Victoria’s–Canutillo, TX

Victoria’s Mexican Grill
6874 Doniphan Dr.
Canutillo, TX
(915) 243-7183
Victoria's

Victoria’s


Although Canutillo sits very close to the New Mexico state line and it is home to at least a couple of well known New Mexico style restaurants, Victoria’s is firmly in the camp of El Paso style Mexican food. There is a reason for this–this is the same Victoria’s that used to be located on Dyer Street in northeast El Paso (although I remember seeing the sign on the old restaurant which said “Victorea’s”). The employees confirmed, though, that this is the same restaurant (and signs inside say it was founded in 1985 although this location has only been in operation for a short time).

On my first visit to Victoria’s in Canutillo I made a note that the enchiladas here are New Mexico style. This is not unusual for El Paso restaurants–there is a fine line of distinction between many of the enchiladas here and the ones in New Mexico. I think Victoria’s uses the Mexican cheese typically found in El Paso restaurants, but the sauce has a definite New Mexico taste which probably means they use New Mexico chile.

The official name of this restaurant is Victoria’s Mexican Grill Steakhouse. This gives an idea of what they consider to be their best dishes, but I have not tried any of the steak dishes here. The Mexican plate is one of the largest in El Paso in terms of quantity, and I think I might have a difficult time eating one of this restaurant’s steaks. The Mexican plate does give a taste of Victoria’s meat, though, in its shredded beef taco. The staff gave me a list of what they consider to be their signature dishes, and they are: Combination Plate, Tacos Deshebrada, Flautas, Chile Verde, and Chile Colorado. I notice that no steaks are included on the list, although the shredded beef (deshebrada) tacos are on the Mexican Plate.

The restaurant is somewhat like Dr. Who’s police box “TARDIS” that looks bigger on the inside than it does on the outside. Adding to this illusion is the fact that there seems to be very limited parking outside yet everyone appears to find a space (and the restaurant gets very crowded at times). My photo shows what I think are all the parking spaces in front and there are a few on the side of the building, but it seems that there must be extra parking somewhere that I do not know about (or else it might be in another dimension as would be possible on the Dr. Who program).

Appetizers

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

There are two types of Salsa here, which gives people a choice in case one is too spicy (but both were within the norms of what is traditional in El Paso). The Chips were excellent as well.

Complimentary soup

Complimentary soup

Victoria’s is among the small group of restaurants that gives a complimentary bowl of soup to customers, and it is an even more exclusive restaurant because of the fact that this soup is actually very good. The soup is not spicy and is a lot like American style vegetable soup, except that this has a lot more flavor.

Mexican Plate

Mexican plate with chile relleno

Mexican plate with chile relleno

There are several combination plates here, and I think the one with the best choice of items is the Mexican Plate. This one is my favorite because of the chile relleno, but the shredded beef taco and enchilada are also very good choices (I think especially the taco).

The Chile Relleno here is not terribly spicy, and is probably what would be considered mainstream in El Paso when it comes to spiciness. It is covered with sauce and cheese, consequently it is hard to pick out on the photo except that the stem can be seen sticking out on the bottom. The cheese definitely tasted Mexican style, and perhaps most importantly the relleno is not too greasy. Having the sauce and cheese on top makes this more El Paso style rather than classic New Mexican, but I consider it to be very good regardless of the style.

The Red Enchilada is very similar to the ones in New Mexico, and I think it must be made with New Mexico chiles. I do not know the recipe they use here, but it had a dark red color and did not have an over-complicated flavor (the main element of it is the chile itself).

The Shredded Beef Taco comes standard on the Mexican Plate (you do not have to ask for an upgrade from ground beef). This is one of the characteristics I find in classic El Paso restaurants as opposed to some of the cheaper knock-offs or the ones that are Ciudad Juarez style (although shredded beef is served in the more upscale restaurants there as well). The taco at Victoria’s is not greasy and compares favorably with other restaurants.

Rice and beans are made with the same high standards as the main items, but I thought the beans were especially good.

Mexican plate with tamal

Mexican plate with tamal

This is a photo of the Tamal Mexican Plate from which I sampled the tamal. I am not sure about the other items because they are all covered with sauce, cheese, or condiments (but it does not include a chile relleno). The tamal had a thick masa and very good pork inside.

Other Notes
The one thing I thought I should warn people about is that they add an extra fee to your bill if you use a credit card. On one visit they told me about it so it was no problem. The next time I had forgotten about it and I did not find out about the extra fee until they had already run the credit card (and then it was too late to tell them I could pay cash instead).

The flavor here is what I call classic El Paso style Mexican food, and I really thought it was quite good. Prices are not too bad either. The biggest down side to me is that I like the variety in a combination plate, but to get one with a chile relleno (which I think is probably the best item) there is so much food overall that it is hard for me to finish. In other words, the food is great but I think other restaurants package it better.

