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A Condensed Guide to El Paso/Las Cruces

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Updated Sep. 24, 2014

This is a partial guide to El Paso's best restaurants, since I certainly am not able to sample every dish at every restaurant to find the "best." Many of my best meals have come from tips given to me by friends and co-workers who have eaten at enough restaurants to give me good leads. I also feel that it is appropriate to include suggestions from readers, and feel free to send e-mails with your picks (I will use as many as I can).

Steve's recommendations are listed in the general order of preference, and reader's suggestions are listed in the general order of popularity.

Note: See the El Paso Index for links to the El Paso restaurants, and the New Mexico Index for restaurants in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. (The El Paso reviews are currently under construction and readers can see a complete list of reviews at the old web site: El Paso Index on Eskimo.com).

The two main types of Mexican food found in El Paso are "El Paso" and "Chihuahua" style. There is not always a clear distinction between the two, but I would describe them as follows:
El Paso Style: Uses local chiles which are usually spicier than in traditional Mexican food; Serves combination plates or large plates with rice and beans; Enchiladas are served more frequently, and usually come with more cheese; Tacos are usually served with hard shells, and are frequently made with ground beef
Chihuahua Style: Not as spicy except for the salsa served on the side (you add as much as you want); Usually concentrates on one or two specialties such as fish, tacos al carbon, flautas, steaks, specialized types of meat, or other items they believe they can do better than other restaurants; Tacos are served with soft tortillas; Salsa is often served with the meal instead of before the meal with chips; Caldo de res is usually served for lunch as part of a "Comida Corrida"; Many times they serve items that are more "exotic" and not generally served in the El Paso style restaurants
About twenty years ago the "large" restaurants tended to be El Paso style while the small ones (run by one or two people) tended to be Chihuahua style restaurants. Chihuahua style restaurants also tended to be located south of Interstate 10. Now the geography of these restaurants is more mixed, and many restaurants serve both styles of food. The distinction I use to classify these restaurants is certainly not an exact science.

There is not a lot of Interior Style Mexican food in El Paso, but for the purpose of this discussion it will include food from states other than Chihuahua.

New Mexican Style food is a regional food originating in New Mexico but which can also be found in the western portion of El Paso County, Texas. It is the predominant type of Mexican food found in Las Cruces and surrounding area.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
El Paso Style (usually a good place to get a combination plate) L&J (the spiciest of this group of restaurants); Su Casa (only open for lunch); Casa Jurado (on Doniphan); Forti's (very good flavor and food style but not as consistent in quality as the others); Amigos (the cook from the old La Hacienda is still cooking at Amigos, mainly at lunch) L&J; Su Casa
Chihuahua Style-- Upscale (with a mixture of Mexican and American or continental food) Cafe Central (more eclectic menu); Aroma (more of a Mexican menu with many dishes from the Interior)
Chihuahua Style-- Family Restaurants (serves more traditional border style food) Carnitas Querétaro; Julio's Cafe Corona; Barrigas Julio's Cafe Corona; Carnitas Querétaro (all except the UTEP location)
Chihuahua Style-- Inexpensive (including lunch only places) El Jacalito; Los Jarrones; La Choza El Jacalito
If you are looking for the best versions of individual dishes, this is the list I have come up with (along with suggestions by readers):

