Sanborn’s–Ciudad Juarez, Chih.

Sanborn’s
Paseo Triunfo de la Republica #3809
Ciudad Juarez, Chih.

Sanborn’s is a northern outpost of a restaurant chain located mostly in cities surrounding Mexico City. I always thought of it mostly as a coffee house– sort of a Mexican version of the Village Inn chain in the United States. The food of these two chains is not terribly similar except for the fact that breakfast is probably the most popular meal and maybe the best one served. Otherwise, though, the food at Sanborn’s has a large Mexican influence while Village Inn is mostly American. In a strange twist, though, I think the Mexican food at the Village Inn on Airway in El Paso is actually better than at Sanborn’s in Ciudad Juarez. At least I like the food better at this particular Village Inn.

My favorite dish at Sanborn’s, though, was not a breakfast item, but Enchiladas Suizas on the lunch and dinner menu. These are chicken enchiladas with green tomatillo and crema sauce. This is honestly one of the best Mexican dishes I have had anywhere, and is really the only thing I’ve had at Sanborn’s that stood out. I kept trying to order the same dish in El Paso but the great majority of restaurants did not know what I was talking about, and those who attempted it did not have a result that matched Sanborn’s. I discovered later that Sanborn’s actually invented the dish, and has a special way of making it (just about any Mexican restaurant can make green enchiladas with sour cream, but they do not necessarily come out as enchiladas suizas). The recipe for Sanborn’s version is on line: Enchiladas Suizas Recipe

Breakfast is certainly decent, although I don’t remember any dishes which stood out. I remember that the lunch menu started at about 11:00 A.M. I think breakfast is served all day, though.

The largest part of Sanborn’s is not the restaurant, but a gift shop type of store that actually carries a number of useful items. I found this to be my number one source of road maps for traveling in Mexico, but mostly it is a matter of looking around to see what they have.

The store carries a large variety of very good food items (mostly sweets) that were always a higher quality than items I could find in the supermarkets or from street vendors.

Sanborn’s has a pay parking lot with a guard gate. If you buy items at the store or eat at the restaurant they will waive the parking fee (I don’t remember the exact amount but it was well under the price of a meal).

From reading reviews I believe Sanborn’s is largely the same as when I ate there, but my experiences were a number of years ago.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 18, 1994
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Item: Enchiladas Suizas

Special Ratings
star 5 Enchiladas Suizas

Elmer’s–El Paso, TX

Elmer’s Family Restaurant (Closed)
6305 Montana Ave.
El Paso, TX
Elmer's Restaurant

Elmer’s Restaurant


Established in 1959, Elmer’s seems to have discovered a “time warp” whereby nothing inside the restaurant ever ages. It is still the same 1950’s era diner style family restaurant complete with leather booths, salad bar, juke box, and a pie display case. The waitresses are the only thing in the restaurant that do not look as if they are left over from the fifties. Customers are treated with the same friendliness that the ones among us who are nostalgic would have expected a half century ago.

Elmer's awards

Some of Elmer’s awards on display

The food is also a throwback to the 50’s and 60’s, when there was no such thing as “healthy” restaurant food and restaurants did not have cuisine that was as specialized as it is today. Elmer’s became popular by serving both Mexican and American food, and a wide variety of each, so each person in a family could get what they wanted. If desired a person may order a Mexican plate with a salad bar or an American dish served with chips and salsa.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Even though Elmer’s serves just about every type of food, I have usually stuck with the specialties– red enchiladas, fried chicken, and breakfast dishes. This is probably not a great restaurant for American food– because of the fact that most things are fried this is not the type of food I would normally eat at home (but it is one of the few options for American food in El Paso). With the exception of enchiladas and a few other items it is probably not a great place for Mexican food either. It is a place, though, where both are served, and in this sense it is somewhat unique.

Mexican Food

Mexican plate

Taco, rice, chile relleno, red enchilada, beans

The Red Enchiladas served at Elmer’s are some of the best in El Paso. While there is nothing exceptional about them, it is rather strange that so many restaurants in the city fail to make enchiladas that match up with Elmer’s and the handful of other restaurants that set the standard for this dish. The red chile at Elmer’s is spicy but not overly so, and they have the deep red flavor and color that is almost New Mexico style. The cheese is Mexican style, and this is just a good all-around enchilada.

The Chile Relleno is good by El Paso standards, but still a little greasy. It is topped with green chile that is flavorful but pretty generic. The main thing I did not like about it was the chile relleno itself– the topping neither detracted nor added much to the enjoyment of the dish.

