Katsura (Zaragoza Rd.)–El Paso, TX

Katsura Sushi Bar
1920 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 857-2222
Katsura

Katsura


I have never been a big fan of the El Paso sushi restaurants, and spending time in Seattle convinced me that most of it is not really sushi at all (there are some exceptions, though, at a limited number or restaurants). For the most part the “California roll” type of sushi served here, as well as at most other sushi restaurants in the city, simply does not interest me. I do not order it, I do not review it, and I may be missing out on something great (but I really do not think so).

Instead, most of these restaurants have other things on the menu that I think is closer to “real” Japanese food. I give this disclaimer to readers that my rating, at least for this restaurant, is based on this part of the menu. Katsura has a large number of choices by El Paso standards, and it has more breadth to the menu than merely cooking the food on the grill in front of customers (another plus for this restaurant).

Although Katsura is not quite to the level of what I would call authentic Japanese food, it can satisfy my craving for Asian food better than many of the city’s other sushi restaurants.

The Restaurant
Katsura has three locations in El Paso, and one in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It is one of several local sushi restaurants that appear to have originated in Mexico and then opened locations in El Paso. I know that the major part of their business is the sushi, but all of them offer at least a few of what I would call “standard” Japanese items (Katsura offers more than most of the other restaurants).

I have not had a problem with MSG in any of the restaurants of this genre. This seems to be another plus for the Ciudad Juarez style sushi restaurants.

Unlike many of the Seattle restaurants, the hot tea here (and at most other El Paso restaurants) is not brewed and is not complimentary, but comes from bags and is a significant reason as to why I consider many meals here to be overpriced. I do like the fact, though, that Katsura (and other restaurants) offer jasmine tea in addition to the traditional green tea.

Chicken Yakisoba

Chicken yakisoba

Chicken yakisoba

On my initial visit I ordered the Chicken Yakisoba, a noodle dish with chicken and vegetables that was filling and had a good flavor. In my opinion it was better than similar dishes served at some of the competitors, but its main pitfall was the sweetness of the sauce. The flavor had many Asian components (I cannot name them but they probably included soy, ginger, garlic, etc.). Everything was fine except it was too sweet.

Chicken Yakiniku

Chicken yakiniku

Chicken yakiniku

The Chicken Yakiniku seems to be an item they have added to the menu recently, and it shows that the non-sushi part of the menu may be popular enough that they are expanding it. Not being a noodle dish, this one comes with rice (so it is equally as fillling as the yakisoba). It also had more chicken than the yakisoba as well as more vegetables, so in the amount of food you get I think it is comparable.

In the all important flavor component it was good. Probably the sauce was not as good as the yakisoba (it was described on the menu as sweet soy sauce), but it had a large amount of sesame seeds and it was not as sweet as the yakisoba. Probably the deciding factor for me was that I preferred the noodles and vegetables of the yakisoba to the large amount of broccoli and chicken in this dish.

Miso

Miso

This dish came with a complimentary Miso which I also liked. For any order that includes miso, I think this is a plus.

Other Observations
In El Paso the restaurants calling themselves “Sushi” seem to be less authentic than those calling themselves “Japanese.” This is a wildly generalized statement, but seems to be pretty reliable in my experience.

One disadvantage of the “sushi” restaurants is what they generally do not include on the menu, which is some of more traditional Japanese food. One example is tempura udon which Katsura does not serve, but which is one of my favorites at Riyoma.

Again speaking in generalities, the sauce at Katsura is too sweet (something it shares with most of the “sushi” restaurants). Other aspects of the food are good, though (and I think are better than at some of the other “sushi” restaurants).

Overall I do like the food here, but for the same money I think there are better choices at the city’s Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants.

If I ever get California rolls on my diet I might have a whole other reason to come here, but for now I think the non-sushi menu is not too bad.


