Good Time Charlie’s vs. Josephine Street


Listen to me. These two San Antonio institutions started in 1979, the year Pink Floyd released “The Wall.” Both are just off Broadway north of downtown, less than a mile from each other. Both cultivate a friendly atmosphere where the staff already knows what the regulars want.

It’s a showdown between the coffee titans of San Antonio: Good Time Charlie’s versus Josephine Street.

Photos from personnel file

Both speak the Texan language of steaks, burgers, fried catfish and chicken fried steak, with bar menus rich in whiskey, beer and margaritas. And both have a version of steak con queso.

Josephine Street made it into Express-News’ Top 100 Dining & Drinks guide as one of the best restaurants in town, and Good Time Charlie’s won our latest Burger Madness tournament.

I like both, but not the same amount. And it’s time to pick a side, like I did with Whataburger vs. Burger Boy, Bill Miller vs. Rudy’s, and Fred’s Fish Fry vs. Sea Island Shrimp House.

May the best roadhouse win.

On ExpressNews.com: Whataburger vs Burger Boy

Good Time Charlie's has been in business since 1979 on Broadway near Mahncke Park.

Good Time Charlie’s has been in business since 1979 on Broadway near Mahncke Park.

Mike Sutter/Staff

Good time at Charlie’s

When Good Time Charlie’s started in 1979, it cultivated more of a full-throttle roadhouse experience, with live music and rowdiness suited to the neighborhood at the time. Now it’s more like the quieter bar-grill side room of a honky-tonk, with beat-up tile floors, a utilitarian bar, and a southern-style verandah that feels like a Sunday morning versus the perpetual neon Friday night of the main dining room.

The food: The chicken fried steak is the star attraction at a place like this, and Good Time Charlie’s makes it slim, with a steak that would be way too tough without a good kick. But it’s the right texture for a dunk in hot oil with a surround sound crust that knows when to be crunchy and when to hang on for life. They finish with sunny cream sauce, dense mashed potatoes, Texan toast, and green beans with bacon, just as our ancestors intended.

A 16-ounce sirloin steak comes with Texas toast and a side such as loaded mashed potatoes at Good Time Charlie's on Broadway.

A 16-ounce sirloin steak comes with Texas toast and a side such as loaded mashed potatoes at Good Time Charlie’s on Broadway.

Mike Sutter/Staff

Sides can make a lot of difference, and a pile of mashed potatoes loaded with bacon, scallions and cheese needed a plate next to a 16-ounce sirloin steak with the searing of salt and pepper that comes from a flat-top grill, a sear that missed medium-rare on the way to medium-well.

The grill was gentler on the sirloin cubes that formed the base of the steak con queso, leaving them blackened on the outside and pink on the inside, ready for a sip of Velveeta queso. With a side of sautéed zucchini, it was a celebratory dish with a more refined attitude. The same sirloin cube treatment worked well for Charlie’s K-Bob, a skewered take on kebabs with caramelized onions and peppers.

The menu at Good Time Charlie's on Broadway includes, clockwise from top left, Loaded Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak, Kentucky Mule, Fried Catfish and a 16-ounce T-bone steak.

The menu at Good Time Charlie’s on Broadway includes, clockwise from top left, Loaded Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak, Kentucky Mule, Fried Catfish and a 16-ounce T-bone steak.

Mike Sutter/Staff

San Antonio loves a good bean burger, a beef patty topped with refried beans, salsa, and crushed tortilla chips. It was not this. Even with hot sauce and cheese, it was too stiff, too dry and too reserved to live up to the legend.

Good Time Charlie’s true bar and grill roots showed every time they threw something in the fryer. A basket called Nuts, Bolts & Rings layered an expertly crispy shag over zucchini, mushrooms and onion rings, and fried catfish was pearly and fresh under a cornmeal crust, arranged in the shape of a a hand ready to throw a high-five.

The barcraft here is pretty basic, with a margarita that tasted like a blend and a piña colada that could have come from a shaker machine. But I enjoyed the variety of variations of Charlie’s Moscow Mules, and it turns out Rebecca Creek tastes pretty good with ginger ale and lime. They call it a Kentucky mule.

The atmosphere: Co-owner Millard Stetler said it best in an interview with the Express-News in 2014: “People feel they own here, that they belong. They can enter if they are heading to the symphony orchestra or if they have played tennis or golf. They sit next to each other and there is no pretension here. That, and the waiters who might call you “honey” whether you’re 13 or 93.