The Beef Taco was plain and lightly spiced but good quality. It comes as part of the Mexican plate, which I would recommend as a way to try a variety of Mexican items.

Refried Beans were flavorful and not greasy. I would guess that they are cooked in vegetable oil. The Rice was not very flavorful, and could have been a lot better.

Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is the most famous dish here, and the menu proclaims it is the “best in the Southwest.” I might believe it is the best in El Paso, mainly for lack of competition, but I found it dry with a thick, greasy crust (a lighter crust might be better). The main disappointment came from the side dishes, though, since the whole point of eating fried chicken is to have a “fried chicken DINNER” (not just the chicken itself). It’s cheap, though, and well worth what you pay.

Additional Comments
Mexican breakfast dishes likewise are excellent and cheap– not the best in the city, but definitely better than average.

I have been going to Elmer’s for so many years I was afraid my past experiences might cause me to overlook some of its current shortcomings. The food I have eaten recently, though, has been pretty much like it always has been, so the shortcomings of Elmer’s have probably been there from the beginning. The good thing about Elmer’s is that you get exactly what you expect– a diner style restaurant that is better than the chain restaurants and less expensive.

Pie display

Elmer’s famous pie display greets customers upon entering

To go along with the mix of Mexican and American food, customers will likely want a slice of Elmer’s pie. The pie display located next to the front door creates a double temptation, both when entering the restaurant and before leaving. Several varieties beckon the diner, and few are able to resist.


RATING: 19

Cuisine: Mexican & American
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily 6:00 am to 9:00 pm
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 10, 2007
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Fried Chicken, Refried Beans

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Chile Relleno
star 4 Beef Taco
star 4 Fried Chicken
star 5 Beans
star 3 Rice
star 3 Mashed Potatoes
star 3 Cole Slaw

620 Cafe–Round Rock, TX

620 Cafe & Bakery (Closed)
910 Round Rock Ave.
Round Rock, TX

Note: This restaurant apparently closed in 2017

When I lived in Austin one of my greatest passions as far as food was seeking out good chicken fried steak. By going to some of the popular restaurants I got the impression that good chicken fried steak was rather plentiful and ubiquitous (sort of something you would expect to find in the Austin area). I soon discovered, though, that this was not the case. Yes, CFS (as it is affectionately called) was plentiful, but not of uniform quality.

Worse still, though, was the fact that the quality seemed to diminish as I returned to Austin for visits in later years. Some of my favorite restaurants were no longer as good as before, and others had ceased to exist. After some disappointing experiences, I finally found one place that had chicken fried steak as I remembered it. This was the 620 Cafe & Bakery in Round Rock (located on FM 620 a short distance west of Interstate 35).

Many recent reviews of this restaurant have led me to believe that the chicken fried steak is still as good as I experienced it, so I thought I would include it in my list of reviews. My visit was in the 1990’s, but it appears that the 620 Cafe is pretty much the same now as it was then. It is an American style restaurant, and I am not sure that CFS is even their specialty. It is what I ordered, though, and I was quite happy with it.

The hours may have changed, since the information I have seen says that they are only open for breakfast and lunch (and I ate there in the evening). There were only a few customers when I was there, and I suppose it is even more impressive that I got such a good meal at a slow time of the day.

I have been somewhat disappointed by many versions of chicken fried steak I have gotten in other cities, and getting one in Austin is something I would really recommend. The 620 Cafe is one place where I have confidence it will be the classic Austin style.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: American
Cost: $$
Hours: Open daily (breakfast & lunch only)

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 23, 1994
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Chicken Fried Steak

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Fried Steak

H&H Coffee Shop–El Paso, TX

H&H Coffee Shop
701 E. Yandell Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 533-1144
H&H Coffee Shop

H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop


If you go to H&H Coffee Shop, you will find out that it is actually the “World Renowned H&H Coffee Shop” because of its popularity with visitors and the reputation it has gained over the Internet. I would argue that this reputation is well deserved, but also that there are many other places in El Paso that are probably just as good or better at serving down home style Mexican food. The unique feature of H&H, though, is that you can have your car washed while eating breakfast or lunch. I think the food at the cafe is good enough, though, to consider it as its own destination.

H&H Coffee Shop consists of a limited number of tables and a counter complete with stools. It is purposely downscale with cheap prices for the food. Standard Mexican food items are served, with both a breakfast and lunch menu available. Perhaps H&H’s popularity lies in the fact that it looks like a diner from any city in America, but with the style of Mexican food that is only served in El Paso and the immediately surrounding region.