The Little Diner is probably the most famous restaurant in Canutillo, and I think is probably about equal to Victoria’s in quality (but I also really like Peppe’s which is another popular restaurant). The style of food, though, is quite different at these restaurants. Little Diner and Peppe’s are New Mexico style, but even these have little in common except for the fact that the chile comes from New Mexico and they prepare it in the same style as some of the New Mexico restaurants. I have reviews for these restaurants which can be accessed from the Index on this site. Victoria’s serves classic El Paso style Mexican food, though, and has been one of the city’s most well known restaurants since its days on Dyer Street.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 21, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Chile Relleno, Shredded Beef Taco, Red Enchiladas, Guacamole, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Shredded Beef Taco
star 5 Tamal
star 5 Guacamole
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

D’Lox–El Paso, TX

D’Lox
630 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 760-4889
D'Lox

D’Lox


It is somewhat hard to categorize D’Lox–the restaurant’s web site describes it as “Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch.” It closes at 3:00 p.m. every day, so these are in fact the meals that are served. Sunday is buffet only (you cannot order a la carte from the menu) so this is the “brunch” day.

I think much of the food is strait-forward American style, but probably “New American” is a better description for the overall menu. The veggie panini I ordered is somewhat Italian style, although it could just be American food with more garlic and some Italian ingredients. Other items I have tried had more of a traditional American flavor (which I think is plenty good enough when done the right way).

I went once on Sunday but decided the buffet they had was a little too much for my pocketbook (you cannot order menu items on Sunday). Reviews I have seen for the Sunday brunch, though, indicate that people enjoy the food and do not mind paying the money (but like me they say you need a pretty good appetite to make it worth the money).

I decided that instead of this I could visit several times and try the items one by one, and at this point I think I have a pretty good sample of the food.

The restaurant is upscale (but casual), and the best part about it is that the service is very good so that I feel that you really can call it an upscale restaurant. They specialize in sandwiches and bagels, though, so this describes the type of “upscale” that you will find.

Eggs Benedict

Benedicts Florentine

Benedicts Florentine

At D’Lox there are so many types of Eggs Benedict served that this really looked like its own section of the menu. The Benedict Florentine I ordered is really the only breakfast item I have tried at the restaurant, and this is a dish I have probably had a handful of times in my lifetime. My focus is not usually on fine dining, but of course when I have a chance to try this type of food I am all too happy to give a review of it.

In the case of D’Lox, though, it confirmed my reasons that I usually do not spend a lot of money on upscale food. There were two egg yolks on my plate, but they were not cooked the same. One was runny and had enough egg yolk to run over the white part of the egg and give me the good flavor I was expecting.

The other egg yolk, though, was cooked into a solid texture with nothing to run over the rest of the egg. I randomly chose the good side first and finished it, not expecting that the other side would be different.

The other flavors were good, though, so I at least now know that I like Benedict Florentine. Perhaps next time, though, I will skip the one at D’Lox.

Vegganini Panini

Vegganini panini

Vegganini panini

The above photo shows one side of the Vegganini Panini open to show the inside contents, and the other side the way it looks when it is served. This was actually a very good vegetarian meal, and one that I wish had been available in El Paso when I had a strictly vegetarian diet. I only mention this to say that I have had a lot of experience with vegetarian food, and I definitely think this sandwich is one of the more upscale versions of it you can find.

The sauce on the sandwich had a tomato flavor, and I liked the way the different flavors came together on this sandwich. The only thing I can say is that Ripe had a better veggie panini (which they no longer have on the menu), so the D’Lox sandwich is now by default the best one in town I have tried.

Cubanito

Cubanito with tomato basil soup

Cubanito with tomato basil soup

The sandwich and soup combination is a good choice at D’Lox, although it is a little more expensive than either the sandwich or the soup by itself (but I think you get more food on the combination). I found from the panini that a sandwich by itself is filling, but getting the larger amount of food on the combination is probably more like my normal lunches.

On the Cubanito sandwich I will start with the part I did not like much, which was the pulled pork. I am used to barbecued pulled pork in Oklahoma City, and also notable is the Cuban sandwich at Cafe 7 in OKC (in comparison the one at D’Lox was a little disappointing). The strengths of the sandwich here were the ham and the cheese, and overall I would say the sandwich is good. I did not know what to make of the sauce because I do not know the ingredients in it, but again I think the one in Oklahoma City was a little better.

The Tomato Soup was a good complement to the sandwich, but I do not know that I would order it on its own (as opposed to the Cubanito, which I think makes a pretty satisfying meal).

3D Lox Bagel

3D lox bagel

3D lox bagel

The 3D Lox Bagel comes on a plate with all its components, and you construct your own sandwich the way you wish. I have had lox many times before and I think I was expecting this one to be a little more flavorful, but the sandwich was fine when I put it all together (which is my way of saying it was better than average but not one of the most memorable sandwiches I have had). Unlike the Cubanito, I do not think I particularly want to order this again.

The one thing I really did not like on the sandwich was the sprouts, although this is just something for which I do not have much of a personal taste.

A Summary
It is somewhat difficult to give a definite rating to this restaurant because I really liked the panini and half of my eggs benedict, but the other items were all over the scale from good to mediocre. Although I was reluctant to try the Sunday buffet, I think this is where people can really get a good taste of the food at D’Lox. On the regular menu I know that they have very good items, if you just know what to order.

A number of the new restaurants in El Paso have the type of upscale food found at D’Lox, and as of this writing there are still a number that I need to visit.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: American
Cost: $$
Hours: Breakfast & Lunch Only (Open Daily)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 18, 2019
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Vegganini Panini, Benedict Florentine, Cubanito

Special Ratings
star 4 Benedict Florentine
star 5 Vegganini Panini
star 5 Cubanito
star 4 3D Lox Bagel

Sorrento–El Paso, TX

Sorrento Italian Restaurant (Closed)
5325 Dyer St.
El Paso, TX
Sorrento Italian Restaurant

Sorrento Italian Restaurant


The one thing out-of-town visitors should know about Sorrento is that it is an old style, red checkered tablecloth type of Italian restaurant. I understand that it was started in 1951, and that it is now owned by the original owners’ daughter who carries on the tradition that people in northeast El Paso remember while growing up.

My own relatives used to take my family and I to Sorrento when we would come to visit, and along with Great American on Alabama and Leo’s (which used to be in the northeast), this is one of the few restaurants still operating which I can remember from the first few times I visited El Paso.

Wine bottles on the ceiling

Wine bottles decorate the ceiling at Sorrento

There is a collection of wine bottles hanging from the ceiling that I think was there from the time of my first visits here. To me this is one of the great pieces of restaurant nostalgia that is locked in my memory.

The restaurant continues the tradition people would expect by providing red checkered tablecloths, and by having a menu with all of their favorites, mainly pasta dishes. I have seen reviews on the Internet that indicate that the best dishes are the ones with seafood, but I have to say frankly that I have never tried these. I seem to be like many other people that I am pretty much stuck on the dishes I have always ordered.

I will say a little bit about the old style Italian restaurants such as this one. This is especially important to me since Sorrento is one of the few that I remember from the time I was growing up which is still open today. Based on the new Italian restaurants, which I really enjoy, I do not think the “red sauce, checkered tablecloth” restaurants are authentic. For one thing, many of the dishes at Sorrento and other old style restaurants are made with ground beef, and I do not think this is a staple of Italian cooking (I say this never having visited Italy, but I think this is a pretty safe statement to make).

For every Italian restaurant it seems that the main draw is its sauce which is made from a “family recipe.” This is probably true, even at the old style ones, but the new restaurants seem to have a lighter tasting sauce while ones such as Sorrento seem to be heavy on the herbs and spices. I think the only thing anyone can really judge is how they like the flavor. I like the sauces at the new restaurants better (such as Monteleone), but the one at Sorrento is still pretty good. At least the sauce here tastes home made, unlike the ones at some of the national chains.

Salads and Appetizers
The biggest negative I found on a recent visit was the Salad, which consisted of some iceberg lettuce with a garlic and vinegar sauce. This type of salad can be very good, but I thought the one at Sorrento was a big fail, especially since you have to pay extra for it. This is one area where I think a lot of people would appreciate an update to the restaurant’s traditional menu (I am not sure, but I think they also have some other types of salads on the menu which I have not tried–I am just saying that I think the house salad could be better).

Some people make much the same complaint about the garlic bread, but I think there is no reason to change something that has worked for over half a century, and to stay with nostalgia on this one. These are buns which have been split in half and covered with garlic butter. The trick, though, is that they were cooked just right to make them crispy around the edge but soft in the middle.

Pasta Dishes

Lasagna

Lasagna

If I am able to make more visits to Sorrento I will mainly be working my way through the pasta dishes on the menu. I was able to order the Lasagna at a time when it worked out to make this selection, since the menu includes the warning that it takes 25 minutes to cook.

Probably its key is that it is baked with ricotta cheese, but the sauce is also very good (this is the part that contains the ground beef). I really do not order lasagna very often at any restaurant, but it is always good when I do, as it was here.

Pizza
I remember the Pizza as being very good, but I have not had any in a while. I think I have pretty much decided that this will be on the list for next time.

Dessert

Spumone

Spumone

The Spumone used to be my favorite dessert here as well as the best I have tried anywhere–now it is number two on both counts. Monteleone’s has one that I thought was better, so it is now the best that I have tried (not that I have tried spumone at a lot of restaurants, but it has been a few). What causes the one at Sorrento to still be classified as one of my favorites is that it is house made (as are all of the desserts). I think they are using a traditional recipe, and they have all of the ingredients necessary to make this a special dish. This is like having ice cream at Baskin Robbins or one of the premium ice cream stores, but with a much better flavor combination than I find at many of the stores.

As far as the best dessert at Sorrento–I think it is the Tiramisu. My dining companions ordered it and I tried a sample, leading me to conclude that like the spumone, this is one of the best I have tried anywhere. It did not have the variety of flavors that the spumone had, but its flavor was excellent and was something I will remember for a while.

A Summary
The tried and true formula Sorrento uses is resonating with people, because the restaurant was almost completely full on a recent visit I made. For this to happen, it always has to be a combination of good food, reasonable prices, decent service (the service I got was more than decent), and feeling comfortable to come back.

The recipes here are what I would call old style Italian, but the food is fresh and prepared very well. Unlike some restaurants there was not such a large serving that I had to take some home, yet it was filling and I got a good dinner for the money.

