada

Capirotada

The following list includes recent places I have visited, with two of them (El Jacalito and Carnitas Queretaro) being long time favorites:

 

San Isidro Mission Cafe

1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX

This restaurant seems to be well known for its Lent special, although I just tried it for the first time this year.

Pescado Marinero

Pescado Marinero

Unlike other restaurants, though, San Isidro only has one Lent special. It is called Pescado Marinero, and is cooked in foil with a fish fillet, clams, squid, and shrimp all cooked together. Frankly, I went with a friend who shared this dish with me, and we both got full. We were both very happy with the food as well. The dinner came with lentil soup and capirotada (the only down side with sharing the meal is that you only get one of each of these side dishes).

The up side of this meal was that the fish was good and the seafood and vegetables mixed in were a nice added touch. The down side was that there were no other items on the Lent menu–this was the only special available. The lentils were prepared in a different style than the others I tried (heavy on the cilantro) and were very good. The capirotada was moist to the point of being soggy (more like an actual pudding than the others). Although different, this was also a worthwhile experience.

Edit: I should mention that we got an extra order of lentils and that is the reason both of us were full.

 

Carnitas Queretaro

7410 Remcon Circle
El Paso, TX

Carnitas Queretaro is the only restaurant I have found which serves Filete Veracruzano (fish with Veracruz sauce) on a regular basis, meaning every Friday during Lent. Thus, I got to try the one dish which is probably my favorite during Lent.

Filete Veracruzano

Filete Veracruzano

I loved the sauce here, but the fish fillet was probably the most disappointing out of the ones I tried this year. I also know that it was not up to the standard I experienced in previous years at Carnitas Queretaro. This was quite an expensive meal, and I just do not understand why this restaurant has changed so much (even so it was almost worth it to get such a good veracruzana sauce).

The lentil soup and capirotada were both excellent, and Carnitas is excellent on items such as the chips and salsa. The main plate came with mashed potatoes, rice and bread. To me this is overkill on the starchy items, although I enjoyed the mashed potatoes very much.

 

Delicias Cafe

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Delicias Cafe had good fish and an excellent poblana sauce. Several shrimp items were on the menu, and the staff explained that the owner and chef decide the night before what items to put on the Lent menu (so it changes weekly).

Filete with poblana sauce

Filete with poblana sauce

The lentils here were probably my least favorite of the ones I tried, but the capirotada was one of the best. The meal was a little bit strange because they had put “Filete a la Veracruzana” on the menu but the meal they brought me had a different sauce (the poblana sauce). When I asked about this they gave me some veracruz sauce to try, but I found that the poblana sauce was actually much better. In any case, if you are all right with being surprised (in a good way) then this is a good place to come.

Edit: I returned to Delicias on Good Friday and ordered the Filete a la Veracruzana. It confirmed my previous observation that the poblana sauce was better (and at Delicias I would probably skip the veracruzana sauce).

 

El Jacalito

2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX

El Jacalito is one of the restaurants that changes the menu weekly, and like most of them offers both fish and shrimp. This is my favorite restaurant for the veracruz style fish (which I did not have this year), but it is also my favorite for breaded fish (empanizado). In fact, this is really my favorite place for Lent specials.

Pescado empanizado

Pescado empanizado

One reason it is good is because of the price, but where the food is concerned I really like everything I have tried. The breaded fish had a very good sauce which was not quite like the veracruz sauce I had hoped to try, but what I had was very enjoyable. The fish itself was very fresh, and was the best I tried at any restaurant (although San Isidro was very close). The lentils and capirotada are always my favorites here, and this year was no exception.

El Jacalito is only open for lunch (as is San Isidro) but it is a great place for Lent specials if you can make it. Sometimes they do not have either the breaded or the veracruz style fish, but others may be happier with the shrimp options than I am, and there are other items on the menu you can also choose (enchiladas, etc., or even a meat item if you are not following a Lenten diet). In any case, I think it is worth coming here just for the lentil soup and capirotada.

In past years I always included their horchata as part of the Lent tradition. This year I decided on iced tea, but the horchata really is one of the best I have found anywhere.

 

Hatch Chiles at Crest (2016)–Oklahoma City, OK

This notice is being given to customers at Crest Grocery Store in Oklahoma City for Hatch chiles:

Hatch chiles

Hatch chiles available at Crest Grocery

Store 6 (highlighted in yellow) is the one at N. Rockwell and Hefner. For two stores it is already too late, but others will have them for sale either this week or next.

The Crest web site lists the following addresses for these stores:

No. 6 — 11120 N. Rockwell

No. 7 — 10601 S. May Ave.

No. 2 — 249 N. Douglas (Midwest City)

No. 4 — 1315 N. Eastern (Moore)

No. 5 — 4503 N.W. 23rd St.