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos rancheros

Huevos rancheros

Until my visit in 2009 all of my meals at H&H had been for lunch. In trying the Huevos Rancheros, though, I found what I thought to be the best food here so far. Many places in El Paso make memorable huevos rancheros, but even more do not. I was happy to find out that H&H serves some of the best ones, with one of the keys being the sauce (it looked like a type of cheese sauce with onions and green chiles). I have to say, though, that I probably would have enjoyed the eggs if they had come plain, being cooked the way I liked them.

Side Dishes
I thought the Refried Beans were greasy compared to most in El Paso, and this was not something my body was craving for breakfast. The Potatoes were better, but I did not think they were anything that lived up the H&H’s “world renowned” reputation. The flour tortilla was good, but in the end I thought all the side items paled in comparison to the eggs.

The beans were indicative of the type of food I remember from my past visits years ago– very greasy. I know that not all of the food is this way, but it is the impression I gained on one or two visits and the reason I did not make more visits over the years.

Recommendations
The owner did offer some suggestions about items to try if you go for lunch, including the chile relleno, taco, enchiladas, and hamburger steak. I do not remember what I tried, except that I am sure it included the enchiladas. It also seems to me that the enchiladas were one of the items I enjoyed.

For now, though, I can say for sure that the breakfasts are worth experiencing (and I also think they did a good job when they washed my car). After trying the huevos rancheros, I am sorry I have not had the chance to try more of H&H’s food to find other exceptional examples of El Paso’s border cuisine.


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $
Hours: Breakfast & lunch only
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast; Car wash available

Most Recent Visit: May 22, 2009
Number of Visits: 5
Best Item: Huevos Rancheros

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Huevos Rancheros
star 4 Beans
star 5 Salsa

North May Donuts & Kolaches–The Village, OK

North May Donuts & Kolaches
10712 N. May Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 751-1620
North May Donuts & Kolaches

North May Donuts & Kolaches


North May Donuts & Kolaches is probably more of a take-out business than a restaurant, although they do have tables to eat breakfast here.  It closes at noon daily (and is open from 5:30 am). The big items seem to be breakfast kolaches (with choices such as sausage) or the fruit filled kolaches.

What I did not know beforehand was that they do not keep kolaches in stock, and the only way to be sure of getting them is to order them ahead of time (thus I have not yet tried the kolaches).

Sweet Rolls

Sweet rolls

Apple, cinnamon roll, and jelly filled roll

The sweet rolls I tried, though, were a big hit. The Apple flavored one (on top) was very fresh and flavorful, and did not have any of the “donut shop” greasy taste that I often find. In fact, I would compare the rolls here to the ones at Ingrid’s for quality (and in fact these might even be better).

The Cinnamon Roll (shown on the bottom left) was just as fresh but I would say it was my second favorite behind the apple (just a personal preference).

The Jelly Filled Roll was a disappointment for me because I found it to be rather unremarkable. I would say I wanted more of a fruit flavor and not as much of the generic jelly-like substance.

Recommendations
Two of the three items I tried here were excellent, and the other was good. I definitely recommend giving this place a try.

Call ahead of time if you want to be sure to get the kolaches you want.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Bakery
Cost: $
Hours: 5:30 am to noon (open daily)

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 13, 2016
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Apple Roll, Cinnamon Roll
 

Special Ratings
star 5 Apple Roll
star 5 Cinnamon Roll
star 4 Jelly Filled Roll

Johnnie’s Grill–El Reno, OK

Johnnie’s Grill
301 S. Rock Island Ave.
El Reno, OK
(405) 262-4721
Johnnie's Grill

Johnnie’s Grill in El Reno, OK


Having grown up with hamburgers as one of the staples of my diet, there were two ways of preparing them that made for an extra special treat: onion fried and charcoal broiled with hickory sauce. While there are still several places in Oklahoma that prepare decent charcoal broiled hamburgers, finding onion fried burgers that taste like the ones I remember as a kid seems to be increasingly difficult. One of the first places I would recommend trying, though, is Johnnie’s Grill in El Reno. In business since the 1940’s, it still prepares food the old fashioned way– with not much consciousness of fat or cholesterol, but very cognizant of maintaining the long-established standard for flavor and enjoyment of a burger.

El Reno is close enough to Oklahoma City so that many people make the commute every workday, but far enough away that a dedicated group of fans make the commute the other direction to eat some of the famous onion burgers and Coneys in El Reno as often as they can make the trip (but it is probably never often enough). There are three El Reno restaurants that are well known for the local specialty (onion burgers and Coneys), and probably others that are less famous but still good. I think the burger at Johnnie’s Grill is about the best I have found anywhere, and the Coney is not far behind. The onion burger is definitely a local specialty, since I have not found any in Oklahoma City that are quite as good.

