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Forti's Mexican Elder

321 Chelsea St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 772-0066

Forti's Mexican Elder about a block south of Interstate 10 on Chelsea Street

Forti's Mexican Elder is one of the oldest and most well-known representatives of El Paso style Mexican food, and is probably as popular with tourists as with local residents. When I talk to local residents many complain about the prices that are charged, but I hear very little negative about the food.

When I first went to Forti's it was pretty much a neighborhood restaurant that was becoming more well known throughout the city. The building is quite large (and I think has been expanded from the original), resembling a hacienda with three levels inside and an outdoor patio. This is not quite the same type of tourist destination that can be found in Mesilla or Santa Fe, New Mexico, but the Mexican-looking interior is very pleasant for a leisurely meal.

Looking over the balcony to the main dining room
Looking over the balcony to the main dining room

For a while Forti's had a branch at the El Paso International Airport, and was always on my family's agenda while waiting for departures until the airport changed the food service contract. Now the food court largely resembles the same type of fast food wastelands found at the majority of airports throughout the country, and passengers are missing a Mexican food opportunity that was probably rivaled only by the branch of Garduños at the Albuquerque airport (I never thought the food at the airport Forti's was quite as good as in the original restaurant, but it was still quite worthwhile).

Forti's has a list of "specialties" on the menu that most likely represent the best food that is served. I think many establishments use this list to push their most expensive items, but in the case of Forti's the specialties do seem to be a notch above many of the other items in terms of flavor and quality.

Tampiqueña steak with a red enchilada and guacamole
Tampiqueña steak with a red enchilada and guacamole

Tampiqueña Steak from the "specialties" menu is not only one of the better items served in the restaurant, but it may be one of the better ones in El Paso (although I am much more familiar with the various chicken tampiqueña dishes than the ones served with steak). This was pretty much what I was trying to get at Great American Land & Cattle Company--great beef with great green chile. I would say the steak is better at Great American (the green chile at Great American actually comes on the green chile cheeseburger). Forti's, though, served a great combination of the two, and the green chile was some of the best I have had in El Paso. On the "spice scale" the green chile here was probably about three-quarters of the way to the top, but if it is too spicy for some people they can cut off small pieces so that it will be diluted more by the meat and the tomato topping. This was one of the best single dishes I have had in El Paso Mexican restaurants.

The Red Enchilada that came with the tampiqueña was also among the best in El Paso, but that is something I have known for a long time, having ordered quite a few of the combination lunches and dinners. These have a rich red chile and a flavor that rivals many of the ones found in New Mexico. I think the tampiqueña is the only "specialty" dish that includes an enchilada--otherwise it would be necessary to order the enchilada on the side.

The Guacamole looked very appetizing, but was lacking in flavor compared to many that are served around Ysleta and the Lower Valley east of El Paso. In fact, I thought the guacamole at Ted's Cafe Escondido in Oklahoma city was better in terms of flavor (this is not a plug for Ted's, but is giving credit where credit is due).

The Beans served with nearly all plates are of excellent quality and are one of the few examples that enhance a meal rather than serving as a filler.

Combination plate
Combination plate with mole enchilada, red enchilada, chile relleno, and chicken taco

The combination plate comes with standard border Mexican food items, and substitutions are allowed. Even though the combination plate at Forti's is one of the most expensive in town, it is certainly worth sampling some of the best food the borderland has to offer.

Mole Enchiladas do not normally come on the combination plate, but they can be ordered as a substitution (or they can be ordered as a dinner). In years past I thought of them as having an absolutely wonderful rich flavor (with a chocolate component). On my latest experience I thought they were somewhat unbalanced, as I have been able to compare more versions of the dish around the city. They are still good, but I no longer think it is worth substituting other items for this one (chicken and mole may be another matter, since this would have a different flavor).

I have also tried the whole beans instead of refried beans, but I am not sure I have an opinion about which one is best.

The Chile Relleno (not shown in the photo, but ordered in the past) was just a little better than average, so I usually do not include this on a combination dinner.

I have not tried the taco recently, but the Chicken Taco (shown in the photo) was good. The Mexican style white cheese was one of its strong points.

One thing that sets Forti's apart from other long-time El Paso Mexican restaurants is that it has made certain changes over the years. One is that it used to have a "no substitution" policy on the combination plates, but this is now being done. This, along with a big improvement in the salsa, have probably made Forti's more popular at a time when many restaurants in central El Paso are seeing a decline in businss.

Chips and salsa
Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa used to be a source of irritation to me since I thought the salsa was "dumbed down" for tourists. Recently, though, it has been quite good with a distinct freshly made taste. The chips likewise are some of the best I can find in the city. Forti's has risen quite a bit in my estimation, not because of better dishes that are served, but through the elimination of the weak points that I experienced in the past.

Forti's serves fresh squeezed Lemonade that is a good example of this Mexican style drink. The bar also seems to be quite popular.

Forti's outdoor patio
Forti's outdoor patio takes advantage of El Paso's good weather

Forti's has an outdoor patio, and the inside is a split level with a main dining room and a "balcony" with tables overlooking the main room. There is sometimes entertainment, and the restaurant knows people want a good time and good ambiance almost as much as good food.

As one of the city's largest scale Mexican restaurants, Forti's has multiple cooks, and I think it is harder to maintain the food quality than is found in many of the small family run kitchens. However, rather than the food running from good to bad, I have found it to run from extremely good to still very good but with slight problems in the way certain things are cooked. I have lowered the rating from the one I once had, but it is still one of El Paso's very best Mexican restaurants.



Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Accessible: No
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine, Drinks

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
Feb. 9, 2010

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Item
Red Enchiladas, Tampiqueña Steak, Salsa

Special Ratings
Red Enchiladas:
Mole Enchiladas:
Tampiqueña Steak:
Chicken Taco:
Chiles Rellenos:

Restaurant Web Site