Sushi Zen–El Paso, TX

Sushi Zen
7040 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 585-8848
Sushi Zen

Sushi Zen in Coronado


El Paso is actually replete with sushi restaurants, and I think the only parts of town where they are not in abundance are the lower income areas near the International border where it is also hard to find such amenities as grocery stores (other than neighborhood convenience stores). I am not one to start a crusade saying that the people there should demand that something be done about the situation, because it is a matter of economics whether anyone has what could be considered a necessity such as a grocery store or a luxury such as a sushi restaurant. Although both of these are unequally distributed throughout the city’s neighborhoods, market demand dictates that both are in abundance in the area. I think that many people who have the money to go out to eat have sushi high on their priority list, judging by the number of restaurants that have opened.

In El Paso the sushi restaurants are not only all over the map geographically, but this also applies to the quality of the food. Many are not even owned by Japanese people (I would say this is true in the majority of cases). Sushi in El Paso usually refers to the California roll branch of this cuisine rather than trying to import fish that is fresh enough to make a decent nigiri or sashimi. I do not want to get into the argument right now about whether California rolls and other rolls are actual sushi, although the same argument is even made for sashimi.

From reading other web sites I understand that Sushi Zen is owned by Japanese people and that it has some of the best sushi in town, if not the best. I did not try anything from the sushi menu, so I will not attempt to give a rating to a place for which I am unable to evaluate their most popular and best rated dishes. Even though the sushi here is supposed to be the best in town, I will say that I would not expect it to be like places on the west coast, Florida, etc. Still, though, I only want to report on the food I have tried.

Miso and hot tea

A very good miso soup and Japanese green tea are served

What I did find out about Sushi Zen is that they give customers a quality product for their money. A la carte items are fairly inexpensive, and you can arguably get an even better deal with a lunch combination plate consisting of three items for $10.95 (this was the price when I ordered it). Of course I also felt that it was my duty to readers to be able to report on as many items from the menu as possible, and I found the lunch combination plate a good way to do this.

Lunch Special
The A La Carte menu is effective for both lunch and dinner, and is divided into Appetizers (about $3 to $5), Kitchen ($5 to $6), and Sushi ($4 to $8). These prices are for 2018 when I visited. For the lunch special ($10.95) you can pick any three items from any of these categories. I picked two from “Kitchen” (Salmon and Tofu Veggie Plate), and one of the appetizers (Shrimp Tempura).

Shrimp tempura

Shrimp tempura from the “Appetizer” menu

My favorite was probably the Shrimp Tempura, although all three had elements of them that I liked better than others. For instance, I liked the shrimp tempura very much, but I thought the eel sauce that came with it was very thick, very sweet, and not very flavorful.

Salmon

Salmon is one of the “Kitchen” items

The Salmon was very fresh (it did not have a “fishy” taste) and it had a good flavor, but the color was not anywhere close to the red that I associate with high quality salmon. The sauce was also somewhat lacking in flavor. For El Paso this was very good salmon and I would order it again, especially compared to what I find in other restaurants.

Tofu vegetable plate

Tofu vegetable plate from the “Kitchen” section of the menu

The Tofu Vegetable Plate was certainly good quality, but just lacked flavor. I would rather it be this way than the other way around, and like the other two dishes I would order this again. It is a good value for the money, especially if you get it on the lunch combination as I did.

Dinner Menu
For dinner you can also order anything on the three menus I mentioned except the lunch combination special. Dinner also includes some much more expensive items such as special sushi rolls and grilled steak (these items are also available for lunch but they are not available on the lunch combination special).

In short, except for the lunch combination special they serve the same items at lunch and dinner, and they are at the same prices.

Other Observations
The restaurant was quite busy when I went, and I think if there is anything El Pasoans know it is a good bargain. I believe Sushi Zen certainly gives people their money’s worth on the lunch special, and individual items are not expensive compared to other restaurants.

I have not tried the sushi, but I hear that it is good. The menu lists only rolls, though, and there is no traditional nigiri listed. I do not know if any of the rolls contain traditional sushi fish, and if this is true I would question the restaurant’s use of the name “Sushi” although that does not diminish the quality of the food they do serve.

I complained about the flavors of some of the dishes, but the restaurant does not have a sweet Americanized flavor–I think it is real Japanese but perhaps modified because of the ingredients available in the Southwestern desert and also the tastes of the people in the region (which would make it “Americanized,” if true, but I just do not believe the food here is what I would normally classify as being Americanized).

There is another Sushi Zen at 2400 N. Mesa Street (I believe this is the original restaurant). I think that both of them have the same food, and the one at 7040 N. Mesa would certainly be easier in terms of finding a parking spot.


RATING: N/R

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

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 30, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Shrimp Tempura

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Green
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Shrimp Tempura
star 4 Salmon
star 4 Tofu Veggie Plate

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.

 

A Bite of Belgium–Las Cruces, NM

A Bite of Belgium
741 N. Alameda Blvd.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 527-2483
A Bite of Belgium

A Bite of Belgium


When my dad and uncle were growing up, Belgium was referred to simply as “the old country,” with their grand-maman trying in vain to pass along a working knowledge of the French language to the grand-kids. Another item that seemingly did not get passed on was any tradition of Belgian food in the family. This has led me on somewhat of a quest to find anything that might be a true representation of food from the “old country.”

A Bite of Belgium was my first successful attempt at getting an actual Belgian meal as opposed to novelty items such as chocolate candy or waffles that were Belgian in name only. I will have to say the restaurant was quite impressive, and a large crowd in both the dining room and outdoor patio seemed to agree. The restaurant has a large breakfast and sandwich menu, which has actually expanded since I first dropped in to pick up a menu in 2017.

One thing I like about the breakfasts is that they are not oversized, and the restaurant believes you might actually want to eat lunch somewhere and have enough appetite to enjoy it. The sandwiches I saw at other tables were fairly substantial and appeared to make a good lunch.

Waffles

Waffles with bacon

Waffles with bacon and vanilla cream cheese

The menu now includes more waffle choices than it did in 2017, and I could see that this was the area I would probably want to explore the most. I have had “Belgian waffles” at other restaurants, but the ones here were obviously the real thing and opened up what seemed to me like a whole new world in waffle enjoyment.

A Bite of Belgium serves Liège style waffles, and to me the waffle itself was the best part of the meal. The Waffles, Bacon, and Cream breakfast serves the waffles with two bacon strips and vanilla cream cheese for a very nice combination of flavors (in addition to fruit and powdered sugar on the plate). The cream cheese turned out to be a little too sweet for the type of breakfast I like, but the good thing here is that you can order the waffles in a variety of ways, including plain with just the powdered sugar. I really enjoyed the waffle and will definitely want to come back for these again.

The bacon was excellent as well–they have a very good quality bacon here.

 

Desserts
This restaurant has pastries to eat here or for take-home orders as they do at Le Rendez-vous, but the selection at A Bite of Belgium seems small. I have not tried any of the pastries and cannot comment on them. What I can say, though, is that Le Rendez-vous would probably be the place most people would want to go if their primary concern is finding a large selection of items.

Other Comments
For much of my life I have wanted European food to be considered as “normal” in the United States, and for this style of restaurant to be popular places where people would eat all the time. This seems to be the case with A Bite of Belgium–the place was packed and people were obviously enjoying the food (most people were eating sandwiches at the time I went).

A Bite of Belgium is more expensive than the diner or fast food options around town (you can see the prices from the menu I have included). The portions are good, and I do not think many people will complain that they did not get enough food (although these are not the huge portions that some breakfast and lunch restaurants serve).

It is very encouraging that there were very few tables available at A Bite of Belgium. Perhaps this means that in the future it will be easier for other Belgian restaurants to open around the country than it has been up to this point. I do think, though, that restaurants with good quality (such as this one) will do well no matter what type of cuisine they serve.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Belgian
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily 7:00 am to 2:00 pm; Dinner Wed.-Sun. (5pm-9pm)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 22, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Waffles, Bacon

Special Ratings
star 5 Waffles, Bacon, & Vanilla Cream

 

Menu (Mar. 2018):