Some of My Favorite El Paso Lent Specials

Many restaurants in El Paso (particularly Mexican restaurants) offer Lent specials in the days leading up to Easter. These are usually served on Friday, but some restaurants have them for other holy days as well.

I found out a long time ago that this is some of the best Mexican food served, and rather than Lent being a “fast” I always found it to be a treat to enjoy the food served by these restaurants. Most Lent specials are served with fish or shrimp, but some vegetarian dishes are also available such as enchiladas (they frequently use some special sauce that is not normally served on enchiladas). The Lent specials at restaurants can really be anything as long as there is no meat.

Lentil soup

Lentil soup

My favorite Lent specials are ones that include a vegetarian lentil soup (lentejas) and the traditional bread pudding dessert (capirotada). The main plate on traditional meals usually includes mashed potatoes and either rice or bread. I usually like to get fish because the restaurants usually prepare it so well, but I think I see about two shrimp specials on the menu for every one that is fish.

Capirotada

Capirotada

The following list includes recent places I have visited, with two of them (El Jacalito and Carnitas Queretaro) being long time favorites:

 

San Isidro Mission Cafe

1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX

This restaurant seems to be well known for its Lent special, although I just tried it for the first time this year.

Pescado Marinero

Pescado Marinero

Unlike other restaurants, though, San Isidro only has one Lent special. It is called Pescado Marinero, and is cooked in foil with a fish fillet, clams, squid, and shrimp all cooked together. Frankly, I went with a friend who shared this dish with me, and we both got full. We were both very happy with the food as well. The dinner came with lentil soup and capirotada (the only down side with sharing the meal is that you only get one of each of these side dishes).

The up side of this meal was that the fish was good and the seafood and vegetables mixed in were a nice added touch. The down side was that there were no other items on the Lent menu–this was the only special available. The lentils were prepared in a different style than the others I tried (heavy on the cilantro) and were very good. The capirotada was moist to the point of being soggy (more like an actual pudding than the others). Although different, this was also a worthwhile experience.

Edit: I should mention that we got an extra order of lentils and that is the reason both of us were full.

 

Carnitas Queretaro

7410 Remcon Circle
El Paso, TX

Carnitas Queretaro is the only restaurant I have found which serves Filete Veracruzano (fish with Veracruz sauce) on a regular basis, meaning every Friday during Lent. Thus, I got to try the one dish which is probably my favorite during Lent.

Filete Veracruzano

Filete Veracruzano

I loved the sauce here, but the fish fillet was probably the most disappointing out of the ones I tried this year. I also know that it was not up to the standard I experienced in previous years at Carnitas Queretaro. This was quite an expensive meal, and I just do not understand why this restaurant has changed so much (even so it was almost worth it to get such a good veracruzana sauce).

The lentil soup and capirotada were both excellent, and Carnitas is excellent on items such as the chips and salsa. The main plate came with mashed potatoes, rice and bread. To me this is overkill on the starchy items, although I enjoyed the mashed potatoes very much.

 

Delicias Cafe

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Delicias Cafe had good fish and an excellent poblana sauce. Several shrimp items were on the menu, and the staff explained that the owner and chef decide the night before what items to put on the Lent menu (so it changes weekly).

Filete with poblana sauce

Filete with poblana sauce

The lentils here were probably my least favorite of the ones I tried, but the capirotada was one of the best. The meal was a little bit strange because they had put “Filete a la Veracruzana” on the menu but the meal they brought me had a different sauce (the poblana sauce). When I asked about this they gave me some veracruz sauce to try, but I found that the poblana sauce was actually much better. In any case, if you are all right with being surprised (in a good way) then this is a good place to come.

Edit: I returned to Delicias on Good Friday and ordered the Filete a la Veracruzana. It confirmed my previous observation that the poblana sauce was better (and at Delicias I would probably skip the veracruzana sauce).

