Barbacoa El Azul–El Paso, TX

Barbacoa El Azul
3010 George Dieter Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 630-2061
Barbacoa El Azul

Barbacoa El Azul


One thing I have learned about border cuisine is not to ask too many questions about where certain foods originate, but to concentrate on going to places that are popular and eating what people recommend. In the case of Mexican style barbacoa a few experiences at random restaurants convinced me that I did not like this dish until I got some informed opinions about where to go, such as to Barbacoa El Azul in east El Paso.

Finding out exactly what you are eating when you order barbacoa is not easy, because barbacoa can mean a certain cooking style regardless of the meat, or when it does refer to a meat it is usually lamb or goat. In El Paso, though, I am fairly certain it means beef cheeks (although admittedly I have not witnessed the process of meal preparation).

The one important fact I have heard from my friends is that Barbacoa El Azul serves old style barbacoa as it is prepared in Ciudad Juarez. The important factor to diners is that the meat be lean and not greasy, as is the case at El Azul. Barbacoa is made fresh every day, and they serve it until it runs out (this is probably the reason Google lists Sunday as having an earlier closing time than other days, but it is really based on when they run out of food).

Barbacoa is the only item served served here, and it is sold by the pound in the quantity you want (you can also order a half pound or get four tacos which I think is about equivalent to a quarter pound). They give you tortillas and condiments so you can make tacos out of them. Some of the chiles in the salsas have a flavor that somewhat overpowers the meat, but this is why it is critical that the meat not be fatty so that this would be the overwhelming flavor (and also give an aftertaste). All I can say is that after trying a lot of barbacoa dishes, I think it is important to go to a place that knows how to prepare it correctly, as I found at El Azul.

Visually this is not the most appealing meat to me, but inside a taco you are not looking at the meat, but just tasting its deliciousness. Yelp says there are several very good places to try it besides El Azul and this is fine, but I know from experience that El Azul is good enough to make a believer out of a barbacoa skeptic as I was before I came here.

Mexican Dishes

Barbacoa

Barbacoa

The Barbacoa can be ordered by the pound or you can get an individual order of four tacos (the price of four tacos was $6.25 when I went to the restaurant). It comes with tortillas to make tacos, and along with this are cilantro and onions along with red and green chile (the red sauce is made with chile de arbol and is the spicy one). This is all very flavorful and I would certainly suggest trying it for anyone who is interested in this type of food. Nothing else is served at this restaurant besides the barbacoa, but I think it makes a good lunch or at least a snack.

People describe the meat as being very lean, and I think this is what makes it good. I have had several experiences with barbacoa that was not as good as the one here, and I know this restaurant has a reputation for being one of the best.

The barbacoa is made fresh every day, and they serve it until it runs out. My friends who recommended the restaurant say you are fairly safe at least until 1:00 p.m., and after that it depends on how busy they have been.

Drinks
Drinks follow the pattern of the menu, and you only get one choice–Mexican sodas. Fortunately these are the good ones that I have always liked, including Mexican Coke and fruit flavored drinks including manzana (apple).

Things to Know
Restaurants in Mexico follow one of two patterns–either they just serve one item or one type of food, or they are restaurants as we know them with a varied menu. The first example gives a limited choice but it is likely where the best examples of their specialty can be found. Barbacoa El Azul just has one item but the dining room is like a regular restaurant where you eat at a table (they do not have wait staff but they will bring your order to the table). It is very casual and I think it fits a local trait where people want the best food they can get for very little money, but they do not want to pay for fancy things they do not need.

There is no issue with language here–they speak English and Spanish. It is, however, very typical of border style restaurants.

