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 also sometimes has other types of vegetarian soup.

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. The breaded fish is good on its own, but I would say the tartar sauce turns it into something excellent.

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.


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: Mar. 23, 2018
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

Jerusalem–El Paso, TX

Jerusalem Grill
5380 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 500-4357
Jerusalem Grill

Jerusalem Grill


Jerusalem Grill joins a long list of El Paso restaurants that has made an effort to reinvent itself to reflect the changing dining scene, while keeping many of the features of the old restaurant that people liked. Jerusalem Grill was formerly located in the same building as the Market (5360 N. Mesa), but the restaurant has now moved to 5680 N. Mesa while Jerusalem International Foods (the market) is still in the original location.

Jerusalem Market

Photo showing the original Jerusalem Market and Jerusalem Grill, which used to be next door to each other

As I understand it, Jerusalem Grill is now operated by one of the children of the original owners, and it has become more upscale. I think there is really no difference in the food from the original restaurant, except that they have added a few items including a new hot tea that is very good. There is now a lunch buffet, which to me seems to be the best feature of the new restaurant.

Because the food is basically the same but is just packaged differently, I am fairly confident in merging the review of the old restaurant into this one.

Lunch Buffet

Lunch buffet

Lunch buffet

The lunch buffet is definitely the best way to try the most items at the cheapest price (the buffet currently at $12.99 is not cheap but is very competitive with lunches at other restaurants).

A serving from the lunch buffet

I served myself hummus, salad, rice, kofta, roasted chicken, and moussaka

I should first make the comment that there are not a lot of selections on the lunch buffet, but I found every one of them to be very good. Two items were really the best, one of them being the Roasted Chicken (I have also had this from the dinner menu). The Moussaka was also excellent. The only other place I have found moussaka in El Paso was at Casa Pizza, but the one at Jerusalem was vegetarian and had an excellent sauce that really made it my favorite.

The rest of the plate really reminded me of the combination plates at many Mexican restaurants–there are usually several items that I would not want to order on their own but were excellent as part of the combination. The Kofta is something that many would want to order on its own but I happen to like the chicken better.

Fruit salad

Fruit salad

The Fruit Salad served for dessert was the only choice available, but I thought it was very enjoyable and went well after the meal.

Vegetarian Dinners

Veggie sampler plate

Veggie sampler plate

Officially called an Appetizer Plate, the “Veggie sampler plate” from the new restaurant and the “Veggie combo” from the old restaurant mostly include the same items. This is enough to make a meal, and most importantly to me it includes Falafel which is probably the best example of it I have tried. Although the flavor is very good, the most important element of it is that it tastes fresh and not from a mix (I don’t know if it is made fresh, but it tastes that way).

While at most Middle Eastern restaurants the Hummus is my other favorite item, here it is not. I found this one to have an ordinary flavor compared to the restaurants in Oklahoma City, although I still like the one here. The sumac on top gives it some spice and a good flavor, but I prefer the ones that have more olive oil.

In contrast, though, the Baba Ganoush was quite good compared to ones I have tried at other restaurants.

The Grape Leaves are the only item that I have found to be not as good as at the old restaurant, although it is something I would want to try again to be sure this was not a fluke.

Veggie combo

Veggie combo from the old restaurant

The vegetarian platter has changed a little bit from the old restaurant, but the most important thing to me is that the falafel is still served.

Lentil soup

Lentil soup

Lentil Soup is not part of the vegetarian platter (appetizer plate) but it is flavorful. It is also on the spicy side.

Chicken Shawerma

Chicken shawerma

Chicken shawerma from the old restaurant

The Chicken Shawarma is an item I liked at the old restaurant but I have not tried it since Jerusalem Grill moved. Still, I think I can say it is one of the best items here

Lebanese Oven Roasted Chicken

Oven roasted chicken

Lebanese oven roasted chicken

The Lebanese Oven Roasted Chicken from the dinner menu is the same as the “roasted chicken” on the lunch buffet, but presented with more garnishes. It also would have been too much to eat, but in this case it was shared by three people (along with with the vegetarian appetizer plate). My feeling in general about the dinner menu is that the items are too large for one person, although the restaurant does not make it difficult to share and the concept of family style meals seems to be part of the Middle Eastern culture.

Tea
The Middle Eastern style tea is made with loose leaves and was very good, although it was not a mint style tea. For the lunch buffet I found the iced tea to be good and a lot cheaper.

Other Comments
I have long considered the falafel here to be the best I have ever tried. Even so, the outstanding dishes at Jerusalem are probably the chicken dishes.

The vegetarian appetizer plate (veggie combo plate) makes a good meal from the dinner menu which is not too expensive. In general, though, I consider the vegetarian items at Jerusalem to be the weak point of the restaurant compared to other Middle Eastern restaurants. Of course the exception is the falafel.

The lunch buffet is not cheap but I definitely think it is a better deal than in many other restaurants. While some restaurants give you their cheapest stuff in order to have a good price, Jerusalem seems to include their best dishes at a price that is lower than ordering from the dinner menu.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: BYOB
Special Features: Lunch buffet M-F; Sunday brunch

Most Recent Visit: Mar. 12, 2018
Number of Visits: 9
Best Items: Lebanese Oven Roasted Chicken, Moussaka, Falafel, Chicken Shawerma, Pita

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Shawerma
star 5 Lebanese Oven Roasted Chicken
star 5 Moussaka
star 5 Kofta
star 5 Falafel
star 5 Baba Ganoush
star 5 Spinach Pie
star 5 Hummus
star 4 Grape Leaves
star 5 Lentil Soup
star 5 Pita
star 5 Fruit Salad

Sofi’s–El Paso, TX

Sofi’s Mexican Restaurant
4709 Crossroads Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 219-7706
Sofi's

Sofi’s near Mesa & Doniphan


For many years I have thought that while the Mexican food in El Paso is very good, it tends to be only certain dishes at certain restaurants that are the best. Many restaurants did not seem to live up to their potential, and it was very hard to find places where I could say that just about everything they serve is consistently good.

I think this situation has now changed, largely because of some of the new upstart restaurants such as Sofi’s. Actually I think the Mexican restaurant scene is returning to the way it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I first explored the El Paso Mexican restaurants and found them to be so good I had a hard time imagining why people would want to eat anything else. It is possible that the very good restaurants have been here all along (and I know some of them have been), but now I think they are more numerous and easier to find.

If I were to put Sofi’s into the big picture I would say it is a fairly new restaurant (the oldest reviews I can find are from 2015), it is a homey inexpensive place like Good Luck Cafe, but it strikes the balance a little more toward upscale food with a little bit higher prices than Good Luck Cafe. Like Good Luck I enjoyed everything I had on the Mexican plate, but there were some subtle differences such as the cheese and the taco meat that made it better. The chile relleno was possibly better at Good Luck Cafe, though.

In El Paso you can make endless comparisons between different Mexican restaurants, but the main theme about the Mexican plate at Sofi’s was that everything was good. In my opinion it is a very good representation of El Paso style Mexican food.

Mexican Plate

Mexican plate

Mexican plate with taco, enchilada, chile relleno, rice, and beans

Something I found surprising was that they only had one Mexican Plate (combination dinner), just like at Good Luck Cafe. In fact, the list of items served at the two restaurants is the same, as it is at quite a few restaurants in the city. There is also enough variety on the Mexican plates that I seem to never get tired of them, even though all of these restaurants have a number of other items on the menu to order.

I did not have a favorite item from the plate because they were all good, but the Deshebrada Taco was one thing I thought was significantly better than at other restaurants. If the meat had been served on bread instead of a tortilla it would have made an excellent roast beef sandwich, with very flavorful roast beef like the kind I have found in upscale restaurants. This really seems to be one of Sofi’s specialties. Just as notable was the fact that the taco did not seem at all greasy (although it is served with a soft shell).

The Enchilada stood out from others because of the Mexican style cheese they used. This, along with the flavorful red sauce, made it one of the best I have tried in the city.

The Chile Relleno was a little more greasy than most, which was offset by a sauce that was more flavorful than most. Overall I would say it is one of the best in the city.

The Beans were very good but it seems that there are always some that are better (such as the ones at Chope’s in New Mexico).

Daily Specials

Caldo

Caldo

Sofi’s has daily specials for lunch on weekdays that are not only at a cheaper price than the regular version on the menu, but also come with a bowl of Caldo. In El Paso the caldo is traditionally made with beef and comes with a generous amount of vegetables. The one at Sofi’s is very good, especially with the “generous” part.

Mole

Chicken and mole

I was able to get the Mole special served on Wednesdays, which I thought was very flavorful. The chicken was shredded, which I think is the traditional way to serve it, and there was an ample amount of meat in the serving. The mole is Poblano style (dark colored with a chocolate flavor).

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Salsa here was exceptional, with large chunks of green chile providing much of the flavor. The Chips were exceptional as well, with a good flavor but no oily aftertaste.

Other Notes
I came away with a couple of overall impressions at this restaurant. One was that everything was good, and some items that normally do not impress me much (such as the taco) were an integral part of the Mexican plate. Another impression was that the cheese was the main factor that set Sofi’s apart from other restaurants, but other items such as the sauce used on the chile relleno kept any part of the dinner from being a weak link and one that would detract from an overall good experience.

This is a family restaurant and has been very busy the times I have gone. I did not find the service lacking considering how many people they had to accommodate.

The menu had so many items that I am sure that some of them might not be as good as the ones I tried, but on the other hand some might be better. One thing I look for in a really good restaurant is that the beans, rice, chips, salsa, etc. have the same quality as the main dishes, and I found that here.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open daily except Sun. evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 10, 2018
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Deshebrada Taco, Chile Relleno, Mole, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Deshebrada Taco
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Mole
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa