Cafe 7–Oklahoma City, OK

Cafe 7
14101 N. May Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 748-3354
Cafe 7

Cafe 7 on North May Ave.


Cafe 7 has four menus (all of which offer choices in the same price range): Sandwiches, Pizza, Pasta, and Salads. The pizza is individual sized, and the pasta menu follows the trend of some national chains in offering a variety of dishes along with a “build your own pasta” selection. Cafe 7 is strictly local, though, and I think the real beauty of it is that you get individually prepared items with the type of selection that is normally available mainly in larger restaurants. They can meet all kinds of dietary needs, such as serving vegetarian and gluten free dishes, and the source of the food seems to be largely local. More than anything else I am impressed with the quality of the food.

Seasonal menus offer additional choices, some of which are higher priced. Most of my favorite items are from the regular menu, but there have been some standouts from the seasonal menu.

The dining room

Cafe 7’s interior

Some of my personal feelings about Cafe 7 are that I like the dining room, I like their tea, and I think the prices are reasonable. I sometimes find it a problem that they close at 8:00 P.M., but they do not seem to mind if customers stay after this time. I thought they had the best cupcakes in Oklahoma City, but they are no longer available and the staff tells me there is nowhere else that I can buy them (meaning that they did not come from one of the local cupcake restaurants). It is not really necessary to order a dessert here, though, since the meals are filling enough.

When customers enter the restaurant they pick up one of the order sheets, fill out the choices, and go to the counter to pay. Special orders are also available, but these sometimes have a higher price (I think the soup and sandwich combination I ordered was a dollar extra). I sometimes ask for suggestions from the employees at the counter, and I really have never gone wrong with the sandwiches, pasta, or seasonal specials they recommend. If they are busy, though, I think the system of giving you the menus while you are waiting in line works very well.

Sandwiches

Turkey and guacamole sandwich

Turkey and guacamole sandwich

On my first visit I ordered a special that is not listed on the menu– a half sandwich with soup. The full order of Turkey and Guacamole Sandwich (pictured above) was as good as the first experience, and reinforced my idea that this is a good flavor combination. The turkey seemed to be roasted (not processed), and I think this set it apart from most turkey meat served in restaurants. The bread has changed since my first visit (not better or worse– just something different). The fact that the guacamole blended well with the turkey speaks to the art and thought that went into creating the sandwiches offered here.

Cuban sandwich

The Cuban

The Cuban reinforced my opinion that the sandwiches are top quality. With pulled pork, ham, Cuban relish, onions, pickles, Swiss cheese, and Dijonnaise sauce on a toasted hoagie there was plenty about this sandwich to like. I did not notice any flavors that particularly stood out except the sauce and Swiss cheese, and all the meats were good. The sauce was a little spicy, probably comparable to most of the city’s Mexican restaurants.

Soups

Cream of broccoli soup

Cream of broccoli soup

The Cream of Broccoli Soup sounded very good, but I thought the flavor was a little flat. The most disappointing thing, though, was that it was too salty for me. I thought the soup was fresh and good quality, but I tend to find the best soups at ethnic restaurants rather than ones that are American style.

Tomato basil soup and cobb salad

Tomato basil soup and cobb salad

The Tomato Basil Soup was also one of my favorite items at Cafe 7, although I would not place it in the same category as the soup at some of the city’s better Italian restaurants.

Ms. Vickie’s Chips used to be served with all sandwiches, but they later dropped this in favor of the much better all natural Popchips potato chips. As of 2015 they seem to have changed the chips again, but in any case they are better than the original Ms. Vickie’s (but customers can still get Ms. Vickie’s for an additional cost if they want).

Salads
The Cobb Salad tasted very good when I sampled it, but I think it would not be filling enough to order as a meal (even though the regular salad is twice the size of the one shown in the picture). The honey mustard dressing was one of the highlights of it, after trying several less flavorful versions at other restaurants (such as Interurban).

Pasta

Rigatoni Sorrentino

Rigatoni Sorrentino

Wanting to try items from the pasta section, I chose the Rigatoni Sorrentino because it sounded good from the menu. It also tasted good with a very good seasoning that I thought was not overpowered by Italian spices (one of my pet peeves in Italian restaurants). This dish contains grilled chicken, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes, all of which I thought were very good. The tomato cream sauce was also better than I thought it would be (I am not a big fan of cream sauces). This isn’t the kind of Italian food you get at Vito’s, but I thought it was very good and I enjoyed it.

Pasta maggio

Pasta maggio

Pasta Maggio was recommended by an employee at the counter, and was also very good. This had a creamy pesto sauce that I thought was not as good as the one with the rigatoni sorrentino, but the ingredients made up for it with chicken, mushrooms, and artichokes. Overall I would have to say this was the best pasta dish I have tried.

Pasta primavera

Pasta primavera

The Pasta Primavera is the one that I consider “my other favorite” (along with pasta maggio). This has a lemon flavor, and the banana peppers give it somewhat of a kick (in a good way that is not too spicy). I also like the vegetables in this one.

Pizza

Margherita pizza

Margherita pizza

Several types of pizza are served, including a “Build your own pizza” that comes with sauce, cheese, and up to three meat toppings. Margherita Pizza was one of the specialty pizzas offered (all pizzas are the same price unless you get more than three toppings). I thought the Margherita pizza was a little disappointing in the flavor of the pizza and texture of the crust. It had standard tomatoes instead of the sun dried tomatoes served in most Italian restaurants, and the flavor of the cheese was rather overwhelming compared to my perception of the way a Margherita pizza should be. The ingredients were fresh and good quality, but this was not my favorite pizza in terms of flavor.

Seasonal Menus

Fettuccine bona

Fettuccine bona

Cafe 7 provides more variety by offering seasonal menus of different types of items. For instance, in Summer 2013 the Fettuccine Bona was an item I found very refreshing with green and red olives and a flavorful pesto seasoning. Another good item was the Muffaletta, which I thought was well made (with good sauce, meat, and bread). Other choices from the menu were a sirloin salad, salmon salad (both of which cost more than the standard menu items), two wraps, and an ultimate margherita pizza.

Chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie

The Chicken Pot Pie on the Fall 2016 menu was an excellent version of a dish I usually order at any restaurant which has it on the menu. In case they have it in the future you may like to know that the crust and gravy were both good, it had large chunks of white meat chicken, there were plenty of potatoes, but I would say it was short of the other vegetables I usually like in a pot pie. It met my standard of not being too salty, and overall I liked it very much.

Green chile mac and cheese

Hatch green chile mac & cheese

The Hatch Green Chile Mac & Cheese has evolved over a couple of years to the point that this is perhaps my favorite seasonal dish served. The cheese is thin and fully melted, and along with the fresh green chile I think this is what makes it special to me. On the heat scale the chile is about four out of five (not as spicy as they usually serve in New Mexico but spicy enough to really bring out the flavor).

Desserts

Red velvet cookie

Red velvet cookie

Some of their desserts have been wonderful, such as the Chocolate Mousse and the Cupcakes. However, they keep changing the desserts all the time, and I know the cupcakes are no longer available. I am not sure what is good at the moment, or if the Red Velvet Cookies, which I liked, are still available.

Additional Comments
Customers fill up their own drink cups, and there is a choice of three kinds of iced tea: black, green, and white.

Side dishes are somewhat limited, but I liked the Potato Salad (and I would have liked it even better if it were not made with mayonnaise).

When Saturn Grill had a location on Memorial Road I was able to compare a number of items there and at Cafe 7. My conclusions were that Saturn Grill had better vegetarian sandwiches overall, but that the turkey and guacamole and Cuban sandwiches at Cafe 7 were better than any of the meat versions served at Saturn Grill. I liked the pasta dishes better at Cafe 7, but overall I thought the seasonal menu was much better at Saturn Grill. I never really formed an opinion about who had better soup.

Cafe 7 has now opened a restaurant in downtown OKC, and the large number of customers on North May attests to its continued popularity. People know good food when they taste it, though, and this is certainly among my favorite places.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Deli
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine
Additional Location: 100 W. Main St.

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 17, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Turkey and Guacamole Sandwich, Cuban, Tomato Basil Soup, Pasta Maggio, Pasta Primavera, Chicken Pot Pie (seasonal menu), Hatch Green Chile Mac & Cheese (seasonal menu)

Special Ratings
star 5 Turkey and Guacamole Sandwich
star 5 Cuban
star 5 Pastrami Reuben
star 3 Classic Turkey & Swiss
star 5 Pasta Maggio
star 5 Pasta Primavera
star 5 Rigatoni Sorrentino
star 3 Margherita Pizza
star 5 Tomato Basil Soup
star 4 Cream of Broccoli Soup
star 4 Signature Salad
star 5 Cobb Salad
star 4 Potato Salad
Seasonal Menu
star 4 Fettuccine Bona (Summer)
star 4 Muffaletta (Summer)
star 5 Green Chile Mac & Cheese (Summer)
star 5 Chicken Pot Pie (Fall)