My chile index does not mean a lot for this restaurant–if you add a lot of red chile it might be 5 chiles and if you only use the green it will be about three.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $
Hours: 7:00 am to 3:30 pm (2:30 on Sun.) according to Google
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Barbacoa, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Barbacoa
star 5 Salsa

Carnitas Queretaro–El Paso, TX

Carnitas Querétaro
7410 Remcon Cir.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-9906
Carnitas Queretaro

Carnitas Queretaro


Carnitas Querétaro has multiple locations in El Paso, and each one is packed with extended families and groups of friends who come for “Mexican comfort food” that is filling and served as it would be found in a typical restaurant in Mexico. The emphasis at CQ is on meat– there are probably more types of Mexican meat dishes served here than at any other restaurant in El Paso, including lamb barbacoa, buche, and other specialties not usually found in the more Americanized Mexican restaurants.

Most of the meat items served are familiar to people, such as steaks, tacos, and burritos. It is definitely not necessary to “take a chance” on something new if you already have a favorite dish you would like to try.

The more adventurous dishes here have not been my favorites, but I suppose they may be to many people. The Lamb Barbacoa had a more “gamey” taste at Carnitas Querétaro than I remembered from eating it in Austin many years ago, but this may be the way it is supposed to be. I am probably not a very good judge of such things.

If the restaurant has a specialty it is the carnitas, and I think the ones here are some of the best you can find. I have found that there is a wide range of quality in this dish between the best restaurants (such as this one) and those who seem to have not quite mastered the method of preparing them.

I do not think Carnitas Querétaro is particularly known for its more generic Mexican food that is served at just about every restaurant (enchiladas, chiles rellenos, etc.). There are some exceptions, though, which I will point out in the write-up. I would also pretty much forget about finding any exceptional vegetarian food here, since almost all the standout items I have tried have been meat items. The exception would probably be some of the vegetarian enchiladas including the standard red or green (probably green is better), mole, or the spicier sauces such as chipotle (they might have some other sauces available as well). I have found that they will try to honor custom orders for enchiladas or other dishes if they can.

Mole

Chicken mole

Chicken mole dinner with melon (cantaloupe) drink

Chicken Mole was once considered a rather exotic dish in El Paso, but is now found in most restaurants. Few do it as well, though, as Carnitas Querétaro. The mole has a more subtle flavor than at other places, and I would judge it to be one of the premier representations of this dish in El Paso. Although some first time eaters are apprehensive about the dish because one of its base ingredients is chocolate, the mole at Carnitas Querétaro is made from such a rich mixture of flavors the chocolate is not as readily discernible as in other versions.

The Chicken Mole Dinner is served with grilled chicken breast meat, in CQ’s apparent attempt to serve a more upscale version of this entrée than is being done at restaurants that use shredded chicken. Although I like the flavor of the dish it is a lot of food for my appetite (as are many dishes at this restaurant).

I think the mole dinner always goes better with a flour tortilla (they provide a corn tortilla unless you ask for the flour one). Certain drinks seem to go best as well, with my preference being the cantaloupe drink (melón).

The Mole Burrito is made with shredded chicken for the more traditional style of mole. The burrito is wrapped in the same flour tortilla that comes on the side with the dinner, and might be a preferred alternative to the larger dinner portion. It has all the flavors of the mole dinner, but in a different form (I give the disclaimer, though, that I had this at the old restaurant before it moved to Remcon and I am not sure if they still do it the same way).

Enmoladas

Enmoladas

Enmoladas are another form of a mole dinner, and are popular with those who want the mole flavor but without a lot of meat. “Enchiladas” are tortillas with chile and “Enmoladas” substitute mole for the chile as the topping. The menu offers either cheese or chicken inside, but personally I think if I want chicken the mole burritos are probably better. The enmoladas with cheese offer a good opportunity for a delicious non-meat meal (although some would argue the cheese does not really make this vegetarian).

Carnitas

Carnitas

Carnitas

Carnitas (pork) is the signature dish of this restaurant, with the recipe originating in Querétaro (the rest of the menu is Chihuahua style). I was able to sample this at the new restaurant and found it to have an excellent flavor (perhaps the best of their meat dishes). There is a large quantity of meat on the plate, but if you are going to do this I think Carnitas Querétaro probably has the best flavor I have found.

Carnitas tacos are also available for a smaller portion of meat.

Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Enchiladas suizas at the old restaurant on Mesa St.

Green Enchiladas have been one of my favorite items since I used to eat at the old restaurant on Mesa Street, and are even better when turned into Enchiladas Suizas (served with white meat chicken inside and sour cream on top). The green chile seems to be a rather spicy Mexican variety, and is similar to the type I have eaten in Sanborn’s and other restaurants in Mexico. Being made with tomatillos, though, it has a more sour flavor than the New Mexico green chile or the local green chile normally served in El Paso, and is not quite as spicy.

Enchiladas suizas at the new restaurant

Enchiladas suizas at the new restaurant on Remcon

The enchiladas suizas I ordered at the new restaurant on Remcon had a somewhat different appearance than before (as shown in the photo above). They have mixed crema with the chile in addition to sprinkling it on the top. I thought the new version had a better flavor. The rice and beans are now served in side dishes while previously they were served on the plate (so the overall quantity of food is the same but it is presented differently).

I have not ordered Red Enchiladas at the new restaurant, but previously I found them to be less flavorful than the green.

Some Photos and Reports from the Old Restaurant on Mesa St.

Pozole

Pozole tapatio

Pozole Tapatio, or hominy served with pork chunks and red chile, is one of the most flavorful versions of the dish I have tried. The yellow hominy might be an acquired taste for some, but mixed with the red chile and meat it offers another great opportunity to venture out from the mundane menu found at most restaurants. Several soups are on the menu but so far this is one of the best I have found.

The pozole comes with tortillas on the side, limes for flavoring, and cabbage to put into the soup if you desire. With all the side dishes that are served, I find the large bowl to be enough for a meal. I also think it is a big reason I enjoy the pozole here so much.

Aztec soup

Aztec soup

Aztec Soup is Carnitas Queretaro’s version of tortilla soup, with crispy tortillas that have been made soft by floating in the soup. The white meat chicken and avocado were good, and I liked the Mexican style cheese even better. I thought the best feature, though, was the flavor of the broth. This was not quite the best version of tortilla soup I have ever eaten, but it was close.

The Chile Relleno has a flavorful chile that is very hot because of leaving the seeds inside, a good cheese, and a ranchero sauce that covers it with large chunks of tomato and chiles (chiles on top of another chile!). It may be a little more greasy than other versions though.

Flautas

Flautas

Flautas have the same high quality as most of the other dishes, with the customary guacamole and sour cream (or at least this is customary in the more authentic Mexican restaurants). The chicken version comes with meat that is tender and flavorful. The guacamole that covers the flauta is puréed, but customers can also request the more chunky variety on the side as in the photo.

Chicken tampiquena

Chicken tampiquena

Chicken Tampiqueña in El Paso restaurants refers to grilled chicken with green chiles on top, accompanied by a red enchilada (and usually rice and beans). Restaurants usually give a price break ordering it this way as opposed to ordering chicken and an enchilada separately, so I usually find this dish to be a good choice. This photo is from the old restaurant but I imagine the plate is still much the same.

Rice, Beans, Chips, Salsa, etc.
The Chips are thick and I find them to be very good (although some others in El Paso are better). Sometimes they are overly salty but not always.

Salsas are excellent, and you get both a red salsa and a dark colored one with the chips.

I know the Rice and Beans are good, but I have not made an attempt to compare them to other restaurants.

You can usually get free Tortillas with the meal. The corn tortillas are freshly made and cooked in the restaurant (I do not know about the flour tortillas but I remember them being fresh as well).

Drinks
One of the best features of Carnitas Querétaro is the variety of Aguas Frescas that are served. While many restaurants in El Paso can compete for the best food, serving these authentic Mexican drinks plays a large part in the overall experience, and surprisingly few restaurants do it as well as Carnitas Querétaro.

