Tony’s Bar B Q–El Paso, TX

Tony’s The Pit Bar-B-Q
1700 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 546-9140
Tony's Bar-B-Q

Tony’s Bar-B-Q


Although I have lived in some of the country’s barbecue meccas such as Oklahoma City and Austin, I have only recently been on a quest to purposely seek out the best barbecue, catalog it, and really enjoy what they have compared to large parts of the country which are lacking in such amenities.

Just like in Oklahoma and Austin, though, I took it for granted that El Paso also had great barbecue. Today I no longer assume that good barbecue will be everywhere, but I do appreciate the fact that Tony’s Bar-B-Q is still going strong. Open since 1958, it has primarily served the downtown lunch crowd by specializing in sandwiches and barbecue plates that are just the right size for this time of day. Located just off of Interstate 10, though, it also makes a good stop for those who are just passing through.

I think that the brisket sandwich is really the thing to order, and I was reminded recently that it is really difficult to get brisket this good outside of Austin. There are several aspects of Tony’s that for me fall short of what I expect in a good barbecue restaurant, but the brisket is seriously some of the best you will find anywhere.

The Barbecue

The serving line

Brisket on the chopping block

When you approach the counter you get to look at the choices before you order, and a menu board also lets you know about any specials. On my last visit they had a special for ribs and a brisket sandwich, along with a side order and drink. This seriously makes a better meal for two persons than one, which was an excellent choice for my dining partner and I.

Brisket sandwich

Brisket sandwich

I think the Brisket Sandwich is not only the best item here, but along with a side dish is really the perfect size for lunch. I have to confess that we ordered an extra sandwich so that each of us would have our own, but sharing a half sandwich along with some ribs is not bad either.

The brisket was tender and had an excellent flavor–they cover all the points of having good meat and cooking it the right way. Brisket is sub-par in so many barbecue restaurants (even otherwise good ones) that I think it is important to take advantage of the ones that are as good as Tony’s.

Ribs

Ribs

To me the Ribs were somewhat disappointing compared to the ones in Oklahoma, as much so as the brisket in Oklahoma is disappointing compared to Tony’s. The ribs are still excellent and is cooked to the right texture with a good sauce, but for some reason I found the flavor a little lacking.

The sauce at Tony’s is less sweet than in Oklahoma and less robust, but I still found it to be good. I believe the barbecue is cooked according to the methods used in Austin, and I know that in Austin the sauce is really de-emphasized with the belief that the meat can stand on its own without adding sauce to it. I think the meat at Tony’s is better with the sauce (on the ribs they already add it and on the brisket you add your own). It is good to know, then, that the sauce has a good flavor.

Side Dishes
The Chili Beans were excellent with a good flavor that was not over the top in spiciness as I found it to be at Great American.

The Potato Salad was a little lacking in flavor but was good.

I think great barbecue restaurants should offer a large selection of excellent side dishes, but at Tony’s the sides are limited. I wish they had more sides and desserts such as pudding, cobbler, etc., but I think what they have will satisfy most people.

Sweet tea comes from a large jar while the regular tea is refilled at the soda machine. I got the latter and was expecting some sort of commercially produced tea, but I actually really liked what they had.

Additional Comments
Tony’s is located on a one-way street in an industrial neighborhood, and is not a place people would likely pass by unless they were specifically looking for it. It has very good access to the Interstate, though, and is worth seeking out for a good and inexpensive lunch.

Everything here is good, but for me the brisket is one of those special meals that allow me to feel that my blog can really provide a public service by publicizing it.

I have read many comments on sites such as Yelp saying that the employees here are quite helpful, and I also feel that this is another reason you will want to come.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Barbecue
Cost: $$
Hours: Lunch only; Closed Sun. (open to 5:00 p.m. weekdays)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 21, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Brisket, Chili Beans

Special Ratings
star 5 Brisket
star 5 Ribs
star 5 Chili Beans
star 5 Potato Salad
star 5 Sauce

L & J Cafe–El Paso, TX

L & J Cafe
3622 E. Missouri Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 566-8418
L & J Cafe

L & J Cafe


When I first started working in El Paso some of my co-workers introduced me to a relatively unknown restaurant with about five tables and a number of bar stools with very good food named L & J. Over the years L & J became more popular so that we developed strategies for getting a table at lunch time (such as showing up as soon as the restaurant opened). However busy it became, though, it was always worth the wait as long as we could manage being gone for longer than the allotted time for lunch hour.