 

El Jacalito

2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX

El Jacalito is one of the restaurants that changes the menu weekly, and like most of them offers both fish and shrimp. This is my favorite restaurant for the veracruz style fish (which I did not have this year), but it is also my favorite for breaded fish (empanizado). In fact, this is really my favorite place for Lent specials.

Pescado empanizado

Pescado empanizado

One reason it is good is because of the price, but where the food is concerned I really like everything I have tried. The breaded fish had a very good sauce which was not quite like the veracruz sauce I had hoped to try, but what I had was very enjoyable. The fish itself was very fresh, and was the best I tried at any restaurant (although San Isidro was very close). The lentils and capirotada are always my favorites here, and this year was no exception.

El Jacalito is only open for lunch (as is San Isidro) but it is a great place for Lent specials if you can make it. Sometimes they do not have either the breaded or the veracruz style fish, but others may be happier with the shrimp options than I am, and there are other items on the menu you can also choose (enchiladas, etc., or even a meat item if you are not following a Lenten diet). In any case, I think it is worth coming here just for the lentil soup and capirotada.

In past years I always included their horchata as part of the Lent tradition. This year I decided on iced tea, but the horchata really is one of the best I have found anywhere.

 

Nellie’s Cafe–Las Cruces, NM

Nellie’s Cafe
1226 W. Hadley Ave.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 524-9982
Nellie's

Nellie’s


As far as I can remember Nellie’s has the distinction of being the first New Mexican restaurant I tried in Las Cruces (other than La Posta in Mesilla). Nellie’s was the favorite of my relatives and the one we headed to first when we were in the City of the Crosses. From this time in the mid 1970’s until after 2000 I never noticed a change in the quality of Nellie’s, and it has always been as good as I remember from the first time I ate here.

The only thing that has changed, though, has been the hours (and of course the prices have gone up over the years). They no longer have dinner hours, and now close at 3:00 p.m.  While not a change from the old days, they are also closed from Christmas until about the third week in January, and again for a vacation in the summer. I either read or was told that this is the way they have been able to keep this family owned business alive for so long without having to close.

Nellie’s has always been my idea of what southern New Mexican style food should be. The red chile has always been my favorite here, but others have told me the green chile is best. This is the restaurant where I developed a great love for stuffed sopapillas, and this is my favorite dish here. Really, though, everything is good (a friend of mine tells me they have the best huevos rancheros ever).

I believe there are several candidates in New Mexico for the best red chile, and Nellie’s is certainly one of them. What I especially like about Nellie’s, though, is that the heat level is not extremely high but the flavor of the chile is as good as the hotter varieties.

Stuffed Sopapilla (a.k.a. Sopapilla Compuesta)

Sopapilla compuesta

Sopapilla compuesta with red and green sauce

The Stuffed Sopapilla is my favorite dish, and I am very glad I can go back and get the same dish I enjoyed when I was just learning how good New Mexican food could be. At Nellie’s it is not actually stuffed, but the beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and tomato are put on top of the sopapilla, along with your preference of chile (red or green). Over the years I have enjoyed the meatless version as much as the one withe meat. Either way, I think it is best with the red sauce.

The dish pictured is the regular size, but they also have a small order. Both are relatively inexpensive.

Red Enchiladas
Red Enchiladas are also excellent, and I always like to order them stacked. Because they do not come with blue corn tortillas they do not rise to the level that would put the ones in northern New Mexico. The chile, though, is probably as good as you will find anywhere (my preference is the red, but both are good).

Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Another item for which Nellie’s is famous is the Salsa. It is spicy, flavorful, and fresh. I have bought some to take home several times, and this is something I would suggest if you have the opportunity.