Horchata is the traditional drink with lent specials (at least it is traditional with me), and the one here has a good cinnamon flavor.

Melón (canteloupe) is usually my favorite of the aguas frescas, and while it has traditionally been available only during the harvest season in the Pecos Valley or in California, I believe the availability of the fruit now lasts a large part of the year.

The Lemonade at CQ rivals the other drinks for quality and enjoyment.

The aguas frescas are almost like a wine in that patrons can pair their meals with the proper drink just as they would at a fine dining restaurant. Personally I get just about as much enjoyment out of the drinks at Carnitas Querétaro as I would with a fine wine.

Iced tea is also excellent.

Lent Specials

Outside sign advertises Lent specials

Outside sign advertises Lent specials

On Fridays during Lent Carnitas Querétaro serves Comida de Cuaresma (Lent Dinner) specials that are among my favorite Mexican food experiences. Lent specials are provided for the faithful who wish to go without meat at least one day a week in favor of a fish or vegetarian meal. The restaurant says on the menu “It’s time to be good,” but I think it is also time to enjoy some delicious meals.

Capirotada

Lent menu next to capirotada dessert

The Lent menu has changed over the years, and it now offers fewer choices than before. The full dinner is very good, and comes with either fish or shrimp and a choice of sauces (veracruzano, chipotle, diabla, and mojo de ajo). Dinners come with soup and capirotada for dessert, and the side dishes on the plate are mashed potatoes, rice, salad, and bread.

Also available are some lighter plates including fish tacos (but these do not come with the soup and dessert).

Lentil soup

Lentil soup served with Lent specials

I particularly like the Lentejas, or lentil soup that comes with the full dinner special. This soup is wonderful in its simplicity, with whole lentils, a few spices, and a dark broth. Served with Horchata, a rice drink with cinnamon, this is the start to a classic El Paso style Lent meal. Corn or flour tortillas are available on request with the meal, but I like the tortilla better with the soup (I think corn goes best with it).

I was surprised to discover that fish dinners are only available at Carnitas Querétaro during Lent, and shrimp choices are more limited on the regular menu (they do have fish enchiladas, shrimp enchiladas, shrimp tacos, and several mahi mahi dishes on the regular menu). For me it is definitely worthwhile to get the fish plates on the Lent special while they are available.

Pescado Veracruzano

Pescado Veracruzano

One of the styles served is Pescado Veracruzano, or Veracruz style fish with a tomato sauce and green olives. The flavor of the fish is mild, and this helps to highlight the delicious sauce with green olives, chiles, and spices. I probably enjoy the Mashed Potatoes as much as anything on the plate, with a home made (not from instant potatoes) taste. The sauce is slightly spicy and is made with guero chile (which is not considered to be one of the hottest varieties).

Diabla fish

Diabla fish

The Diabla Style Fish Fillet of course is known for being extremely spicy food, and I believe it is on the current menu (this photo, though, is from the old restaurant).

Order the Al Mojo de Ajo fish or shrimp if you like an overwhelming garlic flavor (this is also something I tried at the old restaurant).

It is also possible to order a vegetarian meal, and of course enchiladas are always available from the menu. The old restaurant had a special sauce available on the Lent menu on the Green Chipotle Enchiladas (shrimp chipotle enchiladas were also available). This may still available as a special order, but is not on the current menu (creamy chipotle enchiladas are available on the regular menu, and the sauce is one of the choices for the Lent specials).

Capirotada dessert tops it off, a kind of drunken bread pudding with raisins and the little sugar balls on top that are sometimes used on cupcakes.

There are several Lent specials I enjoy in El Paso, but the one at Carnitas Querétaro is one of the best in terms of food quality (good fish, soup, and dessert). It is also one of the most filling and most expensive, which to me is probably its biggest drawback. Because this is a special menu only done once a year, though, I have found that it pays to go to restaurants with a long history of doing it, such as Carnitas Querétaro. The quality and flavor here are good, and it is worth the money if you have a good appetite.

Other Locations
Carnitas Querétaro currently has four locations in El Paso, but I would advise checking on line because the locations change from time to time. The former restaurant at 6516 N. Mesa St. is where many photos in this review were taken, but it has now moved a few blocks west to 7410 Remcon Circle (at the corner of Mesa and Remcon).

The I-10 location

Carnitas Queretaro on Interstate 10 (9077 Gateway West)

I have also been to the restaurant on Interstate 10 (9077 Gateway West), which has the same menu as the west side location. There are now two other east side restaurants at 1451 N. Zaragoza Rd. and 12706 Montana.

Closing Comments
Carnitas Querétaro has been a pleasant surprise in the way they have changed some of the dishes from the style served at the old restaurant on Mesa (enchiladas suizas are an example of dishes I think have improved). The carnitas also tasted better than the ones I tried at the old restaurant, but I have not eaten them enough to say that this is a trend rather than just my own somewhat random experiences.

Prices have risen quite a bit from the days of the “old” restaurant, and I have particurly noticed this on the Lent specials. So far, though, I have mostly thought the higher prices are a good tradeoff for the very comfortable dining room they now have and the upgrades they have made to some of the dishes.


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Mole, Enchiladas Suizas, Chicken Tampiqueña, Carnitas, Pozole, Aztec Soup, Lent Specials, Aguas Frescas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Mole
star 4 Green Enchiladas (cheese)
star 5 Green Enchiladas (Suizas)
star 3 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Enmoladas
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña
star 5 Carnitas
star 4 Chiles Rellenos
star 2 Lamb Barbacoa
star 5 Pico de Gallo
star 5 Pozole Tapatio
star 5 Aztec Soup
star 5 Lemonade
star 5 Melón
star 5 Horchata

 

Lent Specials
star 5 (Five Stars)
Pescado Veracruzano
Green Chipotle Enchiladas (from the old menu)
Lentejas
Mashed Potatoes
Capirotada
Horchata
star 4 (Four Stars)
Pescado al Mojo de Ajo

El Jacalito–El Paso, TX

El Jacalito
2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 532-4643
El Jacalito

El Jacalito


I think if I were to describe a Mexican style diner it might be based on El Jacalito in central El Paso. It is probably best known for breakfast, but it has a sizeable lunch crowd also. The sisters who own the restaurant know the large group of regular customers who come in, yet they remarkably do not look anywhere near old enough to have been running the restaurant for as long as I know it has been in operation.

Of course the restaurant does depend on its regular customers (I know because I was one myself when I worked in the area and could go to the restaurant frequently). I always thought of El Jacalito primarily as being one of the three best places to get caldo de res (one of the others is now closed and the other is Jalisco Cafe). The other notable feature I found at El Jacalito was the special Lent meals they served (I think it is the best in El Paso for this). Breakfast is probably the third thing of note here, although, there is nothing I can tell you about this from personal experience.

At lunch I saw a good part of the El Paso City Engineering Department and other people I knew at the restaurant on a regular basis. This is one way I always knew it was authentic, with the no-nonsense engineers seeming to be particularly choosy about their Mexican food.

The comida corrida is very popular for lunch at El Jacalito, with the common feature of all comidas being that it comes with caldo de res (beef soup). For the main dishes that came with the dinner I liked some more than others, but I always thought the soup was excellent.

Comida Corrida

Caldo de res

Caldo de res

The lunch special comida corrida always starts with Caldo de Res, a beef soup full of more vegetables than meat. The caldos at different restaurants had different features that I liked the best, and I thought the standout here was the vegetables (which were very good and there were more of them than at the other restaurants). The meat was a little fatty (they give you lime slices to counteract the fatty flavor) but the meat was fine. I figured, though, that the best cuts of meat are the ones they served on the plates and the lesser ones were used in the soup.