There was a time when I thought the quality of the food at Sorrento went downhill, but this is now many years in the past. It is now like I remember it from the old days.

I do not really have any tips about what to order, because I am re-exploring the menu myself and finding out what I like now as opposed to what I liked in the “old days.” I will probably order the lasagna again, but I would also like to try some other items on the menu.


RATING: 20

Cuisine: Italian
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sat. lunch & Sun. lunch
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 13, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Lasagna, Spumone, Tiramisu

Special Ratings
star 4 Lasagna
star 5 Spumone
star 5 Tiramisu

Carnitas Queretaro–El Paso, TX

Carnitas Querétaro
7410 Remcon Cir.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-9906
Carnitas Queretaro

Carnitas Queretaro


Carnitas Querétaro has multiple locations in El Paso, and each one is packed with extended families and groups of friends who come for “Mexican comfort food” that is filling and served as it would be found in a typical restaurant in Mexico. The emphasis at CQ is on meat– there are probably more types of Mexican meat dishes served here than at any other restaurant in El Paso, including lamb barbacoa, buche, and other specialties not usually found in the more Americanized Mexican restaurants.

Most of the meat items served are familiar to people, such as steaks, tacos, and burritos. It is definitely not necessary to “take a chance” on something new if you already have a favorite dish you would like to try.

The more adventurous dishes here have not been my favorites, but I suppose they may be to many people. The Lamb Barbacoa had a more “gamey” taste at Carnitas Querétaro than I remembered from eating it in Austin many years ago, but this may be the way it is supposed to be. I am probably not a very good judge of such things.

If the restaurant has a specialty it is the carnitas, and I think the ones here are some of the best you can find. I have found that there is a wide range of quality in this dish between the best restaurants (such as this one) and those who seem to have not quite mastered the method of preparing them.

I do not think Carnitas Querétaro is particularly known for its more generic Mexican food that is served at just about every restaurant (enchiladas, chiles rellenos, etc.). There are some exceptions, though, which I will point out in the write-up. I would also pretty much forget about finding any exceptional vegetarian food here, since almost all the standout items I have tried have been meat items. The exception would probably be some of the vegetarian enchiladas including the standard red or green (probably green is better), mole, or the spicier sauces such as chipotle (they might have some other sauces available as well). I have found that they will try to honor custom orders for enchiladas or other dishes if they can.

Mole

Chicken mole

Chicken mole dinner with melon (cantaloupe) drink

Chicken Mole was once considered a rather exotic dish in El Paso, but is now found in most restaurants. Few do it as well, though, as Carnitas Querétaro. The mole has a more subtle flavor than at other places, and I would judge it to be one of the premier representations of this dish in El Paso. Although some first time eaters are apprehensive about the dish because one of its base ingredients is chocolate, the mole at Carnitas Querétaro is made from such a rich mixture of flavors the chocolate is not as readily discernible as in other versions.

The Chicken Mole Dinner is served with grilled chicken breast meat, in CQ’s apparent attempt to serve a more upscale version of this entrée than is being done at restaurants that use shredded chicken. Although I like the flavor of the dish it is a lot of food for my appetite (as are many dishes at this restaurant).

I think the mole dinner always goes better with a flour tortilla (they provide a corn tortilla unless you ask for the flour one). Certain drinks seem to go best as well, with my preference being the cantaloupe drink (melón).

The Mole Burrito is made with shredded chicken for the more traditional style of mole. The burrito is wrapped in the same flour tortilla that comes on the side with the dinner, and might be a preferred alternative to the larger dinner portion. It has all the flavors of the mole dinner, but in a different form (I give the disclaimer, though, that I had this at the old restaurant before it moved to Remcon and I am not sure if they still do it the same way).

Enmoladas

Enmoladas

Enmoladas are another form of a mole dinner, and are popular with those who want the mole flavor but without a lot of meat. “Enchiladas” are tortillas with chile and “Enmoladas” substitute mole for the chile as the topping. The menu offers either cheese or chicken inside, but personally I think if I want chicken the mole burritos are probably better. The enmoladas with cheese offer a good opportunity for a delicious non-meat meal (although some would argue the cheese does not really make this vegetarian).

Carnitas

Carnitas

Carnitas

Carnitas (pork) is the signature dish of this restaurant, with the recipe originating in Querétaro (the rest of the menu is Chihuahua style). I was able to sample this at the new restaurant and found it to have an excellent flavor (perhaps the best of their meat dishes). There is a large quantity of meat on the plate, but if you are going to do this I think Carnitas Querétaro probably has the best flavor I have found.

Carnitas tacos are also available for a smaller portion of meat.

Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Enchiladas suizas at the old restaurant on Mesa St.

Green Enchiladas have been one of my favorite items since I used to eat at the old restaurant on Mesa Street, and are even better when turned into Enchiladas Suizas (served with white meat chicken inside and sour cream on top). The green chile seems to be a rather spicy Mexican variety, and is similar to the type I have eaten in Sanborn’s and other restaurants in Mexico. Being made with tomatillos, though, it has a more sour flavor than the New Mexico green chile or the local green chile normally served in El Paso, and is not quite as spicy.

Enchiladas suizas at the new restaurant

Enchiladas suizas at the new restaurant on Remcon

The enchiladas suizas I ordered at the new restaurant on Remcon had a somewhat different appearance than before (as shown in the photo above). They have mixed crema with the chile in addition to sprinkling it on the top. I thought the new version had a better flavor. The rice and beans are now served in side dishes while previously they were served on the plate (so the overall quantity of food is the same but it is presented differently).

I have not ordered Red Enchiladas at the new restaurant, but previously I found them to be less flavorful than the green.

Some Photos and Reports from the Old Restaurant on Mesa St.

Pozole

Pozole tapatio

Pozole Tapatio, or hominy served with pork chunks and red chile, is one of the most flavorful versions of the dish I have tried. The yellow hominy might be an acquired taste for some, but mixed with the red chile and meat it offers another great opportunity to venture out from the mundane menu found at most restaurants. Several soups are on the menu but so far this is one of the best I have found.

The pozole comes with tortillas on the side, limes for flavoring, and cabbage to put into the soup if you desire. With all the side dishes that are served, I find the large bowl to be enough for a meal. I also think it is a big reason I enjoy the pozole here so much.

Aztec soup

Aztec soup

Aztec Soup is Carnitas Queretaro’s version of tortilla soup, with crispy tortillas that have been made soft by floating in the soup. The white meat chicken and avocado were good, and I liked the Mexican style cheese even better. I thought the best feature, though, was the flavor of the broth. This was not quite the best version of tortilla soup I have ever eaten, but it was close.

The Chile Relleno has a flavorful chile that is very hot because of leaving the seeds inside, a good cheese, and a ranchero sauce that covers it with large chunks of tomato and chiles (chiles on top of another chile!). It may be a little more greasy than other versions though.

Flautas

Flautas

Flautas have the same high quality as most of the other dishes, with the customary guacamole and sour cream (or at least this is customary in the more authentic Mexican restaurants). The chicken version comes with meat that is tender and flavorful. The guacamole that covers the flauta is puréed, but customers can also request the more chunky variety on the side as in the photo.

Chicken tampiquena

Chicken tampiquena

Chicken Tampiqueña in El Paso restaurants refers to grilled chicken with green chiles on top, accompanied by a red enchilada (and usually rice and beans). Restaurants usually give a price break ordering it this way as opposed to ordering chicken and an enchilada separately, so I usually find this dish to be a good choice. This photo is from the old restaurant but I imagine the plate is still much the same.

Rice, Beans, Chips, Salsa, etc.
The Chips are thick and I find them to be very good (although some others in El Paso are better). Sometimes they are overly salty but not always.

Salsas are excellent, and you get both a red salsa and a dark colored one with the chips.

I know the Rice and Beans are good, but I have not made an attempt to compare them to other restaurants.

You can usually get free Tortillas with the meal. The corn tortillas are freshly made and cooked in the restaurant (I do not know about the flour tortillas but I remember them being fresh as well).

Drinks
One of the best features of Carnitas Querétaro is the variety of Aguas Frescas that are served. While many restaurants in El Paso can compete for the best food, serving these authentic Mexican drinks plays a large part in the overall experience, and surprisingly few restaurants do it as well as Carnitas Querétaro.

Horchata is the traditional drink with lent specials (at least it is traditional with me), and the one here has a good cinnamon flavor.

Melón (canteloupe) is usually my favorite of the aguas frescas, and while it has traditionally been available only during the harvest season in the Pecos Valley or in California, I believe the availability of the fruit now lasts a large part of the year.

The Lemonade at CQ rivals the other drinks for quality and enjoyment.

The aguas frescas are almost like a wine in that patrons can pair their meals with the proper drink just as they would at a fine dining restaurant. Personally I get just about as much enjoyment out of the drinks at Carnitas Querétaro as I would with a fine wine.

Iced tea is also excellent.

Lent Specials

Outside sign advertises Lent specials

Outside sign advertises Lent specials

On Fridays during Lent Carnitas Querétaro serves Comida de Cuaresma (Lent Dinner) specials that are among my favorite Mexican food experiences. Lent specials are provided for the faithful who wish to go without meat at least one day a week in favor of a fish or vegetarian meal. The restaurant says on the menu “It’s time to be good,” but I think it is also time to enjoy some delicious meals.

Capirotada

Lent menu next to capirotada dessert

The Lent menu has changed over the years, and it now offers fewer choices than before. The full dinner is very good, and comes with either fish or shrimp and a choice of sauces (veracruzano, chipotle, diabla, and mojo de ajo). Dinners come with soup and capirotada for dessert, and the side dishes on the plate are mashed potatoes, rice, salad, and bread.

Also available are some lighter plates including fish tacos (but these do not come with the soup and dessert).

Lentil soup

Lentil soup served with Lent specials

I particularly like the Lentejas, or lentil soup that comes with the full dinner special. This soup is wonderful in its simplicity, with whole lentils, a few spices, and a dark broth. Served with Horchata, a rice drink with cinnamon, this is the start to a classic El Paso style Lent meal. Corn or flour tortillas are available on request with the meal, but I like the tortilla better with the soup (I think corn goes best with it).

