When you call a place in institution it can mean either the place has been around so long that it's more about the place than the food. Or it could mean they have been a consistent place you can count to get something good time after time. Fortunately for dessert and cupcake lovers alike Kara's Cupcakes falls into the consistent category of institutions. Started as a hobby out of her home, while working a full time job, Kara's has grown to 7 locations and a couple of food trucks in the Bay Area. The original location is on Scott Street in the Marina and, well, of you are going to try something why not go to the source.
It's like a pink hallway with a few counter seats down the right and the glass case of cupcakes on the other side. I've been here several times, but it is always good to stop in every now and then to see if they have some new flavors they are trying out in addition to the usual standards. After perusing the case and asking a few questions about icing (yes I really did) I went with some signature flavors--banana caramel and Meyer lemony lemon.
Since the last time I was here, one thing I notice right of the bat is that the cupcakes seem smaller than last time, and smaller than others I've had in town recently. When you are charging $3.25 a pop for a cupcake, maybe it's just me, but I feel it really needs to be much bigger than a mini, and these didn't seem that much bigger. They should be closer to muffin size instead of two bite size, which is basically what these were. As for taste, well that's a different story, I can't say I've ever had a bad cupcake here. The banana was moist and had good flavor with a not too sweet caramel filling and the cream cheese frosting wasn't overly sweet either--like banana bread without the nuts (a good thing) and then covered in caramel and cream cheese. For some people that may sound like too much, for me it was just right. The lemony lemon really is just that, a vanilla cupcake that was moist, filled with a nice tangy lemon pudding type filling and a lemon buttercream frosting, though the lemon was not as strong in the frosting as it was in the filling. I have to say I really tasted more buttery-ness this time around which isn't such a bad thing. What I like about this cupcake is the bite from the lemon and while it is sweet it doesn't have that cloying sweetness like most desserts, it's more puckery sweet like a SweeTart.
My one ick here is the little round fondant blue thing that was on top, they really didn't have a taste and were more like a stale Necco Wafer or something, not a good lingering taste after the cupcake. Overall, yes, Kara's Cupcakes makes consistently good cupcakes though I won't say they are the best in town, I still think Cako does them better (and bigger) and they try new flavors out a bit more than Kara's. Though if I'm going to be totally honest the best cupcakes I've ever had are from Sprinkle's, which sadly, is not located in San Francisco. Between the large cupcake and the perfectly quaffed icing on top, every time I visit Los Angeles, they are on my must list and should be on yours too. Till then, we'll just have to make do with the the local folks.