RATING: 19

Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 11, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Chicken Yakiniku, Chicken Yakisoba

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 4 Chicken Yakiniku
star 4 Chicken Yakisoba

Thai House–Albuquerque, NM

Thai House
2000 Carlisle Blvd. N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
(505) 247-9205
Thai House

Thai House


Thai House is a restaurant that has been around for a while, but it recently moved to a new location on Carlisle Blvd. just south of Interstate 40. Specifically, the strip shopping center in which it is located is at the southeast corner of Carlisle and Indian School, and a very visible neighbor is the I Scream Ice Cream Store.

Thai House's sign is in the window

Thai House sign in the window

At the moment there is no outside sign, and you pretty much have to know the restaurant is here in order to see it. There is a hand made sign in the window shown in this photo, but even with this you almost have to be looking for it in order to notice it. I would say go to the I Scream place and then go one or two spaces to the north for Thai House.

Dining room

Dining room

The interior is very comfortable and “homey.” You almost feel as if you are in a Thai home because it has an open kitchen where you can watch your food being cooked as you sit at the table. The owner makes you feel very comfortable here and takes care of your needs, but she also is busy cooking and performing all restaurant duties in a one-woman operation. She did have some help when I went on a Saturday evening, but the actual cooking is a one person operation.

I have looked at the Yelp reviews and I think they do a good job of describing the restaurant, providing photos, and making recommendations. I can only add my two cents and say that the food tastes exactly as it looks–like it comes from a home kitchen in Thailand.

It was not actually the Yelp review that guided me here, but an invitation by my friend and Albuquerque restaurant expert Gil Garduño who himself had just tried the new location for the first time and was anxious to make another visit (and also included a review on his web site). I had the same desire to make a return visit, and did so on my way back from Colorado to El Paso. One tip I will give travelers is that this restaurant is very convenient from both Interstate 25 and Interstate 40 (but for now just do not expect to see a sign in front of the restaurant).

Pad Khing

Pad khing

Pad khing

When I was in Seattle and went to Thai restaurants frequently, ginger tofu was usually my first choice from the menu. I soon learned that the Thai name was Pad Khing, which was also frequently listed on the menu as ginger stir fry. The flavors of this dish are such that I do not think ordering it with meat causes noticeable enhancement, but the somewhat neutral nature of tofu allows me to enjoy the other flavors even more. I also did not worry about being full after eating a meatless meal because the amount of tofu and vegetables is usually substantial (as it is at Thai House).

Chinese medicine stipulates that ginger should be eaten early in the day when you need the energy it provides. I was never really aware of the principles of Chinese medicine when I was getting into the habit of ordering ginger tofu, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was a very good dish to order at lunch. This carried over to my instinct to order it for my first visit to Thai House at lunch time, although I think the flavor of this dish is good any time you order it. I would say the ginger flavor is somewhat subtle and is blended with the other ingredients in the dish as it should be. The tofu is just my preference and others will want to have meat, but I think it will be good either way.

Pad khing is not a spicy dish because the ginger itself has a very strong taste. The menu states that you can order your own spice level with any dish, but with restaurants like this one where they prepare the food in a home cooking style I usually figure that the chef knows how to add the appropriate spice level for the best flavor. I think I would have liked a higher spice level on this dish, but regardless of this the ginger flavor was very good and I was able to enjoy one of my favorite Thai dishes.

Curry

Massamun curry

Massamun curry

When I sampled my friend Steve’s dish I initially thought it was red curry but I later found out it was Massamun Curry (which I think is derived from Indian style curry combined with Thai flavors). Wikipedia states that Massaman curry typically contains cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, cumin, bay leaves, nutmeg, and mace (spices that are not typically used in Thai curries) combined with more local flavors such as chili peppers, cilantro seeds, lemongrass, galangal, white pepper, shrimp paste, etc. I do not know if this is Thai House’s recipe, and I am not sure why their name for the dish is a little different, but nevertheless the dish was very good. Wikipedia also points out that this is a mild curry, so perhaps this is why I did not think it had any lack of flavor even though it had a low spice level.