Closing Comments
Anyone who remembers restaurants from the 1970’s will probably know that many places placed an emphasis on utility rather than decor (unless it was a fine dining restaurant). Nellie’s, as a local hangout, provided all the tables and booths that could fit into a small space, and the last time I saw it nothing has changed. Many of the newer restaurants might be considered nicer, but I am glad Nellie’s still allows me to relive the memories of what have really been my favorite New Mexican food experiences in Las Cruces.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (closed Sun. & Mon.)
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 22, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Sopapilla Compuesta, Red Enchiladas, Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Sopapilla Compuesta
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Good Luck Cafe–El Paso, TX

Good Luck Cafe
3813 Alameda Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 532-9039
Good Luck Cafe

Good Luck Cafe


Sometimes it is difficult to compare one cuisine to another in terms of giving them a rating because it is quite subjective. It occurred to me, though, that good Mexican food can be quite similar to good Italian cuisine because of the fact that they have bold flavors matched with a starch base (pasta for Italian and rice, beans, tortillas, etc. for Mexican food). My eating satisfaction is quite similar for both of these, both are very much garlic based, and both are usually moderately spicy but occasionally very high on the Scoville Heat Level.

I say this because the very good restaurants in El Paso such as Good Luck Cafe remind me very much of the good Italian restaurants in Oklahoma. People can make their own comparisons between Mexican restaurants and other types of food, but I do think that those who are only familiar with Tex-Mex or American style Mexican food have not fully experienced what Mexican food has to offer, and Good Luck Cafe would certainly be one of my suggestions for a place to find out how more traditional Mexican food can taste.

Good Luck Cafe is a popular diner with somewhat spartan seating (or you can sit at the counter). As such, you get a different ambiance than you would at a good Italian restaurant. Some of the perks of a diner, though, include much lower prices and a varied menu that includes a range of breakfast items.

Mexican Plate

Mexican plate

Mexican plate

One drawback of Good Luck Cafe is that it only has one combination dinner, called the Mexican Plate. The upside is that it is very good, and if you particularly like one particular item you can order this one on its own plate. The only choice I had was between a ground beef taco and one with shredded beef (deshebrada). Either way, I would recommend trying this plate.

I thought the best item was the Deshebrada Taco, although all three of the main items were just about equally good. The taco was slightly soft but fried enough to have a good flavor, and the meat was flavored in a way that made it one of the best in the city.

The Enchiladas had a classic flavored red chile sauce, and I liked the fact that they did not taste greasy.

The Chile Relleno had a more obvious oil flavor than the other items, but was by no means swimming in grease as some chile rellenos are, and had a very good flavor. Most of the seeds had been removed so that it was not super spicy.

Chili Dog

Hot dog with chili

Hot dog with chili

I did not sample the Hot Dog with Chili so I cannot give a review of it, but it is one of the “diner” options available along with the Mexican food. It is interesting that the custom in El Paso is to serve hot dogs on a round bun.

Other Impressions
When I came here for Sunday lunch the restaurant was completely full, and is obviously very popular. I do not understand the popularity of some restaurants, but the flavor of the food and lack of grease made it obvious to me why Good Luck Cafe has so many loyal patrons. It seemed to be particularly popular with families who had come here for one of their special meals of the week.

Spanish is the predominant language here but it is not necessary for ordering or asking questions about the food. I think the restaurant would be totally comfortable for tourists provided that they are OK with diner type seating.

There are so many good Mexican restaurants in El Paso I could not say that this one especially stands out, except for the fact that everything on the plate was uniformly good. Some other restaurants are the same, but really not as great a number as one might think.

They do not serve chips here (I think this is one of the reasons they have such low prices). The salsa was in a bottle as was so spicy I did not find it advantageous to add it to the items on my plate.

I do not think they have horchata or other aguas frescas, but I actually seldom find these drinks in the restaurants located south of Interstate 10.

Good Luck Cafe has been very popular on Yelp and other sites, letting me know that my one good experience was not just a fluke.


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 18, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Deshebrada Taco, Chile Relleno

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Deshebrada Taco
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Beans
star 4 Rice
star 5 Flour Tortilla
star 5 Salsa