Corralito (Zaragoza)–El Paso, TX

Corralito Steak House
1501 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 345-1133

Corralito Steak House on Zaragoza Rd.

Corralito Steak House on Zaragoza Rd.


Corralito’s web site says it has been in business for over 25 years, but I have only noticed the El Paso restaurants recently. It now has three locations in El Paso and two in Ciudad Juarez, firmly establishing its credentials as a Mexican style steakhouse located in two countries.

A “Mexican style” steak house can be somewhat loosely defined, and in this case they use USDA choice meat but with Mexican side dishes (enchiladas, guacamole, etc. and with chips and salsa served with every meal). I am not a steak expert, but in my experience from Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua the steak tastes very “natural” with a minimum of anything that I might call “artificial.” The steak at Corralito does taste marinated, so it is not a bland tasting steak but merely one that I think tastes like real steak.

Corralito serves fish and chicken as well as steak, and there are Mexican items such as enchiladas (although I think the enchilada only comes with a steak and is not served as a separate item). The menu also includes other items such as tortilla soup, milanesa (on the lunch menu), etc. that I would think of strictly as Mexican dishes.

It is my understanding that a steak house is more casual than a regular steak restaurant, and Corralito fits the definition in this regard. The restaurant is not cheap, but patrons can eat here without breaking the bank.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips are thick (Mexican style), and they come with two types of salsa, including one with roasted jalapeños (the dark colored salsa). Neither of the salsas are extremely spicy, and both have a good flavor.

Mexican Specialties

Chicken tampiqueña

Chicken tampiqueña

All the food here is served the way it would be in Mexico, but there are some items on the menu that are more readily identifiable as “Mexican food.” One of these is the Chicken Tampiqueña which is a chicken breast served with guacamole and chile con queso, with an enchilada on the side. Compared to others in the city I thought the chicken was better than most, while the other elements were about average (which still makes them very good).

Enchiladas were not anywhere else on the menu, so it seems that they only come with the tampiqueña (you can order either the chicken or a steak version of the tampiqueña).

Steak
I have not ordered the steak here, but I tried a sample of the Top Sirloin. It tasted marinated with a good flavor, and I would say this is one of the better steaks in the city.

An Overview
The good about this restaurant is that you can enjoy a good steak that is not prohibitively expensive, and the selection of items is really pretty impressive for a steak house. I would rate the chicken as being even better than the steak, with it being in the top tier of chicken dishes I have found in El Paso.

Some Yelp reviews indicate that the service is not good at all of the Corralito restaurants, but this was not the case on my visit. The restaurant was full when I went and it is obviously popular, so it is possible that service is slower at other times when this is the case.

The Mexican items are not ones I would call the best in El Paso, but the enchilada I had was very good and was devoid of some of the pitfalls I sometimes see (such as being greasy). This is not a Mexican restaurant, though, where you can order items such as a Mexican combination plate or an enchilada plate.


Corralito Web Site


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: May 26, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Chicken Tampiqueña, Top Sirloin

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña
star 5 Top Sirloin

Nellie’s Cafe–Las Cruces, NM

Nellie’s Cafe
1226 W. Hadley Ave.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 524-9982
Nellie's

Nellie’s


As far as I can remember Nellie’s has the distinction of being the first New Mexican restaurant I tried in Las Cruces (other than La Posta in Mesilla). Nellie’s was the favorite of my relatives and the one we headed to first when we were in the City of the Crosses. From this time in the mid 1970’s until after 2000 I never noticed a change in the quality of Nellie’s, and it has always been as good as I remember from the first time I ate here.

The only thing that has changed, though, has been the hours (and of course the prices have gone up over the years). They no longer have dinner hours, and now close at 3:00 p.m.  While not a change from the old days, they are also closed from Christmas until about the third week in January, and again for a vacation in the summer. I either read or was told that this is the way they have been able to keep this family owned business alive for so long without facing burnout and having to close.

Nellie’s has always been my idea of what southern New Mexican style food should be. The red chile has always been my favorite here, but others have told me the green chile is best. This is the restaurant where I developed a great love for the sopapilla compuesta, and this is my favorite dish here. Really, though, everything is good (a friend of mine tells me they have the best huevos rancheros ever).