The bar at L & J

The bar at L & J is very popular, particularly in the evening

It took me a while to realize that the restaurant was also open in the evenings and on weekends, and that this afforded an easier opportunity to get a coveted table. The bar has always been quite popular, but I do not think it is really designed for eating food (contrary to many bars in El Paso Mexican restaurants). Either way you are experiencing a piece of El Paso history, with L & J being in operation since 1927. The restaurant is also know for being located across the street from Concordia Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city with grave sites for notable figures such as gunfighter John Wesley Hardin as well as numerous local residents such as my own great-great grandparents and other family members.

The overflow parking area outside L & J along Stevens Street sometimes serves more as parking for the cemetery when they have historical tours or other special events. In any case, L & J is like La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico–you can come for the food, for the history, or both.

Now that L & J has expanded with a couple of new dining rooms, its popularity with patrons continues to cause larger crowds than it can handle many times, and waits seem to be as big an issue as they were before. I think the food has experienced somewhat of a transformation along with the dining facilities, and like many of the restaurants I review I find it necessary to update my comments and recommendations.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The salsa is different than at most restaurants because it is pureed. In my former review I called it a “liquid concentration of high chile potency,” and it remains this way at the “new” restaurant. What was missing was the green salsa they used to serve, as shown in this photo:

Red and green salsa

Red salsa along with the green salsa L & J used to serve

Perhaps the green salsa is still available if you ask for it, but I think the red is equally good and I am fine with only that one being served.

Combination Plate

Combination plate

Combination plate with taco, chile verde, chile relleno, red enchilada, guacamole, taquito, rice, and beans

With the combination plate you get a good sample of the food at L & J. I also got more food than I wanted for a meal, but of course I did not complain too much!

While some web sites seem to rank L & J as the best Mexican restaurant in El Paso, but I find that there is too much inconsistency between some of the dishes to say that this is the case. Nevertheless, the combination plate includes some of L & J’s best dishes such as enchiladas and chile verde. This is my overall assessment:

Best Items:

  • Red Enchilada. The red chile has a good spice and gives a good taste of El Paso style enchiladas.
  • Chile Verde. The staff told me this was the same as the caldillo listed on the menu, and which I had previously designated as one of L & J’s signature dishes. It is made with beef instead of pork (caldillo is usually made with pork), and as before I think this is possibly the best chile verde I have had in El Paso.
  • Rice. I enjoy the flavor of the spices and the tomato sauce, the generous mixture of peas, and the fact that over the years I have never found it to be overcooked.

Good Items:

  • Chile Relleno. This was very tasty but a little greasy. The restaurant used to put a sauce on top, but this has little to do with my downgrading it from one of L & J’s best items to merely a good one (instead it has to do with the greasiness).

Other Items:

  • Taquito.  This was a little bland in flavor but otherwise good. I just could not find anything that made it stand out.
  • Beans.  These contributed to the overall theme of much of the food (namely being greasy).
  • Ground Beef Taco.  This was possibly the greasiest item on the plate.

Recommendations from Previous Visits

Green enchiladas

Green enchiladas

I do not generally like Green Enchiladas in El Paso as much as the red, but the one at L & J is very close (based on past visits). My description of it in a previous review was “very hot green chile strips in a soupy sauce poured over the tortillas.” I assure readers that this is a good thing when you experience it, at least if the enchiladas are still prepared the same way (and I am sure they are).

Other Notes
In general my reference to L & J being a “new” restaurant does not mean they have changed the recipes, but I think in some cases the execution is a little different. For instance, I find some items to be more greasy than before. I also think the chile used in the red enchiladas is not quite as spicy as before, but it has not yet morphed into “tourist food” (I think the chile now is just about right).

The prices seem to be noticeably higher than at comparable restaurants, although for many items it is worth it. The history of the building is quite notable, and I think L & J has rightly turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction.