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Aguas Frescas Flautas Tepalca Canutillo (the best, and the largest variety); El Jacalito (horchata); La Malinche (horchata); JJ's (horchata) La Pachanga 222 Texas
Bakeries Bowie Bakery (default since La Ideal closed)
Caldillo Lucy's; L&J
Caldo de Res Jalisco Cafe; El Jacalito; Anita's
Carne Adovada
Carne Asada El Taco Tote
Chicken Pepe's; El Taco Tote
Chicken Mole Carnitas Querétaro; Barrigas; Los Jarrones; Casa Jurado
Chicken Tampiqueña Ay Caramba!; Amigos
Chile con Queso G&R Restaurant; Casa Jurado; La Choza
Chile Relleno L&J, Amigos
Chile Rojo El Ciro's
Chile Verde El Jacalito
Enchiladas (Green) L&J; Moe's; Sofia's San Elizario; Martha's
Enchiladas (Red) Su Casa; Dominguez Restaurant; Forti's; L&J
Entomatadas La Malinche
La Casita
Flautas Julio's Cafe Corona; Barrigas; Casa Jurado; El Meson de Oñate Socorro
Gorditas Little Diner Canutillo; JJ's
Huevos Rancheros H&H Coffee Shop
Milanesa Lucy's
Buena Vista Cafe (4172 N. Mesa-- Fri. only)
Salsa Su Casa; L&J; Julio's Cafe Corona; La Choza
Seafood Villa del Mar; Taco Fish; La Isla Mariscos Puerto Vallarta (1611 Montana)
Steak Tampiqueña Forti's
Tacos (Ground Beef) Su Casa
Tacos (Shredded Beef) Sofia's San Elizario; Ay Caramba!
Tacos al Carbon Santa Cecilia; Andele Mesilla, NM; El Taconazo
Tacos al Pastor
Santa Cecilia
Tacos de Barbacoa Los Jarrones
Tacos de Bisteca
El Taco Tote
Tamales Lupita's Canutillo (take-out only)
Tortilla Soup Amigos (the best in town, but not available all the time); Greenery Restaurant and Market, Azulejos
Tortillas (Corn) Jalisco Cafe
Tortillas (Flour) Kiki's
While in my estimation the El Paso region has developed a style of Mexican food that is truly indigenous, the same can almost be said of the variation of New Mexican cuisine found in Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico. Still classified as New Mexican cuisine, there are some differences in dishes and ingredients from the food that developed in Northern New Mexico. Southern New Mexican cuisine, though, shares a fondness for spicy chiles with its northern cousin that is largely absent from El Paso cooking.

New Mexican cuisine was served at the popular Griggs Restaurant in El Paso until it closed in the early 2000's, but the food lives on through one of the former cooks who now operates Peppe's Restaurant in Canutillo (not to be confused with Pepe's Chicken in El Paso). The Griggs family also founded and operated La Posta in Mesilla and El Pinto in Albuquerque, all of which typify southern New Mexico cuisine (although I think the two restaurants in New Mexico have been largely modified for tourists' tastes, while Peppe's stays more true to the original recipes).

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Doña Ana Co., NM Chope's La Mesa (especially the chile relleno and green enchilada); Nellie's Las Cruces (especially the stuffed sopapilla and red enchilada); Los Mariachis Las Cruces (especially the stuffed sopapilla and red enchilada) Memorial Medical Center Las Cruces (green enchiladas served Fri. only)
El Paso Co., TX Peppe's Canutillo (The menu from Griggs Restaurant is served here)
For American food I usually think of Luby's Cafeteria or Cracker Barrel, neither of which I really recommend as one of my top picks. Listed below, though, are some suggestions for specific items that are noteworthy.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Chicken Billy Crews Santa Teresa, NM (by far the best chicken I have had in the El Paso area); Elmer's (good for fried chicken, but I regularly get better fried chicken when I am in Oklahoma) Track One (Wings)
Hamburgers Toro Burger Bar (gourmet burgers, and I think they are the best in the El Paso area); Charcoaler (charcoal broiled hamburgers with barbecue sauce-- drive through service only); Rosco's (I'm putting this in third place because I have read comments on Urbanspoon that it is not as good as it once was, but I would probably pick it over Charcoaler) Frisco Burger Inn
Sandwiches Now that International Bakery & Deli has reopened (about a block from its old location) this would be the first place I would go for sandwiches. One thing I liked about the old location (and I don't know if it's true for the new location) is that you get great side dishes with the sandwiches. House of Pizza (Pastrami)
Seafood I do not think any of the American style seafood restaurants are really outstanding, but I might think about trying the fish at one of the upscale or fine dining restaurants such as Ripe, Cafe Central, Billy Crews, etc. Also, probably the best fish I have had in El Paso has been at Matsuharu Japanese Restaurant. Catfish Basket 4950 Hondo Pass (Catfish); TugBoat 5501 Dyer (Fish and Chips)
The barbecue in El Paso is really nothing special compared to Austin or Oklahoma City (two other cities in which I have lived), but it is still quite good compared to many parts of the country. Be aware, though, that Famous Dave's is a chain and does not serve Texas style barbecue (in case you are wanting to try Texas style BBQ while in El Paso). Johnny's Pit Barbecue on Doniphan is good, but I have had problems with a MSG reaction after eating there.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Ribs State Line had excellent beef and pork ribs when I tried them (but I keep hearing reports that it is no longer as good as it once was)
Brisket Rudy's has central Texas style brisket that I think is very good (and overall I think Rudy's is probably the best BBQ restaurant in El Paso); Mo'Z on Fred Wilson is good; I remember Tony's on Myrtle as being good from the past (but I have not been there recently) Rudy's
There is quite a bit of overlap between restaurants that could be classified as "fine dining" and those that could be identified as "upscale Mexican." Those that I consider to be more Mexican influenced have been listed above, but are included in this section as well.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Mexican Style Cafe Central (this is both Mexican and American, and is probably my favorite of the two); Aroma (serves upscale interior style Mexican food)
American Style Billy Crews Santa Teresa, NM (this is more of a traditional steakhouse with a wine bar); Ripe (would be classified as "upscale" mainly on the dinner menu) Magic Pan; Geske's
There are at least two pizza restaurants that I think are not only good for El Paso, but that would be considered good in any city. Cafe Italia serves Italian style wood fired pizza, and after comparisons in Oklahoma City and some other cities this is still the best pizza I have found. Hello Pizza serves New York style pizza, and some readers have told me that the pizza is as good as in New York.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Italian Style Cafe Italia (wood fired Italian style pizza-- one of the best I have tasted anywhere)
New York Style Hello Pizza Hello Pizza