This dish also had a good amount of potatoes, another feature that I think separates it from the typical Thai dishes that are found in most restaurants.

Soup

Thom khar gai

Thom khar gai

The menu had a couple of soups listed under the “Chef’s Specials” on the menu, one of which was the Thom Khar Gai. This was my favorite dish that I have tried at Thai House so far, and it made me think that the chef’s specials designation has some real substance behind it and is not one made just for marketing purposes. This is a coconut soup flavored with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and lime juice (several decidedly Thai flavors). It was specifically the lime leaves that enticed me to order the soup, based on dishes I have had in other restaurants with the same ingredient. The others add an important flavor component as well. I think several dishes at Thai House have some combination of these ingredients, but they are more pronounced in ones where the ingredients are part of the name (the khar in this dish means galangal).

For substance in this dish was mainly provided by chicken (gai) and mushrooms. In terms of flavor I would not try to substitute anything in this dish, including the spice level (it was not spicy but I do not think it is supposed to be a spicy dish).

After having eaten coconut flavored rice in Colorado Springs, I thought this was a fitting finale to this trip where I could indulge to an even greater extent with the coconut theme that seemed to be developing. This was a delicious soup, and one of the best I have had anywhere. It is not something that I normally order, because I usually prefer the curries or the stir fried dishes (such as pad khing). At Thai House, though, I think this is definitely a “must try” (even if others are like me and do not normally order this dish).

Other Observations
The Thai tea and the hot jasmine tea were both especially good.

It takes some time for the food to be served because each order is individually prepared. This is pretty standard for Thai restaurants, though, and it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The default for all the dishes I tried seemed to be at a low spice level, but the menu states that you can order the spice level you want for any dish. If I am able to return I think I would try a higher spice level on the ginger dish, but the others were ones I would not change from the default.

Prices are very reasonable, especially for this type of quality. The menu is posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. I thought the selection of items was very good, and one of the good things here is that you can talk directly with the chef if you have any questions.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Alcohol: No
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Item: Thom Khar Gai

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags), Thai Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Thom Khar Gai
star 5 Massamun Curry
star 5 Pad Khing

Tomasita’s–Santa Fe, NM

Tomasita’s
500 S. Guadalupe St.
Santa Fe, NM
(505) 983-5721
Tomasita's

Tomasita’s


Tomasita’s web site states that it has been a family run operation for over 40 years, which reveals at least two important facts. One is that it is family run, and this may be an explanation for the fact that (to my taste) it has such good food. I had recently visited El Bruno’s in Cuba, New Mexico (another popular family run restaurant), and I thought this and Tomasita’s had equally good food largely stemming from their nature of being local small scale restaurants. The only thing that really matters is that they have good recipes that are prepared well, but family owned restaurants tend to be particularly adept at this.

The fact that it has been operating for over 40 years is another important piece of information for me. This would mean that they opened sometime in the late 1970’s, and this would be the correct timeline for the memory I have of another restaurant which I believe was in the same building (an old railroad depot). It was actually the depot for the narrow gauge railroad which went north through northern New Mexico. The restaurant previous to Tomasita’s, though, had a name something along the order of Santa Fe Station, making me think that this was the old station for the Santa Fe Railroad (the real Santa Fe Railroad station was north of this location a couple of blocks, and is now the terminus for the commuter train from Albuquerque). The restaurant I remember was upscale and served steaks. I have tried to look it up on the Internet and I cannot find any information about the former restaurant. The real point to me, though, is that I think the conversion of the building from an upscale restaurant to a traditional New Mexican one is a sign of progress in a city where the real estate prices seem to dictate that it have more and more upscale restaurants, but fewer of the affordable ones.