Although I enjoy the increased diversity in Mexican food that El Paso is experiencing, there is always a place in my heart and my stomach for the “old style” Mexican food that is unique to El Paso. I particular encourage people to try the red enchiladas at various restaurants, and I believe L & J should be on this list.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 19, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Caldillo, Salsa, Rice, Green Enchiladas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Green Enchilada
star 5 Caldillo
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Taquito
star 3 Taco
star 5 Rice
star 4 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Rosco’s–El Paso, TX

Rosco’s Burger Inn
3829 Tompkins Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 564-9028
Rosco's

Rosco’s


The business card from Rosco’s Burger Inn a few years ago stated that it had been “serving El Paso for over 50 years,” and just about everyone who has lived in the Sun City knows about the burgers here. What makes Rosco’s different is the fact that it hasn’t changed since I first started going there (I remember the original owner who I assumed was Roscoe but it appears to have gone through at least a couple of management changes since then).

The grill

The grill

Rosco’s small business card was large enough to list the entire menu: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese, caldillo, chili bowl, meat burritos, fries, and onion rings. Most or all of these are cooked on a large grill behind the counter, and patrons associate the sound and smell of the burgers cooking with the Rosco’s experience as much as the good taste of the food. I enjoyed the good flavor of the caldillo on several visits, but the burgers are by far the most popular item.

Hamburgers on the grill

Burgers are grilled the old fashioned way

The Burgers

Cheeseburger

Cheeseburger

The major decision at Rosco’s seems to be whether you are having a burger with or without cheese. I have mostly ordered the Cheeseburger, with the grilled meat, heated bun, and fresh toppings reminding me of the typical burgers that would have been served close to a half century ago (not that I remember that far back, of course). The quality of Rosco’s burgers is something that has been lost at so many other places, especially the franchise hamburger restaurants. The meat has real flavor and everything else is fresh. Probably the buns are the one feature that could use some updating from fifty years ago, but they are good.

Burgers come with a choice of a single or double patty, and patrons can choose their own toppings. I recommend getting everything that comes with it (the cheese costs extra but I think it is a good enhancement).

Hamburger

Hamburger

Ordering the regular Hamburger, though, offers a somewhat different enjoyment experience. The flavor of the meat is more pronounced than when it is topped with cheese, and I eat so few hamburgers I really want to enjoy the flavor of the good ones (as this one is). It is safe to say, though, that both the hamburger and cheeseburger are good choices.

Hamburger and fries

Hamburger and fries

I was disappointed with the Fries on my last visit because the oil seemed to have too much of an aftertaste. I am on the fence about whether to order them again, but there are not many options for side dishes here.

Caldillo

Caldillo

Caldillo

Caldillo is one of the three Mexican style dishes here, and is the one I have ordered the most. This used to be one of my favorite caldillos in the city, but my most recent experience was of one with chile that was so spicy I could hardly eat it. I do not enjoy extremely spicy chile as much as in the past, but I can still eat it. I think the problem with the caldillo is that it is mostly liquid (it is a soup), and I usually use starches to cool down my mouth after eating hot chile. Rosco’s gives you a flour tortilla, and the caldillo contains some potato, but for me this was not enough to make it so that I enjoyed eating something this spicy. Thus the caldillo is a “maybe” for ordering in the future, even though I have really enjoyed it in the past.

Additional Comments
I have heard comments from others that they like the food but dislike the dining room, and I cannot disagree. The few tables do not accommodate all the patrons at lunch time, and the counter would be considered uncomfortable by many. As an El Paso institution, though, people do not go to Rosco’s for the atmosphere. Actually I could argue that many people do like the atmosphere that is so familiar, everyone is treated as if they are a guest at a home cooked dinner, and you can see and smell the food cooking on the grill.

I do not know of any place in town that has burgers that I consider more enjoyable.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Hamburgers
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun. & Mon. (lunch only except Fri. & Sat.)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 5, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Hamburger, Cheeseburger

Special Ratings
star 5 Cheeseburger
star 5 Hamburger
star 4 Caldillo
star 4 French Fries

Forti’s–El Paso, TX

Forti’s Mexican Elder
321 Chelsea St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 772-0066
Forti's

Forti’s


Restaurant Web Site: Forti’s


Forti’s Mexican Elder is one of the oldest and most well-known representatives of El Paso style Mexican food, and is probably as popular with tourists as with local residents. Forti’s has traditionally been one of the more expensive Mexican restaurants in town, but I have found the flavor to be top notch on many, if not almost all, of the items.