I was surprised to discover that fish dinners are only available at Carnitas Querétaro during Lent, and shrimp choices are more limited on the regular menu (they do have fish enchiladas, shrimp enchiladas, shrimp tacos, and several mahi mahi dishes on the regular menu). For me it is definitely worthwhile to get the fish plates on the Lent special while they are available.

Pescado Veracruzano

Pescado Veracruzano

One of the styles served is Pescado Veracruzano, or Veracruz style fish with a tomato sauce and green olives. The flavor of the fish is mild, and this helps to highlight the delicious sauce with green olives, chiles, and spices. I probably enjoy the Mashed Potatoes as much as anything on the plate, with a home made (not from instant potatoes) taste. The sauce is slightly spicy and is made with guero chile (which is not considered to be one of the hottest varieties).

Diabla fish

Diabla fish

The Diabla Style Fish Fillet of course is known for being extremely spicy food, and I believe it is on the current menu (this photo, though, is from the old restaurant).

Order the Al Mojo de Ajo fish or shrimp if you like an overwhelming garlic flavor (this is also something I tried at the old restaurant).

It is also possible to order a vegetarian meal, and of course enchiladas are always available from the menu. The old restaurant had a special sauce available on the Lent menu on the Green Chipotle Enchiladas (shrimp chipotle enchiladas were also available). This may still available as a special order, but is not on the current menu (creamy chipotle enchiladas are available on the regular menu, and the sauce is one of the choices for the Lent specials).

Capirotada dessert tops it off, a kind of drunken bread pudding with raisins and the little sugar balls on top that are sometimes used on cupcakes.

There are several Lent specials I enjoy in El Paso, but the one at Carnitas Querétaro is one of the best in terms of food quality (good fish, soup, and dessert). It is also one of the most filling and most expensive, which to me is probably its biggest drawback. Because this is a special menu only done once a year, though, I have found that it pays to go to restaurants with a long history of doing it, such as Carnitas Querétaro. The quality and flavor here are good, and it is worth the money if you have a good appetite.

Other Locations
Carnitas Querétaro currently has four locations in El Paso, but I would advise checking on line because the locations change from time to time. The former restaurant at 6516 N. Mesa St. is where many photos in this review were taken, but it has now moved a few blocks west to 7410 Remcon Circle (at the corner of Mesa and Remcon).

The I-10 location

Carnitas Queretaro on Interstate 10 (9077 Gateway West)

I have also been to the restaurant on Interstate 10 (9077 Gateway West), which has the same menu as the west side location. There are now two other east side restaurants at 1451 N. Zaragoza Rd. and 12706 Montana.

Closing Comments
Carnitas Querétaro has been a pleasant surprise in the way they have changed some of the dishes from the style served at the old restaurant on Mesa (enchiladas suizas are an example of dishes I think have improved). The carnitas also tasted better than the ones I tried at the old restaurant, but I have not eaten them enough to say that this is a trend rather than just my own somewhat random experiences.

Prices have risen quite a bit from the days of the “old” restaurant, and I have particurly noticed this on the Lent specials. So far, though, I have mostly thought the higher prices are a good tradeoff for the very comfortable dining room they now have and the upgrades they have made to some of the dishes.


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Mole, Enchiladas Suizas, Chicken Tampiqueña, Carnitas, Pozole, Aztec Soup, Lent Specials, Aguas Frescas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Mole
star 4 Green Enchiladas (cheese)
star 5 Green Enchiladas (Suizas)
star 3 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Enmoladas
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña
star 5 Carnitas
star 4 Chiles Rellenos
star 2 Lamb Barbacoa
star 5 Pico de Gallo
star 5 Pozole Tapatio
star 5 Aztec Soup
star 5 Lemonade
star 5 Melón
star 5 Horchata

 

Lent Specials
star 5 (Five Stars)
Pescado Veracruzano
Green Chipotle Enchiladas (from the old menu)
Lentejas
Mashed Potatoes
Capirotada
Horchata
star 4 (Four Stars)
Pescado al Mojo de Ajo

India Palace–El Paso, TX

India Palace
5380 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 833-2245
India Palace

India Palace


India Palace is an outgrowth of a former restaurant, Delhi Palace, that was located on Airway Boulevard in the 1990’s. Delhi Palace was part of a successful chain of northern Indian restaurants around the Southwest, with locations in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque. Delhi Palace was one of my introductions to Indian food, and except for the overuse of garlic I cannot think of a single aspect of the former restaurant I did not like. While India Palace has different owners and is not part of the chain, many of the former cooks and employees moved to the new restaurant and brought the same flavors and cooking style with them. 

Northern Indian food is quite popular in the United States, being less spicy and arguably more flavorful than dishes from the southern part of the Indian sub-continent. My main problem with India Palace has been that the food tends to be less spicy than I think is the case at most northern Indian style restaurants. This is been less true starting around 2019 at a time when most of the ethnic restaurants in the city seemed to realize that they do not have to cater as much to “American” tastes and that they can be successful being authentic. Still, though, I think it is a good idea to ask for food that is spicy if you want it that way.

To me a major appeal of Indian restaurants is that a vegetarian meal can be ordered that is just as delicious as ones with meat, and probably more healthy. I would classify the vegetarian selection at India Palace as medium–there are more selections than I find in Oklahoma but not as many as are served in most west coast restaurants. If all the vegetarian selections were are good as the two or three that I usually order I would be quite happy, but my satisfaction has varied quite a bit depending on what I have ordered.

Menu Items

Chana masala is one of the more flavorful dishes

Chana masala is one of the more flavorful dishes

The Chana Masala, a chickpea dish with tomato sauce, is one of the dishes I have found to be consistently good. Since I frequently order this dish in other cities I would say that the one here does not have quite as many vibrant spices and flavors as I find elsewhere. However, I like the fact that the chickpeas and the tomato sauce are fresh, and I really do not know how they could do it much better in terms of the basic ingredients. I am not sure how satisfying this would be to a meat lover, but for someone who prefers non-meat items whenever possible, the chana masala makes a great meal.

Aloo matar is a delicious way to eat your peas

Aloo matar is a delicious way to eat your peas

Aloo Matar is a dish of potatoes and peas in a tomato sauce that always seems to be good. I do not care much for the idea of eating two carbohydrates together (potatoes and rice), but with the peas and tomato sauce it ends up being a fairly balanced meal. I do not know anywhere else in El Paso where you can get this quantity of peas for a meal unless you go to a cafeteria, and for me a meal there would not be anywhere near as flavorful as at India Palace. India Palace has replaced the cafeterias as one of my “go to” places when I am hungry for vegetables, and the aloo matar is definitely one of the better dishes.

For me the Mixed Vegetables came with a rather boring selection of vegetables, being dominated by potaotes and carrots, but everything tasted fresh and not as if it came from the frozen food section of the grocery store. The sauce was more than delicious enough to make up for the unexciting vegetables, though.

Vegetable korma is a creamy dish with a mild curry

Vegetable korma is a creamy dish with a mild curry

Vegetable Korma (vegetables and nuts in a cream sauce with curry) no longer appears on the menu, but it was probably my favorite entrée during the first decade of the 2000’s. The sauce was rich but not too heavy on the cream and there was a good selection of vegetables. Like many of my favorite vegetable dishes at India Palace, there was a generous amount of peas. The sauce seemed to be a bit more flavorful than with the chana masala (but I went with chana masala for my favorite vegetables).

Navratan korma

Navratan korma

One item available on the current menu is Navratan Korma, a dish of mixed vegetables in a creamy sauce. I thought it had a very good flavor and aroma, but I do not think peas are included in the vegetable selection (I expect, though, that it is possible to ask the restaurant to add them). One thing I liked about this dish is that it had a medium spice–enough that I felt that I was getting more of the traditional Indian flavor. An increase in the spice level is something I have noticed on several of my recent visits.

Malai kofta

Malai kofta

Malai Kofta is another good vegetarian dish with “fresh vegetables cooked in grain flour batter and deep fried in creamy and onion sauce,” according to the menu’s description. I should point out that the vegetables have always tasted fresh to me when the menu says they are fresh, and I think this is one of the best features of India Palace compared to other Indian restaurants, especially ones that do not serve a lot of vegetarian orders. The deep fried vegetables in the malai kofta have a texture and flavor somewhat like meatballs, and this is probably one of the things that makes it appealing as a vegetarian dish. I like the fried vegetables, but what I like less is the sauce that I think is a bit too creamy. Everyone will have their own taste, but I prefer the navratan korma that is maybe not quite as creamy as the malai kofta.

The vegetarian dinner with dal, vegetable korma, and palak paneer with side dishes

The vegetarian dinner with dal, palak paneer, and vegetable korma with side dishes

The vegetarian dinner is a good way to sample some of India Palace’s best dishes, and get naan, a drink, and dessert thrown in at no extra cost. Mine had Palak Paneer, but they now serve it with saag paneer (both are spinach dishes). Two other main dishes are served, Vegetable Korma and Daal (made with lentils). As I find with combination plates or thali in most Indian restaurants, the individual items do not all have to be my favorites in order for the combination of them to be good. In the case of India Palace each item was good (the vegetable korma was my favorite) and the plate as a whole was good. I think this is one of the best deals at the restaurant (a combination meat plate is also available).

Biryani

Biryani

India Palace has a complete section on the menu for Biryani dishes, made with aromatic basmati rice. Although this was not my favorite in terms of flavor, the quality was equal to the other dishes served at India Palace.

Vegetable Soup has been one of my favorite dishes at Delhi Palace. The employees who used to work at Delhi Palace brought the recipe for the soup with them, and I find it to be one of the most flavorful dishes now served at India Palace. The problem with it is that it is not really large enough to make a meal by itself, and I find it too filling and too expensive to order along with an entrée. For something that is flavorful and healthy, though, it is hard to beat. The soup is tomato based, but like many good tomato dishes it becomes much more when they add the herbs and spices that go along with the vegetables.

Dal soup

Dal soup

Dal Soup is another choice if you want a very light meal. The one pictured was one that a friend ordered and had as a main dish (along with some naan).

