click to enlarge food-continental-1164_330jpg
Waitress Helen Jalomo serves a plate of Tacos Norteño to Sergio Castilleja (right) - the self proclamed "Jared" of the Continental Lunchroom - as fellow probation department employees Tony Zermeno (left), Roland Lankford (2nd from right), and Kurt Goslin (top right), look on. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Downtown restaurant a pedestrian diner's delight

Long gone is the time when Faro Sam and Kid Nash gambled their days away at the Silver King Casino, and Mexican revolutionary Don Escandon Cassanova dined at the nearby world-famous Elite Restaurant.

People no longer anchor pontoon bathhouses in the San Antonio River to maintain a Saturday hygiene ritual, or haul barrels upstream to dunk them for drinking water. Concho Street is history. Produce Row is now Market Plaza. The Texas Theater is merely a façade on Houston Street.

But Ken Kuramura, who grew up in Prospect Hill along Buena Vista Street, remembers the way San Antonio looked back when you could buy a 50-cent plate lunch at one of his father's three restaurants: the Frank K. Cafe, the Toyo Cafe (currently occupied by Mi Tierra), and the Busy Bee, all near Produce Row.

Kuramura, who spent much of his youth around his father's (Frank Kuramura Sr.) establishments, returned to downtown eight years ago to follow in his dad's footsteps. He opened the Continental Lunchroom a few doors down from the county adult probation office, across from the old jail, and close enough for lawyers, judges, jurors, and perps to find nourishment without spending a month's pay.

"I like people," Kuramura explained. "This place is like a family. Everybody knows each other. It's not fancy. It's just good food and it's cheap."

The Continental Lunchroom appeals to those whose palate runs toward the pedestrian. (And it's only natural, downtown streets are best navigated on foot.) Or say a judge is going to send you up the river for pot possession and you are down to your last $5. You're going to be eating boiled bologna in the pokey for the next 10 to 15 years, and you want one last home-cooked meal: The Continental Lunchroom is the place.

705 Dolorosa
Hours: 7am-2:30pm
Price: Under $10
Handicapped accessible
Credit cards (No AmEx)
In the morning, a plate of huevos rancheros with potatoes and refried beans runs you $1.59, and it takes less than five minutes for your order to reach your table. A Mexican plate at lunchtime is reasonably priced, and the restaurant's cook, Julie Maldonado, doesn't skimp with American cheese on the enchiladas (short-shrifting the queso should be illegal). Larry, one of Kuramura's three sons, promotes his giant tacos that include everything but the kitchen sink.

Try the Barrio Bowl - a generous helping of pinto beans, laced with vermicelli (fideo), and topped with a scoop of picadillo - for the "badge special" price of $3.19. Cuidado, gringos. That chile toreado floating in the bowl is a fresh, slightly roasted jalapeño. It will scald your taste buds and break a sweat on your brow, and might give you the hiccups.

The Badge Specials are so named because of the frequent sightings of jail guards, sheriff's deputies, bailiffs, city policemen, and probation officers at the lunchroom. Underpaid city employees, disciples of Blackstone's criminal statute books, ("Police Powers and Issues During Investigation" might be go well with a couple strips of bacon) or malcriados waiting for the jury to return a verdict can peruse the wall of business cards bearing the names of bail bondsmen, defense attorneys, and other stewards of jurisprudence. Think of it as NYPD Blue meets Alice at Mel's Diner.

Gone are the days of the chili queens, bathing in the river, hanging out at John Brady's parlor bar in hopes that someone will buy a few rounds of Hoffheunschmittlehausen Beer for the house. But the area of Market Square, City Hall, and the county courthouse is still a major hub in the daily commerce of San Antonio. And the Continental Lunchroom sits unobtrusively in the midst of the action. •

More by Michael Cary



Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.