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Overall Picks Greenery Restaurant and Market is more of an American than Southwest restaurant, but I have always liked the tortilla soup and I imagine it has other good Southwest dishes as well
Green Chile Cheeseburger Great American Land & Cattle has a GCC to which I give a moderate recommendation; I hear that Toro Burger Bar also has a good GCC
I have limited experience with steaks at upscale restaurants. However, the traditional steakhouses are generally more well known, and I think are quite good.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Upscale Restaurants Cafe Central (puntas de filete is good)
Steakhouses Great American Land & Cattle (Alabama or Mesa Hills) is my favorite, and I have been going there for over 30 years; Cattleman's in Fabens used to be my favorite but I think the steaks are now not as good as at Great American (however, its location on a working ranch 30 miles or so east of El Paso is spectacular); Billy Crews in Santa Teresa is excellent, but I have not tried the steaks there (only the chicken)
This is one of the most popular categories of food in El Paso other than Mexican, and it has gotten much better in the past few years. My favorite category is Chinese, and there was at least one restaurant that I think had food that would be competitive on a national level (Moon Day), but it closed in 2012. Red Lantern is a Chinese restaurant that I think would be considered very good in just about any city, although its menu is very limited compared to west coast restaurants.

Oriental Cafe is the restaurant at which I eat most often, with very authentic Cantonese menu and special dishes (this is a small family run restaurant that I know could not compete against some of the larger and more famous restaurants on the west coast, but I think the home style food served at Oriental Cafe may be better than at a lot of these more well known places).

A couple of restaurants that I think would receive recognition in any city in the United States are Matsuharu (for several of its Japanese dishes) and Mi Piaci (for upscale Italian food). Chut-ney is a south Indian restaurant that is comparable to similar restaurants I have tried in Seattle, but as with Oriental Cafe its real strength lies in its home cooking style food and consistency that comes from the same cooks always being in the kitchen.

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Chinese Red Lantern serves Hong Kong style food, and is very good for banquets, Chinese New Year, items from the Chinese menu, etc.; Oriental Cafe is very good for ordering from the menu, and has moved the food away from the American style served by the former owners to a more traditional Cantonese style; Moon Star has a large selection of authentic Cantonese dishes (some of which are not on the menu but can be specially ordered); Shan Dong has a very good northern Chinese style noodle soup as well as the best egg roll I have ever eaten; Sam's used to have very good authentic Chinese food but I could not get any the last time I went, so I'm not sure what is happening with this restaurant (out of the three original owners of Sam's one has since opened Moon Star and works full time there while another opened Red Lantern and is there full time) Sun Garden 6600 N. Mesa (where Moon Day used to be)
German I currently have no favorite German restaurants, but Marina's German Bakery is excellent for bread and pastries Peter's Bakery (bread)
Greek Casa Pizza has excellent pizza, but the Greek food is even better-- this is a casual place where customers order at the counter Tiffany's Las Cruces
Hawaiian Aloha Hawaiian BBQ provides a good version of Hawaiian "plate lunches" that is a popular type of informal dining on the islands. Aloha has two locations (east side and west side), and I like both of them. My best experience, though, was at the east side restaurant. Ono Grindz Las Cruces
Indian Chut-ney's is an authentic South Indian style restaurant that is about as good as I have experienced anywhere
Italian Italian cuisine is one of the better choices in El Paso, but my favorites are:
Mi Piaci (west) for upscale Italian food
Trattoria Bella Sera (east) is a little bit less upscale but very good
Monteleone's (central) is very downscale (and has a gangster theme), but IMO with excellent food
El Paso City Grill 504 S. Mesa St. (breakfast & lunch only)
Japanese Matsuharu would be considered excellent on the west coast, and I suspect even in Japan-- the main problem is that the selection of fish is limited in El Paso (but the fish I have had at Matsuharu has been the best I have experienced at any restaurant in El Paso) Matsuharu
Korean Han Il's serves very good, home style food (and I think is the best). El Paso is a good city for Korean food overall, and has several Korean restaurants and grocery stores. Bull Galbee; Seoul
Middle Eastern Jerusalem (probably the best overall); Al-Zaituna (gyros, kaftah kabob, and tabuleh); Salma Farah's (gyros, falafel, and tabouli); Su Casa (tabouli and spinach pies, also serves Mexican food). Overall El Paso is one of the best cities I have found for Middle Eastern food, surpassed only by Oklahoma City (El Paso is better than Seattle, but I think I just haven't found the right places in Seattle yet).
Puerto Rican
Maracas Canutillo
Sushi Matsuharu (I think it is the best in El Paso, but not like west coast sushi in terms of variety); Hamachi is my second choice; Sakura would have tied for second but it is now closed (I have not tried Makoto or Sunny's) Hamachi; Makoto; Sunny's Sushi
Thai Tara Thai (look for special curry dishes such as the salmon chuchee); Singapore is really way down the scale from Tara Thai in second place, but it is an easier restaurant for me because they have good lunch specials, it is less expensive, and I know what to order that I think has a fairly good Thai flavor. There is a new Thai restaurant on Dyer that has good comments on Urbanspoon.
Vietnamese Saigon Taste in first place; Pho Tre Bien in second place (I like them both)

Steve's Recommendations Readers' Suggestions
Desserts Cafe Central, Mi Piaci, Marina's German Bakery P. F. Chang's (Lucky 8);
Le Rendez-Vous 2701 W. Picacho, Las Cruces (pastries)
Vegetarian Ripe is probably the best place for upscale vegetarian dining (an alternative would be The Greenery); Chut-ney is excellent for vegetarian south Indian food; Oriental Cafe, Pho Tre Bien, Saigon Taste, and Singapore are some of the best choices for Asian food if you want to ensure that a strictly vegetarian (and flavorful) meal can be prepared (the chefs at all these restaurants give as much attention to preparing vegetarian dishes as meat dishes); Jerusalem Grill and Salma Farah's serve flavorful Middle Eastern food, but Su Casa serves spinach pie and tabouli along with great cheese enchiladas; Como's has a very reasonably priced spaghetti with marinara sauce as a special on Tue. and Thurs. evenings; Ardovino's is my favorite vegetarian pizza; Kiki's is well known in El Paso for offering vegetarian Mexican food (including the beans and tortillas) with a traditional Mexican flavor.
Lent Specials Many Mexican restaurants offer fish, seafood, or meatless specials on Fridays during Lent in order to observe the religious traditions of the Catholic Church. The best Lent specials, such as are found at El Jacalito and Carnitas Querétaro, also have special foods such as a vegetarian lentil soup and capirotada for dessert.
Live Music The Dome Bar in the Camino Real is known for good quality live music
Mariachis This can be highly variable, but as far as I know Dominguez Restaurant has them every Saturday night; I have also heard mariachis at Barrigas, Forti's, and Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey's (but I do not know the schedule)


El Paso Index

El Paso County Area Restaurant Reviews

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Reviews for New Mexico Restaurants including Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Anthony

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Supplemental Articles, Special Topics, and Historical Information