My first visit to Tomasita’s was on a busy day, but it was the off-peak period of the afternoon. There was a wait for a table, and I imagine that the waiting time gets much worse during peak period. Otherwise things went smoothly, and I was pleased with the service as well as the food. The price was in a range that I once thought was high, but compared to similar restaurants (even in cities not as expensive as Santa Fe), the prices here seemed very reasonable.

The menu has a large number of choices (so many that I think some of them would not be considered traditional New Mexican cuisine). They also have daily specials but I did not check the prices on these, and they are not listed on their on-line menu. For me, though, my usual choice at restaurants serving northern New Mexican food for the first visit (as well as most subsequent visits) is blue corn enchiladas. Sometimes I try other things, with the stuffed sopapilla being at the top of the list. I do believe that if you have other dishes that are your favorite this will influence your list of favorite restaurants, but I do want to explain that my rating of this restaurant is based primarily on the enchiladas.

Chips and Salsa

Chips  and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips and Salsa were very good, but I did not think they were notably better than at other restaurants. I was happy that they had different colored chips (some blue and some red). The problem with these was that the waiter did not bring them out until I asked for them. This usually means that you have to pay extra for the chips, but in this case it was just that the waiter forgot (not a problem for me as long as they do not spring me with any surprises on the bill).

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas

The Blue Corn Red Enchiladas had all the required elements that I think make them good: flavorful and traditional tasting red chile, a spice level that goes just to the perfect point without being overly spicy, high quality cheese, and the blue corn tortillas that are almost totally missing in southern New Mexico restaurants but which are almost universally available in the northern part of the state (usually for an extra charge, though, as they are here).

There are quite a few choices involved when ordering enchiladas, such as red or green (the green is almost always the spicier of the two), blue corn or regular (I think the blue gives it a better flavor), stacked or rolled (usually the northern NM restaurants make stacked their default), choice of meat (I go with the plain cheese version at least until I find out which others are especially good), and onions or no onions (normally I omit the onions but in northern NM I find that they put in less onion than in other areas and it has less of a strong onion taste, so here I go with the onions).

One thing I really liked about the dinner is that they brought out the Sopaipillas with the meal without me even asking for them so that I could eat them with the red chile which was spicy enough that I really appreciated a sopaipilla to help tone down the heat.

Another thing that toned down the heat was the serving of Pinto Beans that, along with the cheese that topped it, had an excellent flavor and was another reason I love northern New Mexican cuisine.

The green chile is said to be good here as well, but I did not try it on this particular visit.

The Dining Room

Tomasita's main dining room

Tomasita’s main dining room

The dining room is in a converted railroad station where much of the original architecture is on display, and the high ceiling and large windows perhaps make it appear more spacious than it actually is.

There is also an outdoor patio, and the web site says there is a private room that can accommodate parties of up to 20 people.

Other Notes
This was definitely among my best experiences with northern New Mexican cuisine in recent years, and I cannot think of past experiences where the enchiladas were really any better than here.

Some reviews say The Shed has better New Mexican food than Tomasita’s, but it was a very popular day with visitors and the parking situation made it so that going to The Shed was not feasible (The Shed is located just off of the Plaza so the traffic was for many destinations other than The Shed itself).

I have to say, though, that the food at Tomasita’s was as good I expected that The Shed would be, so I was not the least bit disappointed with coming here instead. I do not know if the food (especially the enchiladas) are actually better at The Shed, but I would probably not recommend going there on a Saturday during the summer tourist season as I tried to do.

Tomasita’s has another location in Albuquerque which is said to be good as well. Personally I am glad I chose this location because of the higher elevation, crisper air, scenic landscape, and historic setting of Santa Fe. If you cannot make it to Santa Fe, though, I am sure the Albuquerque restaurant would be fine (not to say that Albuquerque does not have its share of crisp air, scenic landscape, etc.).


Tomasita’s Web Site


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Blue Corn Red Enchiladas, Pinto Beans, Salsa, Sopaipilla

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas (Blue Corn)
star 5 Pinto Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopaipilla