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Little Diner

7209 7th St.
Canutillo, TX
(915) 877-2176

 Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner

Finding this restaurant is half the adventure. Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner, otherwise known as "Little Diner" is located in Canutillo, just northwest of El Paso, off I-10 at the Trans-Mountain exit. For additional directions it is best to consult Little Diner's web site.

There is good reason for the name "Little," with a few booths and tables that at times can barely hold the crowd of customers that are here to enjoy the downscale, but very enjoyable Mexican cuisine. The crowd has become much larger in recent years due to word-of-mouth and magazine articles in publications such as Texas Monthly, extolling the delights of the "roadfood" served here. You will see much of this publicity exhibited on the walls, as well as the fact that George W. Bush has been a visitor.

 Some of Little Diner's Reviews and Awards
Some of Little Diner's Reviews and Awards

Little Diner is one of the premier restaurants in the El Paso area for enchiladas, gorditas, tamales, and chiles rellenos. The food is sort of a cross between "El Paso" and "New Mexico" style cooking, with the "New Mexico" part meaning the use of unadulterated chiles that can either be hot or extra hot, depending on the time of year and the particular crop of chiles used. El Paso style Mexican food comes through in the beans, rice, tamales, and I would say most of the items served. I am unsure about the origin of the gorditas, since they are unlike any that I have found elsewhere.

Gordita with the default ground beef
Gordita is the signature dish at Little Diner

Little Diner is most famous for its Gorditas, a large shell of corn masa stuffed with ground beef or other fillings. The shell here is thicker than most places, and I would say is more flavorful. Its outstanding features include the fact that it holds together while eating the gordita and it does not leave a greasy "corn oil" aftertaste. Little Diner is far from the only restaurant that serves good gorditas, but I have found no other version comparable to the one here because of the gordita's flavor, texture, lack of grease, and thick golden brown shell.

The gordita comes with a choice of fillings, including avocado for a vegetarian version, but the default is ground beef. The beef is flavored with a spice that reminds me a little bit of Durkee's. When I first tried it I was so used to eating chicken and non-meat dishes that I did not think the beef enhanced the gordita very much. Now, though, I have come to really appreciate the flavor, especially compared to the ground beef other restaurants have to offer. As much as I like avocado, I would say that version is the one that does not really bring out the best flavor of the gordita. Little Diner provides a small cup of red salsa that I also recommend to enhance the flavor. The entire gordita experience is one that I consider a "must try" as part of El Paso's best Mexican food, even though this may be more New Mexican style than El Paso.

Green enchiladas are close to New Mexico style, and almost as good
Green enchiladas served flat

Green Enchiladas are one of the items I have come to appreciate most after the gorditas, not because they are the best I have ever eaten but because they are unique in El Paso. Based largely on the style of enchiladas served in New Mexico, they provide a "chile fix" that is conveniently located for El Paso residents. I would compare Little Diner's enchiladas to many served in Las Cruces, although Chope's in La Mesa, New Mexico really sets the standard for all the others. The enchiladas are served flat, with the chile sauce overflowing onto the plate and the large chunks of green chile mixed with cheese on top. The traditional yellow cheese is used, I think largely as the most effective means to help cool down your mouth from the spicy chiles (the refried beans do a good job also). Personally I like to order the enchiladas without onions--I think they are too strong. The enchiladas are quite spicy, and sometimes so much so that I do not want to order them. They always have an excellent flavor, though.

Combination dinner
Combination dinner with tamal, red enchilada, rice, gordita, taco, and beans

Although the Red Enchiladas have the dark red New Mexico style chile, I do not like the ones here as well as at other places. They tend to leave a garlic aftertaste, are very spicy, and are not as flavorful as others I have tried. A visit to Sadie's in Albuquerque confirmed to me that other New Mexico style enchiladas are better than the ones served here. Little Diner has a number of excellent dishes, but for red enchiladas I would prefer to order many of the ones around the city that are good El Paso style representations.

Chile relleno with no sauce on top
Chile relleno with a gordita, salad, beans, and rice

The Chiles Rellenos are seved without sauce on top--you are left to discern the flavors of the chile, the Muenster cheese melted inside, and the egg batter. These are the closest you can get in El Paso to the style of rellenos served at Chope's in La Mesa, a few miles north in New Mexico's Mesilla Valley. The ones at Little Diner are greasier than at Chope's and I don't like the batter as much, but I think the cheese is superior to the one used in Chope's rellenos. The El Paso style rellenos with sauce on top seem to be more popular in the area, but this does not dissuade me from my passion to enjoy good New Mexico style rellenos whenever possible.

The Refried Beans are made with lard, and when the serving is not fresh it can be pretty bad, but I have noticed a more consistent quality lately. I almost always prefer the Rice that seems to be flavored with a number of ingredients, but is occasionally subject to being dry and overcooked.

Tamales are one of the standout items (green chile with chicken and cheese is my favorite). These, along with the red chile and pork variety, can be ordered individually in the restaurant or by the dozen in to-go orders. At Christmas the popularity of Little Diner's tamales becomes apparent when the kitchen goes into full gear, and you have to call for an order ahead of time in order to get a dozen or more to take home. The Christmas tamales are actually the same ones served throughout the year, except that two varieties are added: vegetarian with green chile and sweet tamales made with raisins (these are also vegetarian). I think there is a reason the tamales at Little Diner are so popular--they are just a lot better than I find at most other places.

Place order here, phone it in, or have a mail order using overnight express.
Orders are placed at the counter, or you can get them to go

Chips cost extra, and come in a rather large order. These are not the best chips I have ever eaten, but they provide an alkaline balance to the fiery acids of the chiles served on the enchiladas and other items. I prefer not to order the chips, but rather to save room for a tamal or gordita, which can also be used to cool the mouth.

One of Little Diner's weakest points is the salsa that is so fiery hot that very little flavor comes through. You might as well try it, though--it is free even if you don't order the chips.

Like most Mexican restaurants, Little Diner has its specialties, and some items that are better than others. Overall, though, it is one of the best "diner" food places in the country--serving that down-home A view toward the Franklin Mountains, IH-10, and the new outlet mall style that lets you know the food is made to appeal to the local population.

It does not hurt that Little Diner uses New Mexico chile that is spicier and more flavorful than most of the ones in El Paso. Little Diner is unlike any other restaurant in El Paso County in that it seems to be primarily a New Mexico style restaurant that has modified the recipes somewhat for the local ingredients and people's tastes. I think some of Little Diner's unique food style works very well and some does not, but when I go I try to concentrate on the things in which Little Diner excels.

Little Diner is well known for its gorditas. It is not as recongized for its tamales, but I think they are just as noteworthy. Chiles rellenos and green enchiladas do not come to my mind as the best in El Paso, but I think they are very near the top.

To me it is little wonder that Little Diner has made the pages of many popular guide books and magazines. Unlike many other places that rely on tourists as much as the local population, though, Little Diner has not modified the food or jacked up the prices. I enjoyed Little Diner before it became famous, and was really so off the beaten path few people knew about it. Success has not gone to their heads, though, with the food now being as good now as ever, if not better.



Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Wed.
Accessible: Yes, but there is no specifically designated handicapped parking
Cooking Oil: Vegetable
Smoking: No Smoking

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
Apr. 21, 2009

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Gorditas, Tamales, Chile Relleno

Special Ratings
Red Enchiladas:
Green Enchiladas:
Chiles Rellenos:

Restaurant Web Site
Little Diner