I believe there are several candidates in New Mexico for the best red chile, and Nellie’s is certainly one of them. What I especially like about Nellie’s, though, is that the heat level is not extremely high but the flavor of the chile is as good as the hotter varieties.

Sopapilla Compuesta

Sopapilla compuesta

Sopapilla compuesta with red and green sauce

The Sopapilla Compuesta is my favorite dish, and I am very glad I can go back and get the same dish I have enjoyed over the years. This dish is related to the stuffed sopapilla, but the beans, meat, lettuce, cheese, and tomato are put on top of the sopapilla, along with your preference of chile (red or green). Over the years I have enjoyed the meatless version as much as the one with meat. Either way, I think it is best with the red sauce. The one pictured above was “Christmas” (with both red and green sauce).

These photos are of regular orders, but you can also get a smaller one. Both are relatively inexpensive.

Sopapilla compuesta with red sauce

Sopapilla compuesta with red sauce

The Sopapilla Compuesta with Red Sauce pictured above had less sauce overall than the one with both red and green sauce, but seemingly had more sopapilla. I also thought it had more meat than the other version (the meat is the same that I typically find in New Mexican style stew).

There is a good view of the kitchen from the dining room/cash register area, and it is apparent how each dish is individually prepared and that there is no assembly line production here. I think the chile is made in large batches, but the way the rest of the food is prepared makes it almost inevitable that sometimes an order will have more meat, sopapilla, sauce, etc. than at other times, and that the way it is cooked will not be exactly the same. On the two orders shown for sopapilla compuesta, one had a crispier sopapilla than the other (so that I needed a knife to cut it). I cannot say, though, that there was any difference in the overall enjoyment of the dishes.

One big difference I see between the sopapilla compuestas served here and the stuffed sopapillas I have found in northern New Mexico is the size. These are a meal in themselves, while stuffed sopaillas are usually the size of a regular sopapilla but with meat, beans, cheese, and/or lettuce and tomato stuffed inside.

For both of these New Mexico dishes the sopapilla is a little sweet, but is more like bread than the dessert sopapillas served in Oklahoma and other places (most sopapillas in other places are also covered with sugar or cinnamon while these are not).

In any case, I am almost always surprised when I eat Nellie’s version how well the flavors of the sopapilla, beans, chile, cheese, lettuce, and tomato come together for such a flavorful combination. On the meat, I can take it or leave it, but I usually take it. The red chile is really what makes this much better than others I have tried. The green chile is also quite good, but the red is my favorite.

I noticed on their menu that they rate the green chile as having a four-chile spice level, while the red is two. On my own “chile scale” I rate the red chile as being four out of five, and equivalent to most of the red chile served in El Paso. I think the green chile is a little hotter, but certainly not twice as hot as the red (and I am not sure that Nellie’s meant to imply that it was).

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas rolled instead of stacked

Regular (rolled) red enchiladas with an egg on top and sour cream

Red Enchiladas are also excellent, and I always like to order them stacked. Because they do not come with blue corn tortillas they do not rise to the level that I would put the ones in northern New Mexico. The chile, though, is probably as good as you will find anywhere (my preference is the red, but both are good).

The default here is that they serve rolled enchiladas. You can ask for them to be stacked but I tend to forget because of the normal long periods of time between my visits here. Theoretically both should taste the same, but I do not think this is the case. I would say that the stacked ones tend to have more chile (because the cooks try to cover the top of the enchiladas completely) while the rolled ones have more cheese (this is put on the inside of rolled ones while stacked ones only have cheese on top). It is a little depressing that these are the types of questions I ponder, but hopefully it will brighten someone’s day by knowing which type of enchilada to order.

The egg here is mostly for flavor because I do not think the red chile is spicy enough that you would need the egg for its mouth soothing properties. You can also get sour cream with the enchiladas if you desire.

I should note that the Beans seem to have the perfect texture and lack the greasiness I find in many restaurants. I think this is a reason they go so well on items such as the sopapilla compuesta, or as a side on dishes such as the enchiladas.

Salsa

They don't give many chips, but you can get more if you ask

Chips and salsa

Another item for which Nellie’s is famous is the Salsa. It is spicy, flavorful, and fresh. I have bought some to take home several times, and this is something I would suggest if you have the opportunity.