Johnnie’s does have other items, both on the breakfast menu (6:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat.) and the regular menu (lunch & dinner daily).  The burger and Coney, though, are what cause most people to make the pilgrimage to Johnnie’s.

Onion Burger

Onion burger on the grill

Onion burger cooking on the grill

While there are several items on the menu, the Onion Fried Hamburger is what has made Johnnie’s famous throughout central Oklahoma (and in other parts of the country as well). Each burger is individually prepared as you order it, with the onions cooked separately on the grill so they become caramelized and then added into the patty as it is cooking in order to ensure a proper blend of beef and onion flavors. The onions are added early into the meat’s cooking process and the patty is mashed flat to ensure proper cooking of all ingredients. The onions end up being cooked much longer than is found with the typical “burger with onions.” In fact, they are cooked so long that for me it eliminates the negative side effects of eating onions such as a strong taste and possible gastric upset.

Onion burger

The onion burger at Johnnie’s

The end result is one of the best burgers around, and a meal that in terms of flavor rivals many “fine dining” restaurants. The meat is high quality and never frozen, and the mustard and pickle toppings go perfectly with this creation. Only the white bread bun is a throwback to a half century ago that I think perhaps could be updated.

Coney

Coney

The Coney at Johnnie’s

Johnnie’s other highly popular item is the Coney, a high quality hot dog that comes with different toppings. The most popular, though (and Johnnie’s specialty) is a Coney topped with chili and a special cole slaw that seems to be served only in El Reno (with other popular restaurants serving slightly different versions). The chili was really one of the smoothest and most flavorful I have ever eaten (by smooth I mean mainly that it was not greasy and was somewhat liquid so that it could be poured over the hot dog). Many people familiar with New Mexican cuisine (and I among them) proclaim their chile to be hotter, more flavorful, and more satisfying than the Tex-Mex style chili (which is always brown and usually made either with meat or beans). Johnnie’s chili, though, was different, with a flavor that I think made it equal in quality to much of the New Mexico chile (although certainly not as spicy).

The slaw made an interesting flavor contrast, and although I did not think it in itself was as exceptional as the chili, the combination of the two allowed me to experience the flavor that makes the El Reno Coneys famous. This was a somewhat toned down slaw with not as much sharpness as is sometimes found in normal cole slaw.

Side Dishes
The French Fries were greasy, but not overly so. They are certainly better quality than is found at most restaurants these days.

Desserts

Lemon cheesecake

Lemon cheesecake

Sitting at the counter is a great way to chat with people and watch the food being cooked, but tables are available for families and those who prefer more space. Being at the counter allowed me to spy out several types of pie that were available (Johnnie’s has a person who specializes in baking the pies). I would not call the pies gourmet, but they were good (yes, I tried more than one kind).

Directions
Johnnie’s is in downtown El Reno on historic Route 66.  It is also located on U.S. 81, so going north from the U.S. 81 exit on Interstate 40 is an easy way to find the restaurant.

A drive-through window is also available for take-home or if you need to get back to Interstate 40 for a cross-country trip. Going to Johnnie’s requires about a four mile detour (round trip) from IH-40.

Recommendations and Tips
Most people do not have any trouble figuring out what to order: an onion fried burger would be a good bet here. The Coney dogs are also a popular choice, and with the chili and slaw are as hard to match elsewhere as the burgers. After all, only Wimpy of the Popeye comics can subsist solely on a diet of hamburgers.

A hot link or Polish sausage can also be made “Coney” style (with chili and slaw).

A breakfast menu is also available Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.  They serve just about everything that can be cooked on a grill– pancakes, omelettes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, etc.  It is interesting, though, that they also offer a couple of items made with their famous chili (the same chili used on the Coneys)– a burrito or a bowl of chili.  I do think the chili here is probably the best I have ever had, so I can see why some would want it for breakfast.

Johnnie’s still has the original counter with bar stools in front of the grill, but also has a large dining room with tables (for more space and to accommodate larger parties of diners).

It is stated on their menu that they are open from 6am to 9pm Monday-Saturday and 11am to 8pm Sunday.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Hamburgers
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily

Most Recent Visit: May 19, 2010
Number of Visits: 4
Best Items: Onion Fried Hamburger, Coney

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Onion Fried Hamburger
star 5 Coney
star 4 French Fries
star 4 Lemon Cheesecake