Menu (Aug. 2018):

 

 

Jalisco Cafe–El Paso, TX

Jalisco Cafe
1029 E. 7th Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 532-7174
Jalisco Cafe

Jalisco Cafe


Jalisco Cafe is one of those places that seems to be known almost exclusively by word of mouth. I am guessing it has been operating for at least forty years, but regardless of its history it has built up a customer loyalty that is matched by few other restaurants in El Paso.

The area of South El Paso, located between downtown El Paso and the Mexican border, is one of the city’s most historic areas. The neighborhood is little changed from the early twentieth century except for the upgrade and modernization of many of the former tenements. Jalisco Cafe is adjoined by several small apartments that give it the feel of being a true neighborhood restaurant. When I used to eat at Jalisco on a regular basis during my lunch hour I observed almost as many customers ordering take-out as were dining in the restaurant, and I think Jalisco Cafe has become an integral part of the neighborhood’s life. Other restaurants have come and gone over the years, but most people have considered Jalisco to have higher quality food and have continued to patronize it as much as possible.

Jalisco offers special dishes every day, as well as a regular menu that serves lunch portions of food at lunch prices. By this I mean that people will not fall asleep when they go back to work because of overeating at lunch. One of my biggest gripes with El Paso restaurants is that they serve portions that are too large, but most places do cut it back somewhat for their “lunch specials.” Since Jalisco Cafe only serves breakfast and lunch, quantities are already geared toward the amount of food that is comfortable for people during these times of the day.

Jalisco's interior

Jalisco’s interior

One reason lunch portions are kept small is so every customer can enjoy a bowl of soup before the meal. This is actually filling enough to serve as a meal if you order the large size, but a small one will leave room for one of the lunch plates. I have probably eaten just about all of the lunch plates, but because of my advancing years I am not going to try to give reviews of them by memory. Like most of the more authentic restaurants that prepare food much the same as in Ciudad Juarez (which in the case of Jalisco Cafe is only a few blocks away), the enchiladas were one of the items that was least memorable to me. I think Jalisco Cafe excels in the variety of foods it offers, such as tacos, stews, and even mole (served as a special on Wednesdays). I am not saying to avoid the enchiladas, I just did not make a mental note of them being among the best in the city.

While the food at Jalisco is true to the heritage of most Mexican food in El Paso that originated across the border in the state of Chihuahua, it also falls into what I call the “El Paso” style of Mexican food in offering more flavorful salsa than is usually found in Ciudad Juarez with less garlic and other ingredients that would tend to adulterate the chiles, better chips, and the variety of foods that are served in many El Paso restaurants. In fact, El Paso is somewhat of a “melting pot,” taking the best of Chihuahua cuisine but adding dishes from other places in Mexico as early residents and recent immigrants contributed them from their list of recipes. I think Jalisco Cafe offers the flavors of Chihuahua with a more consistent cooking quality than is typically found south of the border.

One place the quality of Jalisco Cafe can be seen is in the home made Corn Tortillas served with soup, and probably by request to anyone who wants them. These are so light and fresh that I think I have probably unconsciously used them as the standard for other restaurants in the city. I say “unconsciously” because I pretty much took for granted that El Paso had excellent tortillas until I found out otherwise by visiting other restaurants, particularly some of the ones in the suburban shopping malls. I am not sure how tortillas are usually made, but the ones here are thin and firm without being too hard, and have only the basic ingredients needed to provide a good taste.

Caldo de Res

Caldo de Res

Caldo de Res at Jalisco is the best I have ever tasted

It would probably not be an exaggeration to call the Caldo de Res the signature dish at Jalisco Cafe. This is another dish I took for granted until I found out that few other places could come close the quality of Jalisco’s. Just as the excellent tortillas are an integral part of enjoying this beef soup, so is the fact that the caldo is simmered long enough to infuse the flavors into the broth, give the vegetables the right texture, and make sure everything is cooked just right. I think the problem with most caldos served in El Paso (and even more so elsewhere) is that the vegetables either remain in their raw state, or else they are overdone. I think Jalisco also uses herbs and spices in a way that few others have mastered. While a good quality caldo can be made with lower quality cuts of beef, Jalisco excels by using high quality, non-fatty pieces that again make this one better than the caldos found at other restaurants. Limes are provided to cut down on the greasy flavor of the caldo (from the beef fat), but at Jalisco the limes are mainly for flavor since the grease is at very low levels.

The caldo in my photo is the small version usually ordered before patrons indulge in one of the lunch plates, but a large version can also be ordered that would pretty much serve as a meal in itself. In either case, if you can only try one caldo de res in El Paso, Jalisco would most likely be my suggestion. If there are others that are better I have not found them.

Daily Specials

Chicken mole

Mole available on Wednesday

The plate dinners at Jalisco are not large in size, but they pack a large amount of flavor into what they serve. For instance, the Chicken Mole served on Wednesday is made in the traditional style from Puebla, Mexico. It comes in a dark brown color with what many describe as a “chocolate” flavor, although it is much more complex than that. I find the mole at Jalisco to be very similar to the ones served at other restaurants, except for the fact that the chicken here is shredded into very small pieces.

Mole, the daily special for Wednesday, is only available on this day (I do not know if the same is true for other daily specials). It was not any more or less expensive than the other dinners, but I can say that I enjoyed it more than I have with some of the regular menu items I have tried in the past. In this respect it was truly a “special item” to me.

Other Menu Items
The items I tried years in the past are not ones that I will include in the review, but I can say that they have the full range of popular Mexican items. The ones that stick out in my mind as being good are the tacos and stews (chile verde, chile colorado, etc.).

Jaslisco Cafe does not have a full line of aguas frescas drinks, but the Lemonade is home made and is typical of this type of Mexican style drink. I thought it was a little too sweet, but it was very good.

Additional Comments
I do not find myself downtown at lunch time very often any more, but Jalisco Cafe remains one of the better choices in the area. It is a little off the beaten path, located on a neighborhood street, but it is well worth searching out. The dining room is rather small, but you know you are getting something authentic. One thing many people will appreciate is that fact that although it is located very near the Mexican border, you do not need to know any Spanish to communicate with the staff. Also you do not need to bring a lot of cash (Yelp says they accept credit cards but it is so cheap I do not bother with this).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Dec. 13, 2017
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Caldo de Res, Mole

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Caldo de Res
star 5 Mole
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 4 Lemonade

Su Casa–El Paso, TX

Su Casa Restaurant
2030 E. Yandell Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 544-5136
Su Casa

Su Casa Restaurant


Any list of classic El Paso restaurants would have to include Su Casa, a neighborhood hangout that has been operating at the same place for longer than I can remember. A friend reminded me that Arnold’s, another classic El Paso eatery, was at this location before Su Casa opened. While Arnold’s may have already established the popularity of the location, Su Casa has kept people coming back even if their residences or jobs have since moved out of the neighborhood. Having a central meeting place is part of the reason, but people have a hard time finding the same food anywhere else.

Su Casa seems to have escaped the notice of most tourists, but the restaurant is already so crowded for lunch I doubt that one of the priorities of the owners is to advertise in the local travel guides to attract new customers. Instead, word of mouth seems to bring most people who are not already regular customers. I have a hard time choosing any one Mexican restaurant that I would advise out of town travelers to visit if they have only one meal in El Paso, but Su Casa is certainly one that would be on the short list. The food here typifies the classic El Paso style of Mexican food, and is of consistently good quality no matter what you order from the menu. The combination plates are good at Su Casa, as are many of the single item plates.

Mexican Dishes

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas

For me one of the best tests of El Paso style Mexican food is the Red Enchilada, and the one at Su Casa is certainly one of the best (this is the opinion of myself as well as several of my friends). The one here has a good spiciness, and the cheese provides quite a good flavor. It can sometimes be skimpy on the sauce, but if you need more sauce you can ask for it. These are an El Paso variation of the New Mexico style enchiladas, which are generally slightly more spicy than their borderland cousins. The deep red color with the accompanying flavor, though, is something they have in common.

Combination No. 2

Combination No. 2

Every day there is a plate served as a special, and I think this is a good deal provided it includes a red enchilada (and I think most of them do). One example is the Combination No. 2 which includes a beef taco, rice, chile relleno, red enchilada, and beans. This might be nick-named the “classic” plate because it includes all the classic El Paso dishes on one plate.