View of the inside courtyard

View of the inside courtyard from the front dining area

When I first went to Forti’s it was pretty much a neighborhood restaurant that was becoming more well known throughout the city. The building is quite large, and has been expanded significantly from its original size. It now resembles a hacienda with three levels inside and an outdoor patio. This is not quite the same type of tourist destination that can be found in Mesilla or Santa Fe, New Mexico, but the Mexican-looking interior is very pleasant for a leisurely meal.

The inside courtyard frequently hosts large parties

The inside courtyard frequently hosts large parties

The inside courtyard is able to host large parties, or it is used as a regular dining area when the restaurant is busy. There is sometimes entertainment, and the restaurant knows people want a good time and good ambiance almost as much as good food. The entire area is non-smoking as regulated by city ordinance. Forti’s has a full bar.

Outdoor patio

Outdoor patio

The outdoor patio provides overflow space, in case the 250 person capacity of the restaurant is not enough. I have availed myself of this opportunity when the weather was right, but I do believe this serves as the smoking area (so normally I do not try to use the patio).

For a while Forti’s had a branch at the El Paso International Airport, and was always on my family’s agenda while waiting for departures until the airport changed the food service contract. Now there is only one location, although it is not too far from the airport.

The restaurant’s on-line menu explains that Consuelo Forti’s grandmother supplied the recipes that she and her husband used in the menu, and that they have added a few items over the years. I have classified the food here as “El Paso” style, referring primarily to the enchiladas which have a unique local flavor, and which are served in restaurants throughout El Paso but which I have otherwise seen in only a few surrounding towns (as far east as Van Horn). I am sticking to this description because even though the original recipes came from Mexico, the El Paso style food is a mixture of Mexican recipes and local ingredients (the local markets stocked chiles from Mexico and local ones, but the Mexican chiles may not always be the same ones that were sold in the regions of Mexico where the recipes originated). Also I have long believed that Forti’s made the best version of El Paso style red enchiladas, so however one wants to classify the enchiladas, Forti’s is my model of how they should taste.

Forti’s menu has a list of “specialties,” and I believe these represent the recipes from Consuelo’s grandmother. One item from this section is the tampiqueña steak, but I do not have a list of all of them (and the restaurant’s on-line menu does not make a note of the specialties). However, I have noticed that the specialties seem to be a notch above many of the other items in terms of flavor and quality.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa used to be a source of irritation to me since I thought the salsa was “dumbed down” for tourists. Recently, though, it has been quite good with a distinct freshly made taste. The chips likewise are some of the best I can find in the city. Forti’s has risen quite a bit in my estimation, not because of better dishes that are served, but through the elimination of the weak points that I experienced in the past.

Specialties

Tampiqueña steak with a red enchilada and guacamole

Tampiqueña steak with a red enchilada and guacamole

Tampiqueña Steak from the “Specialties” menu is not only one of the better items served in the restaurant, but it may be one of the better ones in El Paso (although I am much more familiar with the various chicken tampiqueña dishes than the ones served with steak). One experience I had that was comparable was at Great American Land & Cattle Company (beef with an optional green chile topping). I would say Great American probably has better steak. Forti’s, though, served a great combination of steak with green chile, and this green chile was some of the best I have had in El Paso. On the “spice scale” it was probably about three-quarters of the way to the top, but if it is too spicy for some people they can cut off small pieces so that it will be diluted more by the meat and the tomato topping. This was one of the best single dishes I have had in El Paso Mexican restaurants.

The Red Enchilada that came with the tampiqueña was also among the best in El Paso, but that is something I have known for a long time, having ordered quite a few of the combination lunches and dinners. These have a rich red chile and a flavor that rivals many of the ones found in New Mexico. I think the tampiqueña is the only “specialty” dish that includes an enchilada–otherwise it would be necessary to order the enchilada on the side.

The Guacamole looked very appetizing, but was lacking in flavor compared to many that are served around Ysleta and the general area south of Interstate 10. In fact, I thought the guacamole at Ted’s Cafe Escondido in Oklahoma city was better in terms of flavor (this is not a plug for Ted’s, but is giving credit where credit is due).

The Beans served with nearly all plates are of excellent quality and are one of the few examples that enhance a meal rather than serving as a filler.

Mexican Plates

Combination plate with mole enchilada, red enchilada, chile relleno, and chicken taco

Combination plate with mole enchilada, red enchilada, chile relleno, and chicken taco

The combination plate comes with standard border Mexican food items, and substitutions are allowed. Even though the combination plate at Forti’s has traditionally been one of the most expensive in town, it is certainly worth sampling some of the best food the borderland has to offer.

Mole Enchiladas do not normally come on the combination plate, but they can be ordered as a substitution. In years past I thought of them as having an absolutely wonderful rich flavor (with a chocolate component). On a later experience I thought they were somewhat unbalanced. This is one of several items that has been inconsistent on different visits, although I do see a pattern to this (as I will explain at the end of the article).

I have also tried the whole beans instead of refried beans, but I am not sure I have an opinion about which one is best (this is a tribute to the refried beans).

The Chile Relleno (not shown in the photo) was just a little better than average on most of my visits. This is an example of inconsistency turned around–it has lately been one of my favorite items.

The Chicken Taco (shown in the photo) was very good. The Mexican style white cheese was one of its strong points.

The Rice is also a very strong point at Forti’s, while it mostly serves as a filler at many restaurants.

Mexican plate no. 3

Mexican plate no. 3

The Combination Plate Number 3 includes a taco, chile relleno, and red enchilada. The Beef Taco is not one of my favorites in the city, but everything else seemed to be among the best anywhere. I should mention that one of my recent inconsistent experiences was with the red enchiladas–they came out cold on the plate. The kitchen heated them up and I then had what I consider to be the ultimate in El Paso style red enchiladas, as I have through the years. It is apparent to me, though, that there is a consistency problem in the way the food comes out of the kitchen.

At the same time, though, I appreciate some of the improvements Forti’s has made. One is that it used to have a “no substitution” policy on the combination plates, but this is no longer the case. This, along with a big improvement in the salsa, have probably made Forti’s more popular at a time when many restaurants in central El Paso are seeing a decline in business or have closed. Traditionally I have viewed the area south of Interstate 10 as the place where you can get “real Mexican food,” but not all of it has the excellent quality I have found at Forti’s.

Drinks
Forti’s serves fresh squeezed Lemonade that is a good example of this Mexican style drink. The bar also seems to be quite popular.

Additional Notes
One of my major points about Forti’s is that I think it has the best red enchiladas in El Paso. I like to order a combination plate with other items (especially the chile relleno), but I always make sure to get one that has a red enchilada.

Another major point is that I think the restaurant has a consistency problem in the way the food comes out of the kitchen. This was demonstrated by the way one of my orders came out not heated enough, and it was especially noticeable with the red enchilada.

I personally think these problem occur when the restaurant is not very busy. Also they seem to be fixed very easily if you just tell them that your food is not right. Sometimes you will have to have ordered an item before to know that what you are served now is not right, but mostly it is just common sense and knowing how El Paso Mexican food should taste. My theory about this issue is that they have the best cooks on duty when the restaurant has the most customers (so it is a good sign when the parking lot is full). Actually, I have found the flavor of the red enchiladas and other items to always be excellent, and I do not think I would turn down a chance to come here no matter what time of the day it was.

A final point about Forti’s is that the “Specialties” section of the menu seems to be where you truly get some of the best items, and it is not just the hype some restaurants use to charge more money for certain dishes. I believe these are the items that are made from the recipes of Consuelo Forti’s grandmother, and like the tampiqueña, are likely to be some of the best you can find anywhere.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: N/A
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 3, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Tampiqueña Steak, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Mole Enchiladas
star 5 Tampiqueña Steak
star 5 Chicken Taco
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Guacamole
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Lemonade