Chile verde

Chile verde is similar to a stew with green chiles

Chile Verde is one of the places where the good cuts of meat go, and I would say this may be the best example of this dish in the city. It is spicier then most, has a higher meat to potato ratio than most, and the meat is leaner than most. Most of all, though, I like the flavor of this dish. I think the spiciness here might not be to everyone’s taste, but otherwise I do not know of any others you could try that are better.

Mexican plate

Mexican plate

The Mexican Plate probably offers the best choice for lunch, with a taco, enchilada, chile relleno, and chile verde.

The rice and beans are very good, but as is the case with most restaurants, the Rice is better.

A small dessert is served with the comidas, and I think is always home made.

El Jacalito usually has several types of aguas frescas drinks. Lemonade is sweet and has a very good flavor. Horchata is also excellent at Jacalito’s.

In my opinion, based on a number of years of experience, the meatless dishes at El Jacalito are the weak point of the restaurant. These include the enchiladas and chiles rellenos that seemed too greasy compared to others. Enchiladas are usually made differently in Mexico than in El Paso, and the ones here are pretty true to the Ciudad Juarez style. Both of these are enjoyable to me, though, on the Mexican plate served with other items.

Lent Specials

Lentil soup

Lentil soup

During Lent (on Fridays and other holy days in the Catholic Church) a Lent special is served offering a very good alternative to the normal meat dishes. Lentil soup, or Lentejas is always available, and this is usually the highlight of the meal for me. The lentils are always fresh, and the spicing is always just right (this is the part where many other restaurants do not quite stack up). El Jacalito usually has an alternative to the lentil soup if you want to try it instead.

I will make note of the fact, though, that in 2019 the lentil soup contained bacon and therefore is no longer vegetarian as I had always noted it to be in the past. It still had an excellent flavor, though.

Corn tortillas are excellent with the soup and are free, but you have to ask for them (they come automatically when the main meal is served).

Pescado empanizado

El Jacalito served different styles of fish on the various Fridays during Lent

Each Friday during Lent there is at least one traditional fish and one shrimp dish available, and these are rotated each week with most of them being served more than once. One of my favorites is the Pescado Empanizado (shown above), largely because of the excellent tartar sauce. In 2019, though, I noticed a distinct improvement in both the breading and the flavor of the fish (I think they might have a new cook and this is my theory for the changes I noticed in both the fish and the lentil soup). In any case, I would now say that the fish can stand on its own even without the tartar sauce.

My other favorite is one for which I do not have a photo, but it is the Pescado Veracruzano, a traditional Mexican style fish served with olives on top.

When they serve mashed potatoes this is sometimes better than the fish itself, although the french fries are very good as well.

Capirotada

Capirotada

One of the highlights of the Lent dinners is the Capirotada for dessert, a bread pudding with raisins soaked in a syrup that made me think this could not possibly be a special dish for comida de cuaresma since Lent is supposed to be a sacrifice, isn’t it? Jacalito’s still has the best capirotada I have found.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Almost every Mexican restaurant serves chips and salsa, but here you get two types of salsa (these can also double for salsas you put on your meal).

Personal Notes
El Jacalito has many things I love, and some I could easily skip. This is a restaurant in a working class neighborhood where many people go every day or at least on a regular basis to get the type of Mexican food they knew growing up. I think people like the variety here, although like me they probably have their favorites.

If you have a chance to try the Lent specials comida de cuaresma, I definitely think this is something that should not be skipped. The price here is also very good compared to other restaurants that offer the traditional lentil soup and capirotada.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Breakfast & lunch only (closed Sun.)
Accessible: Yes (Parking is on the street)
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 5, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chile Verde, Caldo de Res, Lent Specials

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Caldo de Res
star 5 Chile Verde
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Corn Tortillas
star 5 Lemonade
star 5 Horchata
star 5 Salsa

 

Lent Specials
star 5 Pescado Veracruzano
star 5 Pescado Empanizado
star 5 Lentejas
star 5 Capirotada