Forti’s Mexican Elder
321 Chelsea St.
El Paso, TX
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 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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Forti’s serves fresh squeezed Lemonade that is a good example of this Mexican style drink. The bar also seems to be quite popular.
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.
Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
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