Nellie’s also sells its red and green chile in take-home containers. I found out that they call all of these “salsa,” with the red chile being salsa roja, the green being salsa verde, and the salsa served with chips being salsa regular. This shed some light, though, on the fact that there is some confusion between the term chile (which I and others tend to use) and salsa (which is the term most restaurants in El Paso and Las Cruces tend to use).

Closing Comments
Anyone who remembers restaurants from the 1970’s will probably know that many places placed an emphasis on utility rather than decor (unless it was a fine dining restaurant). Nellie’s, as a local hangout, provided all the tables and booths that could fit into a small space, and the last time I saw it nothing has changed. Many of the newer restaurants might be considered nicer, but I am glad Nellie’s still allows me to relive the memories of what have really been my favorite New Mexican food experiences in Las Cruces.

This may be one of the top New Mexican restaurants in the state (it is definitely one of the best out of the ones I have tried). The enchiladas are very good, but it is really the sopapilla compuesta that I think makes it stand out from other restaurants, and which may actually be the best in the state.

Keeping the same food and the same traditions they had in the 1970’s when I first tried it is what makes it great, but there are some things to consider which some may see as drawbacks to eating here:

  • The hours are limited (they have had to do this for the family to keep running it all these years). It closes at 3:00 p.m., and they are closed twice a year for vacation (at Christmas through the first part of January and for about two weeks in the first part of August). If you make it there before 3:00 on a day they are open you are fine–they are not in a hurry to kick people out of the restaurant after this time. If you plan to go near Christmas and New Year or during the summer it is probably a good idea to call and find out if they will be open.
  • The enchiladas are rolled instead of stacked (probably most people want it this way). Having relatives in northern New Mexico and having most of my early New Mexican food experiences there, I like them stacked. Many times I forget that Nellie’s does not serve them stacked unless you ask for them that way. I am making a note here to remind myself (and others) to ask for them stacked.
  • (This point is more for others than myself) I have been rather surprised by the time it takes to eat here when they are busy. Usually the wait for a table does not take too long, but waiting for orders to be taken can seem like a long time when they are trying to serve a full house. Many people will also experience what seems to be a long time for the food to be cooked. I am not very concerned about this because I know that everything is individually prepared, but I just think that readers should be aware of it.

Nellie’s is cash only (they have an ATM machine if you need it). I think the prices are pretty decent, and this is probably a result of their “cash only” policy.

Update Aug. 2019: Nellie’s is closed from Sunday August 4 until Friday August 16 this year (as reported by Yelp). This gives a general indication of when they take their summer vacation each year.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (closed Sun. & Mon.)
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Serves breakfast

Most Recent Visit: May 24, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Sopapilla Compuesta, Red Enchiladas, Beans, Salsa

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Sopapilla Compuesta
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Julio’s–El Paso, TX

Julio’s Mexican Food
7470 Cimarron Market
El Paso, TX
(915) 581-2242
Julio's Mexican Food

Julio’s Mexican Food


Julio’s had its beginning in 1944 in downtown Ciudad Juarez, Mexico when Julio and Guadalupe Ramirez opened an upscale Mexican restaurant (as opposed to the more numerous establishments serving tacos or street food). At that time it was called Julio’s Cafe Corona (I do not think this had anything to do with Corona Beer which is quite popular in Mexico).

When I first encountered Julio’s it had moved to the PRONAF area located across the “free bridge” at the eastern end of Ciudad Juarez. This was a popular commercial center with American style shopping centers as well as stores aimed at American tourists where “genuine” Mexican souvenirs could be purchased. The Sanborns coffee shop was nearby, as well as what I think were the city’s only two Chinese restaurants, the Shangri-La and the Lai Wa Yen (all of these other restaurants are still operating, and Paco Wong’s is the El Paso branch of Shangri-La).

I will have to say, though, that out of all of these restaurants, Julio’s was the one that I thought was the most special experience and which truly gave me a taste of Mexico. Julio’s was a little bit out of the tourist area, and seemed to cater to local tastes. It was definitely upscale, meaning that it had a full menu instead of specializing in tacos or another item that would be considered the restaurant’s specialty. At Julio’s everything was genuinely good, and there was a lot from which to choose.

One thing I considered to be upscale was the enchiladas, which seemed to be more complex than the typical ones found in Ciudad Juarez. The enchiladas at Julio’s were actually very similar to the ones served in a number of El Paso restaurants, and which I have dubbed “El Paso style” food. These had added spices and flavor than what I think are the typical Mexican style enchiladas, and I believe this is actually authentic Mexican food (but I call it El Paso style because this is the place where it is the most commonly found). Julio’s menu states that the food came from Guadalupe’s family recipes.

For a number of other items including steaks, flautas, chile relleno, etc., Julio’s is a good example of typical Chihuahua style food (referring to the State of Chihuahua). Julio’s serves upscale versions of everything on the menu, but this means they use the best cuts of meat, etc.

Julio’s has had a restaurant on Interstate 10 in east El Paso for a number of years, and sometime after this branch opened the Ciudad Juarez restaurant closed. It was explained to me that the children and grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Ramirez own the El Paso restaurants, and there are now three restaurants including one in far east El Paso.

Julio's bar area

Dining room and bar area

The Julio’s in west El Paso is the only one not called “Cafe Corona,” but I do not know the significance of this name change. In any case, the food not only follows the Cafe Corona tradition, but so far I think this restaurant tastes the most like the original one in Ciudad Juarez.

Julio’s opened in early 2019 and is located in an upscale commercial center called Cimarron Market. The restaurant has a choice location at the intersection of Resler and Paseo del Norte where it is visible from both of these major streets. It is about a half mile from Interstate 10, and about a mile south of Loop 375 (Trans Mountain Dr.).

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Although the Salsa was very flavorful, it was not at the El Paso level of spiciness and I believe this is definitely not the same salsa that was served in the Ciudad Juarez restaurant (the salsa I had at the I-10 location seemed to be like Julio’s original salsa).

You can order Chipotle Salsa which is definitely spicy, but they failed to tell us that it costs $1.50 (I do not mind the price, but I mind that they did not tell us). In any case, I would say this salsa is quite good and is worth the price.

The Chips were definitely among the top ones in El Paso (and this is saying a lot because El Paso chips in general are better than just about anywhere else).

Corona Mexican Plate

Corona Mexican plate

Corona Mexican plate

With the exception of the guacamole I think this combination plate was definitely top notch, and worthy of being called “Corona” (Spanish for “crown,” and which is the same meaning as my name which comes from the Greek word). In any case, it seems that every Mexican restaurant has a “Mexican plate,” but this is one of the better ones.

Probably my favorite item here was the Red Enchilada (the red enchilada is the default on the plate rather than the green and is the way the restaurant has been serving it since 1944). This had the classic taste of an El Paso style enchilada, although I think it was actually developed in Mexico. My explanation of this is that El Paso and Ciudad Juarez used to function as one city with people crossing the border at will (or with minimal red tape as it was when I first came to El Paso). This style of enchilada was probably not common very far south of the border, but it was widely prepared in both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

I also need to note that the enchilada was quite spicy (although not to the level of spicy New Mexican red chile). To me everything was right about this enchilada, although there are several others in El Paso that are probably equally good.

The Chile Relleno was unusual for El Paso because it did not have sauce on top, and this was a good thing. I believe that a really good chile relleno does not need anything to enhance it, and that was the case here. This one had a very good chile and an even better batter for a very flavorful item. I noticed on the menu, though, that if you order a chile relleno plate it does have sauce on top (either a Spanish sauce or a spicy Mexican sauce).

The Shredded Beef Taco was also very good, although it was probably the weak point of the three main items because of the meat being a little greasy. When that is the worst thing I can say about a combination plate, though, I would rate this as an excellent plate. The Monterey Jack type of cheese on the taco was very good (I do not know, though, the exact type of cheese it had).

The beans and rice were both excellent, but probably I was more impressed with the rice because at most restaurants this is a weak point (but not here). I thought it had an excellent seasoning as well as being well cooked.

The weak point of the plate was the Guacamole which I thought was very bland. It was very fresh, though. This surprised me because I had very good guacamole at the Interstate 10 location.

Overall the Mexican plate was one of the best of the city. Probably the item that stood out as being better than at other restaurants was the chile relleno.

Other Items
One of the best features of Julio’s is that it has some of the more upscale items that I like to seek out and which are not on the menus of many restaurants. I have found several of these in the section of the menu called “Julio’s Specialties” (they say these are original recipes that date back to 1944). The Corona Mexican Plate is listed in this section, and I ordered it first for the sake of nostalgia.

Some others, though, that I either have not tried yet or do not have a specific memory of them, include the following:

  • Steak Tampiqueña
  • Chicken Tampiqueña
  • Chicken Mole Poblano
  • Cochinita Pibil

This is not a complete list of everything that looks good, but these are some of the items I seek out in upscale Mexican restaurants across the country when I have a chance to try them and enough of an appetite that I can order them.

Julio’s also has a section on the menu noted as “Our Classics” which include Flautas, Tacos, & Tostadas. One item I noted was the flautas, which I had at the Gateway East (I-10) location and enjoyed very much. In addition, though, they have chile con queso flautas which I do not remember ordering previously, but this was one of my favorite dishes at the now closed Casa Jurado (and I think this is a classic El Paso dish).

Other Locations
The Ciudad Juarez restaurant is no longer open, but the other El Paso locations are at 8050 Gateway Blvd. East (Interstate 10) and 3630 Joe Battle Blvd. (Loop 375).

Closing Comments
The restaurant is upscale, but the prices for common dishes (such as the Mexican plate) are not out of line with other restaurants that are not as upscale. Julio’s does raise the price of most bills, though, because of things like charging somewhat high prices for drinks and having an extra charge for the chipotle sauce.

I do not understand the reasoning behind the regular salsa this restaurant serves. It is not very spicy, and is not like the salsa I have had at the Gateway East location (which I think matches the salsa that was served in Ciudad Juarez). Otherwise I am very happy with this restaurant and I think it tastes like the original Cafe Corona in Ciudad Juarez. I wonder if it is truly like the original restaurant, though, because of obvious signs such as the salsa having changed.

This restaurant seems to have been built with an eye to the future because it is on the fringe of the city in a location that it seems few people know about. Yelp reviews indicated that after it opened they were trying to get their act together in terms of customer service, but when I went it seemed that they had successfully worked this out.

I enjoyed the meal but I realize the restaurant is at its early stages. If I am able to return and try other items I will have a better idea about how I like this restaurant overall and how it compares with my experiences at the other Julio’s restaurants. From what I experienced, though, I definitely think it is worth trying out.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Has a Bar

Most Recent Visit: May 22, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Red Enchilada, Chile Relleno, Shredded Beef Taco

 

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 4 Guacamole
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Karam’s–San Antonio, TX

Karam’s Mexican Dining Room (Closed)
121 N. Zarzamora St.
San Antonio, TX
Date of Review: Jan. 2005

Karam’s has been around for so long it is one of the few restaurants I can say I have gone to for more than 30 years. I also think it is one of the best examples of Tex-Mex food there is. So far, in fact, it has turned out to be the restaurant by which I judge Tex-Mex food. Many restaurants in Austin came close, and some had specific items that were better, but Karam’s seems to have captured the essence of Tex-Mex cooking to a point that it is almost equal in quality to other styles of Mexican cooking.

Known for its Cheese Enchiladas, I think they are some of the best I have had that are not New Mexico or El Paso style. They are interesting because the tortillas are soaked in a sauce that turns them the signature red of true Tex-Mex style.

Although the enchiladas themselves are good, a combination dinner is even better– there may be no better examples of Tex-Mex style Tamales than at Karam’s. These have a masa that is soft and seems to break away the moment a fork touches it, with a flavor that I could almost imagine all the times I had fast food and TV dinner tamales while on a student budget, but which even most Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin could not duplicate.

Karam’s is popular enough to have required building a parking lot across the street. In addition to the restaurant, Karam’s Catering, a separate portion of the building dedicated exclusively to take-out orders, does a brisk business. With the mild weather found in south Texas, the outdoor patio with a fountain is an added attraction.

I think that unless you are specifically hungry for meat items such as the fajitas at Mi Tierra, you really owe it to yourself to make Karam’s your one special San Antonio Tex-Mex meal. It is a San Antonio institution for a reason.

RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican Tex-Mex
Cost: $$
Alcohol: Beer
Special Features: Catering

Chile Index: chile 3

Most Recent Visit
Jan. 6, 2005

Number of Visits: 4

Best Items
Cheese Enchiladas, Tamales, Tacos

Special Ratings

star 5 Cheese Enchiladas
star 5 Chicken Tacos
star 5 Tamales
star 3 Refried Beans
star 5 Chips
star 4 Salsa

Menu (Date Unknown):

Menu courtesy of Eugene F. Michael El Paso Menu Collection, MS499, C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department. The University of Texas at El Paso Library.

Note to Readers:

This review is reprinted from my original web site (Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page) and the newer site (OK Gourmet).  By putting it on Steve’s Food Blog I hope to keep it accessible to readers and to preserve the information as something that I think is of historical importance for Tex-Mex restaurants.

Karam’s was quite possibly the best Tex-Mex restaurant I ever found in Texas (there were a couple in Austin that were close).  Unfortunately when I discuss Tex-Mex restaurants I often have to refer to ones that are now closed (of which Karam’s joined the ranks in about 2005).  I wrote a blog post about why I do not think the Tex-Mex food served now is as good as it was at these former restaurants which were considered leaders of the Tex-Mex restaurant world:

Why Does Tex-Mex Not Taste the Same as I Remember Growing Up?

The Karams’ daughter wrote a very informative comment about the restaurant, and it is certainly relevant to this review as well as a discussion of Tex-Mex food in general.

 

Pamela Karam’s Comment (Dec. 10, 2015):

Dear Steve,
Karam’s Mexican Dining Room of San Antonio had the absolute best Tex-Mex in the country.
My parent’s invented the style that chefs tried to copy without much luck.
All over the country to this day when I say I’m from San Antonio, strangers will ask me if I ever ate at Karam’s. Of course they go crazy about the food when I tell them who I was lucky to be.
My dad started me in the kitchen and I know the secrets to the taste of our food.
I miss a Deluxe Dinner as much as the next person.
Thank God I can whip one up when necessary..
I’m glad you enjoyed our place.
I loved it and miss it every day.

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 with beans, enchilada, chile relleno, and taco

There are several combination plates on the menu that will provide a sample of different items. I would recommend that any one ordered include a red enchilada (most of them have an enchilada, and you can choose either red or green). Combination No. 2, which includes a beef taco, rice, chile relleno, enchilada, and beans is the one that I would say gives the best variety of the restaurant’s best items. This might be nick-named the “classic” plate because it includes all the items I traditionally find at El Paso restaurants that serve a “Mexican Plate.”

The only difference between this enchilada and the one on the enchilada plate is that it might not have as much sauce, but you can ask for more if you want it.

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 crispy 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 technically an enchilada plate rather than a combination plate, but it is one of my favorite dishes here that includes a combination of different items. Known as the “Mexican Flag” in some restaurants, the red, green, and white represent the colors of the flag. 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 to me this is a good thing and you still 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 (I really prefer the half order and having it as an appetizer).

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.

There are daily specials throughout the work week where a regular plate is served at a discounted price, but only one plate is offered as a special each day (the specials are the same every week).

Even though my rating has varied somewhat over time, one thing that has never changed is that the red enchiladas, tacos, and salsa are in the top tier of El Paso style Mexican restaurants. If customers get these (as well as some other items with which I may be less familiar) I think they will have some of the best food El Paso has to offer.

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: 25

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: May 9, 2019
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

Magic Bistro–El Paso, TX

Magic Bistro
5034 Doniphan Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 833-2121
Magic Bistro entrance

Magic Bistro in the Marketplace at Placita Santa Fe


Magic Bistro is a prominent part of El Paso’s upscale food scene, a trend that seems to have exploded in recent years. Its predecessor, The Magic Pan, operated at this location for a number of years and was one of the pioneers of the city’s upscale eateries that were at the same time casual and not in a country club or private club setting.

Its location in the Marketplace at Placita Santa Fe has historically been a place to find arts and antiques, and as long as I can remember has been anchored by restaurants with the word “Magic” in them. The Placita seems to me very much like a calm respite from the surrounding urban life, and is one of the benefits of coming here.

The daily blackboard menu

The daily blackboard menu

The setup of the restaurant is a little unusual, but it reflects the quirkiness of the Placita. The photo at the top of this page shows the entrance to the Marketplace, inside of which are the restaurant and several shops. The restaurant is directly behind the main entrance, but before you enter the building there is a reception desk on the patio with the daily specials written on a blackboard. There are times when the restaurant is busy enough that you would need to get on the waiting list for a table, but normally you either sit on the patio or go inside to the second reception area. Most people seem to prefer the indoor area, and there has been adequate space the times I have gone.

When I refer to Magic Bistro as upscale it means the food. Dress can be very casual if you wish, and historically when I have gone here or to the Magic Pan it has been in combination with a shopping trip within the Placita or at nearby stores (and many times to the nursery on Lindbergh Avenue).

Magic Bistro is mostly a lunch restaurant (it opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday). It is open for dinner Friday and Saturday, for which there is a separate menu. I have not gone at dinner, but one thing I notice is that two people can split any plate and get an extra order of side items for $6 (I think the lunch offers a similar offer for $3).

Sandwiches

Tuna salad sandwich

Half tuna salad sandwich

Sandwiches are Magic Bistro’s “bread and butter” (so to speak), and are the largest part of the lunch menu. Normally I am not much of a sandwich person, but the sandwiches here are very good, and there is a wide choice of items to go with it.

When I tried the Tuna Salad Sandwich it was on a half-soup, half-sandwich plate, which also came with a side item. I thought the price was good, and it met my criteria for being an excellent tuna salad sandwich (I do not know what was in it, only that the flavor was very good).

Pork tenderloin sandwich

Pork tenderloin sandwich

The Pork Tenderloin Sandwich is another popular choice because of the fact that the restaurant smokes its own meats. It also shows the restaurant’s propensity for spicy food due to its chipotle raspberry sauce. This did not quite have the spiciness of New Mexico chile, but it was well above the spice level I have found at most barbecue restaurants (however this was more of a barbecue fusion dish because of the sauce).

I found the flavor of the sauce a little disappointing and gave it a lower rating than the tuna salad sandwich because of this, but the quality was good. The rating is based solely on my personal taste.

Soups

Potato and green chile soup

Potato and green chile soup

Many of the soups are spicy as well, such as it was with the Potato and Green Chile Soup. Magic Bistro has a house soup (chicken tlalpeño, which itself is made with chipotle). Any other soup choices (including the potato soup) are the soup of the day, and these tend to follow the theme of Southwestern cuisine. I thought the potato and green chile soup was excellent, and I would say that for people from El Paso the spiciness level of this soup would be well within what most would consider to be normal parameters (as in most places, people here do not like it too spicy).

Fish soup

Fish soup

The other soup I have tried here was the Fish Soup, made with tilapia and vegetables. This one was not spicy, and was served on a day when I was trying to recover from an illness and the flavor and substance was able to completely hit the spot with me. Possibly because of the circumstance I considered this to be better than the potato soup. This was another soup of the day, though, so I do not know how often it is available.

Side Dishes
All sandwiches, wraps, and half-soup half-sandwich combinations come with a side dish (these are not listed on the menu but seem to be the same all the time). Both of the ones I have tried have been good, and there is enough choice to pick something that seems to fit (such as Potato Salad with what was essentially a barbecue sandwich).

The Tabouli I ordered as a side dish with the tuna salad sandwich was a good choice as well.

Other Comments
Another nice feature of this restaurant is the drinks. There are some interesting ones such as Pellegrino water. I liked the iced tea not so much for being better than at other restaurants, but for being less expensive (it is $2 here while many restaurants are charging fifty cents to a dollar more than this).

The lunch menu is limited to sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads, burgers, pasta, or quiche. Still, the way they let you combine a soup and salad with a choice of side dish, gives a good variety of items.

Dinner looks like it has more interesting choices, but it is only available on weekends. I am assuming that since lunch impressed me, dinner would be even more of a special treat.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: New American
Cost: $$
Hours: Lunch Tue-Sun; Dinner Fri & Sat
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: May 7, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Tuna Salad Sandwich, Fish Soup

Special Ratings
star 4 Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
star 5 Tuna Salad Sandwich
star 5 Fish Soup
star 5 Potato Soup with Green Chile
star 4 Tabouli