The intangibles: Charlie’s could have scored big points with its Tex-Mex submenu of nachos and enchiladas, but a plate of cheesy enchiladas looked like a science fair experiment gone wrong, a shiny swamp of brown and of red that let me play – and lose – the “find the enchiladas” game.

Where to find them: 2922 Broadway, 210-828-5392, gtcsatx.com

On ExpressNews.com: Bill Miller Bar-BQ vs. Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-BQ

Josephine Street opened in 1979 just off Broadway near what is now the Pearl.

Josephine Street opened in 1979 just off Broadway near what is now the Pearl.

Robin Jerstad/For the Express-News

Josephine Street

When I reviewed Josephine Street in 2018, I was mesmerized by the neon blue glow of the “Steaks” and “Whisky” signs in the windows of this “low-key joint holding the corner of Josephine and Broadway since 1979, since before the Pearl, since before the neighborhood grew cold around it. Nothing has changed. And sometimes nothing is exactly what you need.

The food: There’s something about a steak cooked on a flat grill that makes you either love it or hate it. I am in the first camp. It’ll never have the cross-hatching or smoky flavor of a wood-burning grill, but the flat top transmitted consistent shellac through a 16-ounce T-bone, almost like a glazed donut, which left the meat at the same temperature throughout. High.

I can’t sing the same praises for the chicken fried steak here, for the same reason the CFS gets lost in so many places: the crust outweighs the meat. Sure, a big chicken fried steak is a nice plate show, but when enough of the crust is a hollow bite with no meat inside, all I can think of is “all hat and no cattle”.

A 16-ounce T-bone steak comes with an onion ring and side dish at Josephine Street, a cafe near the Pearl.

A 16-ounce T-bone steak comes with an onion ring and side dish at Josephine Street, a cafe near the Pearl.

Mike Sutter/staff

But let’s get to it all with the Josephine Street anticuchos, two skewers of grilled cubed fillets alternated with peppers and onions. It’s like a steak dinner on a stick, with a seasoned marinade between sweet onions, tangy peppers and coral-rich beef. Steak con queso offered the same kind of jaw-dropping satisfaction, this time with a tenderly cooked ground sirloin patty drenched in queso that didn’t have to be fancy to taste good.

The Josephine Street side game features steamed broccoli and decadent fries. They call them fries, but they are very thin circles of crispy, chewy potato that sits between fries and potato chips. And here is the part where I would talk about the onion rings, so good they throw a ring on most entrees. Except they weren’t that good, rendering an unpleasantly greasy shade of fryer oil brown with breading as sharp inside the mouth as Cap’n Crunch cereal.

Ground sirloin can be ordered with queso and a side of broccoli at Josephine Street, a cafe near the Pearl.

Ground sirloin can be ordered with queso and a side of broccoli at Josephine Street, a cafe near the Pearl.

Mike Sutter/staff

While Josephine Street isn’t primarily a burger destination, the El Rey Burger made the opposite, a big, juicy argument layered with cheese, jalapeños, ranchero sauce, and caramelized tomatoes and onions.

The big wooden Hollywood cast bar isn’t just for show. Josephine Street doesn’t do anything original with a margarita, but it builds on its Texas heritage with a flight of Texas-made whiskey, served in small glasses that sound great when you tap them on the bar after a shot.

The atmosphere: Business partners Pat Molak and Mary Jane Nalley opened Josephine Street in 1979, inspired by The Hoffbrau, an 88-year-old blue-collar steakhouse on West Sixth Street in Austin. The building has the same shotgun shack, blockhouse feel, but they built it into something even better, with a saloon vibe that feels both rustic and consciously stripped down and modern at the same time. .

The intangibles: The 115-year-old Fincke’s Meat Market building leans a little to the side, the wooden floors crumble like the set of ‘Lonesome Dove’ and the anticuchos give you a little taste of Fiesta all year round.

Where to find them: 400 E. Josephine St., 210-224-6169, josephinestreet.com

The winner

How’s the song? “Some must win, some must lose. Good Time Charlie has the blues. While Charlie’s had better fried onions, chicken fried steak and catfish and tied for margaritas and steak con queso, Josephine Street beat it to steaks, burgers, fries, anticuchos and a saloon atmosphere as enduring as the tree trunk that runs through its heart.

[email protected] | Twitter: @fedmanwalking | Instagram: @fedmanwalking

Previous 🍽️Top-Rated Fine Dining Restaurants in Orlando, According to Tripadvisor
Next Alex Dilling at the Hotel Café Royal | Eat Drink