The Beef Tacos are among the most enjoyable anywhere, made with ground beef and topped with Mexican cheese. They are not spicy, though, which is why I like to get them in combination with other items. What is really noticeable here is the way they are cooked so that they are neither too hard nor too greasy.

The Chile Relleno is served with a fairly mild sauce and a very doughy crust that distinguishes it from the New Mexico version. The chile itself and the cheese inside, though, are very similar to ones I have had in Las Cruces and other places throughout the Land of Enchantment. I was especially impressed by the way the cheese melts to just the right consistency for maximum enjoyment of this dish.

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-Color Enchiladas are another good choice for a combination plate, and provide more classic El Paso style dishes. Known as the “Mexican Flag” in some restaurants, the red, green, and white represent the colors of the flag, but also give a variety of flavors. I think the green chile at Su Casa is one of the best in El Paso, although the red is really my go-to choice. The “white” enchilada is actually a red one with sour cream on top, so you are in effect getting two red enchiladas and one green one. They tend to spread the sour cream over all three enchiladas on the plate, but you do end up with the three distinct flavors.

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup

The Tortilla Soup is well spiced with excellent cheese. If this were going to be the main part of the meal, though, I would prefer the caldo tlalpeño at Café Mayapán that also contains avocado and a whole chipotle chile. Su Casa serves the soup in either a whole order, which would constitute a pretty substantial meal, or a half order.

The Refried Beans, topped with a generous amount of cheese, are delicious when eaten on chips. Traditional wisdom seems to be that beans made with lard have a better flavor, but the ones at Su Casa made with vegetable oil seem to disprove this theory.

Middle Eastern Food

Spinach pies

Spinach pies

I think Su Casa should be known as much for its Middle Eastern food as for the Mexican menu. The Spinach Pies, made from scratch in the owner’s home, have the best flavor I have tasted anywhere, but suffer from the fact that they are kept frozen and then microwaved when you order them. The ones here are probably not like you would find in Lebanon, but they are better than the ones I have tried in the city’s Middle Eastern restaurants. Even though the crust shows some signs of being microwaved, the inside filling is fresh and moist, with a rich Middle Eastern flavor. For me, this is one of the best lunch plates served at Su Casa.

Tabouli

Tabouli

The Tabouli is made fresh, and has a well deserved reputation as one of Su Casa’s most popular dishes. The light sauce brings out the true flavor of the vegetables that I find typical of good quality Middle Eastern food. My respect for the tabouli at Su Casa has increased over the years as I have tried other versions in El Paso and other cities that seemed too have to much or too little of certain ingredients, while the one at Su Casa has just the right balance of its various components. Lebanese food is a real passion of the owners, and it definitely shows in the tabouli and other dishes that are served.

Several other Lebanese dishes are offered including kebby, Middle Eastern style chicken, and shish-kabob.

Before and After the Main Meal

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Salsa is not the spiciest in El Paso, but may have the freshest ingredients. The owners’ Middle Eastern heritage comes through a little bit in the mixture of ingredients that come together to provide one of the most complex flavors of any salsa in the city.

Sopaipilla

Sopaipilla

Complimentary Sopaipillas are served after every meal, and are some of the tastiest around. This one, like many served in El Paso, are thinner than the New Mexico version.

Things to Know
One feature I really like is that just about every plate is available in a half order, and many times the half order is large enough for a meal (although a half order of the soups or salads would not fill me up). Several of the combination plates come in half orders with fewer main dishes, but you still get the beans, rice, and sopaipillas. My favorite at night is the “dinner special,” that comes with one taco, one enchilada, rice, and beans (and can also be served with two enchiladas or two tacos). However, Su Casa has cut back its hours to the point that Friday is the only evening it is open, and only until 7:00 p.m. (Update 2018: I am not sure it is still open later on Friday but Yelp is reporting that it is)

Almost everyone who is a regular will say that one of the attractions is the excellent service. Su Casa is a neighborhood, family style restaurant, and once you go you will likely be remembered from then on. There is a higher likelihood of running into my friends here than at any other restaurant in the city. Everything seems to come together to make it feel like “your home” (su casa).


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican & Lebanese
Cost: $
Hours: Lunch only Mon.-Sat. (open until 7 pm on Fri.); closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, wine, Sangria

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 1, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Tri-Color Enchiladas, Spinach Pie, Tacos, Tabouli, Sopaipillas, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Tri-Color Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Spinach Pies
star 5 Tabouli
star 5 Tacos
star 4 Tortilla Soup
star 5 Refried Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa