okgourmet.com    Home of Steve's Restaurant Reviews

Café Mayapán

2000 Texas Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 217-1126

Mercado Mayapan located to the side of the restaurant

Note: Please see Steve's Food Blog for an updated version of this page

Café Mayapán is more than just a restaurant, it is part of a nonprofit organization that provides job training and neighborhood revitalization as well as being part of a complex of businesses located in an old warehouse. The idea of Café Mayapán was to employ some of the displaced workers from the old factory where the restaurant is now located. Next door is a mercado selling arts and crafts, with several community organizations housed elsewhere in the building.

Café Mayapán knows it is in a tough neighborhood to serve dinner, and is only open on weekdays at the lunch period. I do not think many customers come to Café Mayapán strictly out of sympathy for the cause it represents, rather they are coming for some of the highest quality Mexican food in El Paso. I have to admire them for not serving the same type of food that can be found at numerous restaurants throughtout the city. El Paso style food has its merits with hot chiles and robust flavors, but it is not the only type of Mexican food that exists. The style of food served in the interior of Mexico is quite hard to find on the borderland, but it is the theme of Café Mayapán. I cannot identify a specific state in Mexico as the source for the recipes used, instead I think they probably represent the varied background of the women involved in La Mujer Obrera whose backgrounds are from various places in Mexico.

Performances are sometimes given on stage
Cafe Mayapan's large dining room has a stage for performances

The interior is quite spacious and probably could accommodate many more tables than are available, but room has been left for a stage where mariachis perform on Fridays and other groups may occasionally provide entertainment. The restaurant uses traditonal wooden furniture with comfortable pads to make it easy to spend a leisurely meal. A counter is available for takeout, but regular diners can order at the table. Service is fast, as I found out when I have had limited time for lunch.

All customers are given complimentary Chips that offer the first sign of the quality and home made flavor found at Café Mayapán. These are thick and about as non-greasy as you can find.

The Salsa was not memorable in terms of the local style made with New Mexico chiles. It was very good and fresh, though being made with green chiles and a mix of spices commonly served in the interior of Mexico.

To me a sign of a good Mexican restaurant is that it serves good soup. At Café Mayapán the soups go beyond good, they are representative of the traditional soups found in central Mexico and are as much of an educational experience to borderland residents who are generally limited to caldo de res as they are taste treats. Several varieties are available and they make up a good part of the menu.

Small caldo tlalpeño
Caldo tlalpeño comes in a small size (shown in picture) or a large serving

Soups are available in two sizes, with the smaller one meant to be an appetizer while waiting for the meal. I ordered the Caldo Tlalpeño that consisted of chicken, guacamole, vegetables, and a chipotle chile. There were no tortilla strips as in the typical tortilla soup, but otherwise this one was very similar. One of the notable features of it, though, was the fresh vegetables that were similar to the ones used in the border version of caldo de res, but the vegetables here were fresher and crisper, not tasting as if they had been cooked all morning. Caldo Tlalpeño is a dish from the Veracruz area, and because of migration patterns from Mexico usually finds its way to restaurants from Laredo north a lot more frequently than to El Paso and the western part of the United States. I have found chipotle chiles in other El Paso restaurants, but as far as I know Café Mayapán has the only caldo tlalpeño to be found in the area.

Sopa azteca
"Sopa azteca," tortilla soup with cheese and avocado

Sopa Azteca is made with tortilla chips and noodles, with the same spices included in the caldo tlalpeño. Missing are the vegetables, but it is good to have two versions of the same basic soup. The chipotle chile is definitely something not found in all El Paso versions of tortilla soup.

Large caldo de fideo
Large caldo de fideo at Cafe Mayapan

A soup that may be more familar to borderland residents is Caldo de Fideo made with spaghetti-like noodles and a red colored broth. The one shown in the picture is a large bowl with several albondigas meatballs that have been a traditional border favorite, but are not served at a large number of restaurants because they seem to be hard to prepare correctly. To me it is hard to find any ground beef I really like but these were good. I am not sure if this dish represents cooking from the interior of Mexico or the border, but it shows that Café Mayapán has a little bit of everything.

Pechuga de pollo en mole poblano
Chicken breast in Puebla style mole

Pechuga de Pollo en Mole Poblano is a chicken breast served with a green mole poblano for one of the restaurant's "lighter and healthier" dishes (other than the fact it has such a large piece of chicken it might be too much for lunch). This is the only green mole I have found in El Paso, but I believe Café Mayapán also offers the more familiar brown mole. I think this is a good dish with which to become initiated to Mexican mole. If it turns out the green mole is not your thing, there is enough chicken breast to make a good meal, and the mole can be scraped off. If you find the sauce as satisfying as I do, though, there is enough to cover every bite of chicken.

Agua fresca de sandía
Freshly made watermelon drink

The restaurant serves several flavors of agua fresca drinks including Sandía, a drink made of watermelon juice with no pulp included. I think for the best example of these more unusual drinks I would suggest Flautas Tepalca in Canutillo, but the one I tried at Café Mayapán was very good. These drinks tend to be seasonal, with lemonade being something that can be made all year. To me it is not the flavor that matters as much as having a freshly made traditional drink to go along with an equally fresh and traditional meal.

The home made Tortillas were one of the best aspects of the meal and provided a flavor that cannot be found in pre-packaged tortillas.

The real strength of Café Mayapán is the consistent quality as well as the menu that offers dishes not normally found in El Paso. The whole experience of having excellent soup, drink, chips, salsa, and tortillas confirmed to me that this is one of the best Mexican restaurants in El Paso. It is too bad the restaurant is only open for lunch (and only during the week), but I do think it is worthwhile trying to make it.

The food at Café Mayapán is not terribly spicy, being more representative of traditional Mexican food from the interior than the spicy chiles more common near the border. I am sure the food could be quite spicy if you order certain items.

To me Café Mayapán is one of the best (if not the best) Mexican restaurants in El Paso. It is a departure from the normal "border style" food, but maybe this is a good thing (except to border food purists, if there is such a thing).

Note:  Mercado Mayapan at 2101 Myrtle is La Mujer Obrera's newest venture (as of 2009), and information can be found on the organization's web site. The food is based on a different state every month. They also have a tortilla shop, bakery, grocery items from Mexico, smoothies, spices and chile seco, and many more items for sale. In addition they offer cultural events and live entertainment every weekend.



Cuisine: Mexican Interior
Cost: $$
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: No

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
May 28, 2008

Number of Visits: 2

Best Items
Caldo Tlalpeño, Pechuga, Sandía Drink

Special Ratings
Caldo Tlalpeño:
Caldo de Fideo:
Pechuga de Pollo:
Sandía Drink:

Restaurant Web Site
Mercado Mayapan