The Rice served with all meals is quite flavorful, with herbs and spices that enhance just about any meal with which they are consumed. After trying several Indian restaurants in other cities, I began to really appreciate the Basmati rice served with all plates at India Palace. Most of the rice I find is predominantly white and largely flavorless, but this one is colorful and almost good enough to be eaten by itself (India Palace does in fact offer a Basmati rice pilaf as a plate or the plain Basmati rice as a side dish).

Naan

Naan

Several types of Naan are available, but all are at an extra price (the exception is the “Complete Dinner” which is either a vegetarian or meat thali style sampler plate or the lunch buffet). The Plain Naan is very fresh and in my opinion is worth ordering. The Cheese Naan has been very good at times, but greasy at other times.

The Buffet

A sample of items from the buffet

Chana masala, chicken makhani, mushroom bhuna, and peas pallao from the buffet

The lunch buffet has definite advantages and disadvantages over ordering from the menu. One advantage is that you usually get to sample some of India Palace’s more expensive dishes (in the photo above it is the chicken makhani). They also sometimes prepare dishes that are not even listed on the menu (there are two of these in the above photo–mushroom bhuna and peas pallao). The cost of the buffet is also one of its advantages, especially considering that naan and dessert are included.

I think the main disadvantage of the buffet is that most of the dishes are not very spicy, and I think this also affects the flavor (it seems that Indian food is meant to be spicy in order for the full flavor to come out). I think there is always at least one item, though, that is spicier than the others.

The Chicken Tikka Masala usually seems to be served on the lunch buffet, and is probably one of the best items. This is a boneless Tandoori chicken cooked with a tomato and butter gravy. The mild spices make it taste much like barbecue chicken, and the Tandoori style of cooking over mesquite charcoal can make this a good alternative to heading toward your favorite “cue” joint.

To my way of thinking an authentic Indian restaurant would never serve beef, but India Palace does offer several beef dishes (this is probably logical for a restaurant in Texas).

I have to agree with a Yelp reviewer who noted that the food on the buffet is not spicy and that it could be more traditional, in saying “Not a bad experience, just not completely satisfied.” I do think ordering from the menu is usually more satisfying if I want to order a certain dish, but the buffet is satisfying for the price and especially when compared to many of the other choices available in El Paso restaurants.

Drinks
The Indian Chai is one of the best I have tried, and one free refill is given. This is a creamy flavorful tea spiced with cinnamon that I think goes well with just about everything served at the restaurant. It is quite strong, though, and when consumed in the evening would probably be suitable for keeping students awake for any type of late night study.

Several types of yogurt lassi drinks and fruit drinks are available for those who would rather have a cold beverage. The Mango Lassi I tried had a creamy flavor from the yogurt but the fruit flavor was dominant, and was very good. I like these drinks because they are not as sweet as Mexican or most other fruit drinks.

Other Comments
India Palace is near the top of my list of El Paso restaurants in terms of providing good, healthy food that provides a satisfying meal. I wish it were a little less expensive, but it is really not bad compared to trying to get the same amount of fresh vegetables and nutritious ingredients at other restaurants.

I have been coming to India Palace for a number of years, and I think they now have a different cook because of the fact that some of the food seems more flavorful and spicier than in the past. I have especially noticed an improvement with the chana masala and the naan. On my older web site I had given a three-star rating to certain items including daal turka, mushroom bhaji, and mushroom masala. I would like to try them again because everything I have eaten recently has been either four or five stars on my rating scale, and I think some of these other items may be at the point that I would want to upgrade my score.

Recently they have bumped up the default spice level for some of the menu items, but I do not think it has carried over to the buffet.

The owners of India Palace also operate the R.V. International Grocery at 4700 N. Mesa, where many Indian and other types of International food can be purchased. I think I have eaten many more of the frozen dinners from R.V. than the meals from the restaurant, and for the frozen dinners the spice level is definitely up to my desired level (although of course the flavor of the food in the restaurant is much better). I especially recommend the almond cookies from R.V. Grocery.


India Palace Web Site


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Indian
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun. evening, closed Mon., and closed from 2:30 to 5:00 pm
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 10, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chana Masala, Vegetable Soup, Matar Paneer, Chai

Special Ratings
star 5 Chana Masala
star 5 Navratan Korma
star 5 Vegetable Soup
star 5 Matar Paneer
star 4 Malai Kofta
star 4 Aloo Matar
star 4 Chicken Tikka Masala
star 4 Mixed Vegetables
star 5 Rice
star 5 Naan
star 5 Indian Chai
star 5 Lassi Drink

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 usually has an alternative to the lentil soup if you want to try it instead.

I will make note of the fact, though, that in 2019 the lentil soup contained bacon and therefore is no longer vegetarian as I had always noted it to be in the past. It still had an excellent flavor, though.

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. In 2019, though, I noticed a distinct improvement in both the breading and the flavor of the fish (I think they might have a new cook and this is my theory for the changes I noticed in both the fish and the lentil soup). In any case, I would now say that the fish can stand on its own even without the tartar sauce.

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. The price here is also very good compared to other restaurants that offer the traditional lentil soup and capirotada.


RATING: 23

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: Apr. 5, 2019
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