Leo’s–El Paso, TX

Leo’s Mexican Food
7520 Remcon Cir.
El Paso, TX
(915) 833-1189
Leo's on Remcon

Leo’s


Before writing about one of El Paso’s “classic” restaurants I try to search other material that has been written about their history and connection to other restaurants. In the case of Leo’s the story can be found on its web site which recounts the fact that the restaurant was founded in 1946 by Leo Collins and Willie Terrazas at the corner of Cotton and Yandell Streets in El Paso. It further states that “From this location, a tradition was started that has been passed down from generation to generation.”

Willie Terrazas, Jr., manager of the one and only Leo’s location now in operation on Remcon Circle in west El Paso, enjoys talking to customers and telling the restaurant’s story (and he said he remembers me from their former “Crossroads” location at 8001 N. Mesa). He stated that this restaurant has been in operation for 13 years (as of 2019) and that the last of their other locations at 315 Mills closed in 2016 (it became La Morena Restaurant but is now home to Mac’s Seafood).

Entrance to Leo's on the south side of the building

Leo’s entrance

I have read that Leo’s was the first restaurant in El Paso to serve baked cheese enchiladas as well as the first one to offer sopaipillas (here they are served free with all entrees). Even today these two features are not widespread in the city. I would say that red enchiladas are probably the best item here, but what I like even better is a combination plate such as the tri-color baked cheese enchiladas or a combination of enchiladas with a chile relleno or other items.

I have been going to the various Leo’s since the 1970’s, and along the way I have tried many other items but at the time I was not taking notes about them to include in an article. The 1970’s was also the time there were nine locations including one in Lubbock, so for anyone who has been around as long as I have it would be hard not to have multiple experiences with Leo’s to the point that it is as much about nostalgia as it is about their baked enchiladas and other favorites that I am sure everybody has.

For locals an article about Leo’s is not one that will lead them to a new discovery, but it is a reminder that there are several long-running restaurants that helped put El Paso on the map for Mexican food and which still enjoy a good deal of popularity.

Chips and Salas

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips are thin with a good flavor. The Salsa is spicy in a good way but I think not so spicy that it would be hard for people to eat who are used to the “gringo” style salsa served in many parts of the country.

Combination Plates

Combination plate

No. 2 “A Popular Combination”

The Number 2 Popular Combination comes with an enchilada, taco, and a chile relleno. Interestingly, these are the same items served at the No. 2 dinner at Avila’s, another restaurant that serves baked enchiladas, sopaipillas, and which has a tri-color enchilada plate. Sometimes it seems as if all Mexican restaurants in El Paso serve pretty much the same food, but even if the menus are similar there are nuances in the food that definitely make each restaurant unique.

The Red Enchilada is usually my favorite item at El Paso Mexican restaurants, and it has been the same here. I really do not crave them enough to order a whole plate of them, but they are very good on a combination plate with other items. They are less spicy than most of the ones in El Paso but they are spicy enough that I still classify them as “authentic” El Paso style enchiladas.

The Chile Relleno is a good representation of this item as it is commonly prepared in El Paso with a mild Spanish sauce on top of a spicier green chile. The breading is very good.

The beans and rice are both five-star quality, but I particularly like the beans with the baked tostadas inserted into them (and the beans become a dip to put on them). It is my understanding that the beans are vegetarian (and are not made with lard).

Tri-Color Enchiladas

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-color cheese enchiladas (Mexican flag)

One of my favorite dinners here is the Tri-Color Baked Cheese Enchiladas plate (No. 16 in the Entrees section of the menu). Also called the “Mexican Flag,” it comes with a red, green, and sour cream enchilada. On the current menu you have to pay a dollar extra for rice and beans, but you do get a free sopaipilla for dessert.

Unlike some restaurants the sour cream enchilada is not put on top of the chile but it is strictly cheese and sour cream. I thought it was good but it is definitely not very spicy.

I do have to report a problem I had with the dish pictured, though, which is somewhat representative of a situation I have experienced more than once at Leo’s. What I noticed was that no red sauce was visible on the plate, and the green was barely perceptible. I found out that there was some red sauce from the red enchilada underneath the sour cream enchilada, but like the green enchilada the chile was in what I considered to be a small amount. I told the waitress that the red chile was almost non-existent and her response was to bring me another red enchilada which was definitely up to Leo’s normal standards.

Red enchilada

Red enchilada

The Red Enchilada pictured here was brought by the waitress to make up for the one on the Tri-Color plate with almost no chile, and this one confirmed that the red enchiladas are probably the best item at the restaurant. If you are not happy with what is initially served, though, it is definitely worthwhile asking the restaurant if they can make it right.

Other Entrees

Flautas with chile con queso

Flautas with chile con queso

I think the menus at many Mexican restaurants are far too dependent on beef as a flavor enhancer, but the beef dishes at Leo’s are one thing that seems to be very worthwhile. One example is the Flautas that had very good shredded beef with a crispy shell. The fact that the waitress recommended beef over chicken confirms the observation I had that perhaps the beef is one of the things the restaurant does best.

Flautas usually come with guacamole and sour cream, but I ordered some with Chile con Queso to see if they would be anything like the queso flautas I had at the now closed Casa Jurado. Unfortunately, these flautas turned out to be disappointing since the queso turned quickly into a solid mass that did not taste like real cheese. For that matter I did not really get much flavor from the chile that was mixed into the queso. Ordering the chile con queso on flautas is more economical than getting an order of chile con queso, but my tendency would be to pass on either one of them.

Dessert

Sopaipilla

Sopaipilla

Sopaipillas come free with the entrees, and this is one of the signature features of Leo’s. The one pictured, though, tasted very oily and left a bad aftertaste in my mouth (I have subsequently skipped the sopaipilla when I have gone to Leo’s and frankly have enjoyed the meals much more by doing so). Of course other people’s experiences may be different, but I would say the meals are fine here without the sopaipilla.

An Overview
There seem to be some quality control issues here, as evidenced by the fact that I was served tri-colored enchiladas which were almost totally lacking in red and green chile (something that is not normally the case at Leo’s). They made up for it, but I think this is a big operation that probably has several people cooking the food, so mistakes will happen.

Some things here are probably just not going to be as good as at other restaurants, and I think sopaipillas are one of these. In my many years of dining at Leo’s, though, I do remember them being better in the past so I do not know if this situation will also be corrected.

This is one of the places where I think the atmosphere of the restaurant enhances the experience. The manager comes out and talks to customers, the service is very good, the building is pleasant, and in a way I think it is even a positive when you have to wait for a table because then you can meet other people who are also sitting in the waiting area. In any case, coming to Leo’s is many times more than just for the food.

When I mention “El Paso style” Mexican food, Leo’s is a place where you can get a good idea of what it is all about. In some ways it is even better than the average restaurant (I especially like the fact that they bake the enchiladas). There are a lot of choices for El Paso style Mexican food, and Leo’s is one of the ones who has been doing it the longest (I saw a source that said when Leo’s first opened there were only three Mexican restaurants in El Paso, and Leo’s became the fourth because “What El Paso needs is another Mexican food restaurant”). I do appreciate the history of the restaurant, but I would say Leo’s strength is its food and not just because it has been around for a long time.


Leo’s Web Site


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Breakfast buffet on Sat. & Sun.

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 24, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Tri-Color Enchilada Plate, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Chicken Mole
star 4 Chile con Queso
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Los Cabos–El Paso, TX

Los Cabos Seafood
7200 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 301-0030
Los Cabos Seafood

Los Cabos Seafood


Los Cabos is one of several Mexican seafood restaurants in El Paso, and it is one of the more recent ones to open. Although there is only one Los Cabos in El Paso, I do not know if it is an offshoot from a restaurant in Mexico as Villa del Mar and other restaurants are. I do know that the style of the restaurant and the food are authentic Mexican, and remind me of what I find at Villa del Mar.

The name “Los Cabos” made me think that they might have have Baja style tacos and other seafood dishes from Baja California. After asking the staff, though, I do not believe there is anything here that I would call Baja style. The seafood in El Paso seems to all be Mazatlan style, which is the closest seaport to where we are located. I think there is nothing wrong with this style of seafood, but it is just a recognition that all the restaurants in El Paso serve the same style of food, they just try to do it better than everyone else.

When pulling into the restaurant for the first time I saw a tree on the right side of the building. This actually covers an outside patio that was very popular the day I went even though the temperature was quite warm (as it tends to be in El Paso). I do not know if it is an actual outside patio or whether it is temperature controlled because I did not go to the patio to look. The dining room was not completely full (and I went on a busy day). It seems that people use the patio by preference and not because tables become unavailable in the dining room.

My first visit was probably somewhat clouded by what I consider to be flaws in the service, and I am not yet giving a rating to the restaurant (it probably would be a good idea to try some other dishes as well). At this point I do not have anything against the restaurant or a reason not to return, but it is just that I have had better experiences at other places.

Not directly related to the restaurant itself is the fact that it is located in the Colony Cove shopping center. I used to work for the city and saw how they approved parking plans along with other design criteria when approving commercial centers. In the case of Colony Cove, I saw them go through this process and then step by step change things for the worse once the plans were approved and the business spaces were occupied. With the handicapped spaces in particular, Los Cabos has a bad situation where the parking is far away from the door, and people must go on a steep incline to get to the building. The restaurant is accessible according to the regulations, but I feel that someone in charge of the situation could make it a lot better if they desired.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Patrons get a free set-up of chips and salsa (and I found out they will give refills at no charge). Along with a red and green salsa, there is a fresh ceviche to load on the very fresh and delicious chips if you wish.

I have noticed very good comments about the chips and salsa, and I agree with them. The green salsa, though, was very notable because it was one of the best I have ever had. The red salsa and the ceviche would be considered quite good compared to what most restaurants serve, but to me the green salsa was so fresh and had such a good flavor that it blew the others away. The green salsa is not fiery hot, but had a good kick that I would rate at about four chiles out of five. The red salsa was also somewhat spicy (at least three chiles). I think the ceviche had a little kick as well, but I noted it more for its good flavor.

Appetizers

Fish soup

Fish soup

Meals come with a free cup-sized serving of Fish Soup that is so loaded with fish and vegetables it was really more like a bowl than a cup. I enjoyed the flavor (it was a traditional flavor like the ones I find in the city’s other seafood restaurants). This one seemed to be spicier than most, which I think would get to the five-chile level if you drank the broth straight. I definitely give thumbs up to the soup (especially since it is free).

Filete Veracruzano

Veracruzano fillet

Veracruzano fillet

One section of the menu gives a choice of shrimp or fish fillet with different toppings (by the way, they do have non-fish items but seafood is about 90 percent of the menu). All items on this section are served with a salad OR steamed vegetables AND mashed potatoes OR french fries (as described by the menu). There are fourteen choices of toppings, and many are ones I have not seen at other restaurants (or else I have not noticed). For my first time at the restaurant I chose my favorite, which is Fillet Veracruzano. This has a sauce which is traditional in El Paso, and includes vegetables, olives, and potatoes.

First of all, though, I defy anyone to find the olives in the picture, because I never found any. The potatoes were plentiful but other versions have not had this, and I am not sure if this is really a traditional feature of the dish (they were good, though). The vegetables were quite good. I was not sure whether I gave the sauce a thumbs up or not because it seems that I have had better sauce at other restaurants. I have had enough bad sauce in Oklahoma, though, to still appreciate the ones here even if they do not seem to be the best in town.

Veracruzano side dishes

Veracruzano side dishes

Because the Veracrucano sauce has a consistency like a soup, the side dishes and salad are served on a separate plate. This is a good feature of the dish, since I am happiest when my food is separated or even in separate dishes rather than all mixed together. The salad was very fresh and good. The mashed potatoes tasted fresh (not instant). To me the rice tasted so-so, like most of the rice in El Paso. There was so much food I could not eat everything, so the rice is mostly what I left on the plate.

The fish tasted like most of the fish in El Paso–fish that had come from several hundred miles away. I am puzzled by reviews I see of many restaurants in El Paso where people describe the fish as good, while to me it is just passable. This is why the sauce has to be extra good at a seafood restaurant for me to really enjoy the fish. To me this dish did not meet these standards, although I realize that I have high standards and possibly unrealistic ones.

Other Dishes
My dining companion had the Breaded Filet (spelled a different way on the check than it is on the menu) and reported that it was good. All of the dinners come with a choice of shrimp or fish fillet. They also have fish tacos, soups, shrimp cocktail, whole fish (at market price), and appetizers such as aguachiles and ceviche.

For non-fish items I only found fajitas, carne asada tacos, and some items on the Kid’s Menu (grilled cheese, cheeseburger, corn dog, etc.).

On the section of the menu labeled “Specialty” there are some items that seem to not have much fish (or maybe none at all) such as Cabos Enchiladas.

Additional Comments
The restaurant adds a surcharge to the bill if you pay by credit card, and my problem is that they did not make it easy for me to discover this fact until it had already been charged.

There were many interesting looking items on the menu that I have not yet tried, so I think it would probably merit an additional visit(s).


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Mexican Seafood
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes (see comments in my write-up)
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, wine

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 16, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Fish Soup, Chips, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 4 Filete Veracruzano
star 5 Fish Soup
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Li’s Cafe–El Paso, TX

Li’s Cafe
632 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 875-0509
Li's Cafe

Li’s Cafe


Li’s Cafe opened in 2010 as the “fast food” version of Moon Day, the now closed restaurant which served authentic northern style Chinese food. Lili, the owner of these restaurants, eventually closed Moon Day and sold Li’s Cafe (and for a while opened Coli Wok & Grille at Mesa and Remcon).

I mention this because Lili worked with the current owners of Li’s Cafe (who are not Chinese) to give them many of her cooking techniques and recipes. The food at Li’s Cafe is not the same as it was at Moon Day, but I think the owners are using enough of Lili’s recipes that the food here seems to be much better than I expected from a non-Chinese owned restaurant. This may be a backhanded compliment, but I truly enjoy the food at Li’s Cafe (at the same time I know its limitations when it comes to getting food that is authentic).

The menu here is targeted at people who like the Americanized version of Chinese food (sweet and sour, broccoli beef, etc.). For at least some of the dishes, though, I think the flavor is closer to the food at Moon Day than to the typical Americanized Chinese restaurants throughout the city. I am not going to compare every dish here to the ones at Moon Day, but for the ones that are especially good I am sure that Lili was a big influence in this.

I found out that Li’s Cafe can prepare dishes that are not listed on the menu (I asked for Szechwan pork and they were willing to prepare it even though it is not on the menu). They do have Szechwan beef on the menu but obviously there is some flexibility with what you can order.

Soup

Hot and sour soup

Hot and sour soup

The Hot and Sour Soup is the most obvious example I know of something that tastes like it did at Moon Day. Whether I am remembering this correctly or not, I can definitely say this soup has a very good flavor. I am impressed with the number of mushrooms it has and other “substance” (it is not just a big bowl containing mostly broth).

Egg drop soup

Egg drop soup

The Egg Drop Soup also has a very good flavor, and this is usually my preference if the meal I order is spicy so that this will provide an offset to it.

Won ton soup

The Won Ton Soup also has a very good flavor, but it seemed that the only “substance” to it was floating at the top (so this soup is mostly broth). I think it had one won ton but this is normal for this type of soup.

Dinner Menu
The dinner menu expands quite a bit from the items that are served at lunch, they come in larger portions, and the price is higher. Dinner includes items such as kung pao scallops (this is is not available as a lunch special but you can get kung pao shrimp). I think just about everything that is of interest to me is on the lunch menu, but dinner does have some interesting things I might like to try sometime.

Hunan pork

Hunan pork

The owners told me that the sauce on the Hunan Pork was “not sweet,” while the Szechwan sauce is sweet. It did turn out to be a good sauce. My main problem was with the vegetables, since I do not consider broccoli to be a Chinese vegetable or to contribute to the flavor of a Chinese dish in the way it should. (I had a take home order of Hunan chicken and had the same experience with it). There are some Chinese vegetables here such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, carrots, and baby corn, but these were in relatively small quantities.

The pork was good in this dish, and the chicken was good on my take home dish (these meats are not breaded). Hunan pork is only available on the dinner menu, but Hunan chicken and beef are available for lunch at a very good price.

The dinner portions are an awkward size for me in that they are usually more than satisfies my appetite but there is not enough to split and make two meals out of ii.

As far as I know, dinner comes with the same choice of soups you get at lunch (hot and sour, egg drop, or won ton). It has been some time since I went at dinner time and I am not sure about the soup, but my memory is that I got soup with the meal.

Special Dishes

Szechwan pork

Szechwan pork

The Szechwan Pork was something I got as a special order, but they only serve it in a dinner portion (the only lunch item with Szechwan sauce is the beef). The meat on this dish was tough (more so than on the Hunan pork I ordered). The Chinese vegetables on this dish, though, were far better than the broccoli and other American vegetables that came with the Hunan style dishes (although the Hunan dishes do have a few Chinese style vegetables).

The sauce on this dish was supposed to be sweeter than the Hunan sauce, but I did not think it was sweet to the point that it had an Americanized taste. Instead, I really liked it, and overall the Szechwan dishes are my preference over Hunan style when the vegetables are factored in. The meat was tough, but I think this was a fluke rather than that they purposely serve a different meat on this dish.

I do not know what other “special” dishes they can prepare. I have tried to ask for some of the some of the dishes that were served at Moon Day, and Li’s either does not have them or they have been morphed into Li’s version of them (which are good but they are not the same as Moon Day’s food).

Lunch Specials

Fragrant chicken

Fragrant chicken on the lunch special

Some reviewers on other web sites complain about the breaded chicken here where you get very little flavor of the chicken. With the Fragrant Chicken, though, the meat is not breaded (although there is a thick sauce on it similar to sweet and sour). The sauce is thick but it does not have the same sweetness as sweet and sour, and I thought it had a very good balance of flavors. The vegetables were excellent, and overall this is probably the best dish I have had at Li’s (for sure it seems to be one of the best items on the lunch menu).

Citrus chicken

Citrus chicken on the lunch special

Citrus Chicken was disappointing because it was not the same as Moon Day’s version (and I think think this is one of the recipes they got from Lili when they bought the restaurant from her). Li’s also refers to this as orange chicken, although I think it is better than the average orange chicken at other restaurants. The sauce here is not extremely sweet and it contains orange peels. Some reviewers say there is not much chicken flavor because of the breading, and it is true that this might be an issue. Moon Day had a whole chicken breast with a very light breading (it was somewhat like the breading on a German schnitzel). The way Li’s Cafe has changed the chicken has made it a different dish, although I think the sauce is still good.

Conclusion
The lunch specials here are definitely a good deal–it is hard to beat the flavor and quality of food here for the price you pay. My favorite lunch is the fragrant chicken but there are many dishes I have not tried.

For me they have extended the time I can get lunch past the 3:00 p.m. deadline, but I do not know their exact policy on this. I just know that because it is a family run business they are free to do things to help out the customer, and they have been very generous in doing this with me.

The hot jasmine tea is brewed in a large pitcher, and it is so good this has been a deciding factor at times concerning whether I go to Li’s Cafe or another restaurant.

I know they do not try to make the food authentic as it was at Moon Day, but I definitely think Lili has had an influence on the new owners by the sauces being less sweet and having a better flavor than at other restaurants, and by a high quality I find in the food. There is no MSG in the food here, and I can tell that the food and sauces are freshly made. Overall I have enjoyed what I have had here. If possible, though, go at lunch (the dinner prices are fairly close to Sun Garden, and I think Sun Garden has some very good choices that make it more attractive to me).


RATING: 22

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $$ (Lunch $)
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 8
Best Items: Fragrant Chicken, Szechwan Pork, Hot and Sour Soup

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (brewed)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Fragrant Chicken
star 5 Hunan Pork
star 4 Hunan Chicken
star 4 Szechwan Pork
star 4 Citrus Chicken
star 5 Hot and Sour Soup
star 5 Egg Drop Soup
star 4 Won Ton Soup

Kal Bi House–El Paso, TX

Kal Bi House
5718 Dyer St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 562-0311
Kal Bi House

Kal Bi House


I have two disclosures to make about Kal Bi House. The first is that prior to my visit in 2019, my last visit was in 2004. I made quite a few visits prior to that time, and for a while this was one of the restaurants I visited most frequently. I think the food has not really changed in that time, so my observations then would still be valid now. The facts and opinions written in my previous review will be carried forward to this one, but what will not be included are any statements that would be based on my memory from this time period.

The second disclosure is that despite my many visits, I really have not tried very many items on the menu. I have experimented a little at Han Il, Seoul Restaurant, and Young Vin, but for some reason I have not done as much here. I am writing the review based on what I have tried, but at the same time I may not have given the restaurant much of a chance by only trying a few items. This can be remedied in the future, but right now I think I have not tried enough items at Kal Bi House to give a complete picture of the food or to really give what I consider to be a fair assessment of it. Still, since I have disclosed this fact, I will press on with what I have.

The Brio stop in front of Kal Bi

The Brio stop in front of Kal Bi

Kal Bi House is about to become more accessible to many of the city’s residents. A stop for the Dyer Street Brio transit line has been built directly in front of the restaurant, and I believe this line will begin service sometime soon. Brio has limited stops and offers a shorter travel time from downtown to any of the stops than is experienced on the regular bus lines.

Nearby Kal Bi is the Fort Bliss Army Base, a major magnet for the customer base here. Two other Korean restaurants were also located on this stretch of Dyer, although Young Vin has now moved to Montwood on the east side of the city. The fact that I visited Kal Bi multiple times when there were other Korean restaurants nearby is a testament to what I thought of their food, but I have visited the other Korean restaurants multiple times as well.

Lunch Special
Lunch is a very good time to go to Kal Bi because of the price. The meat portion is smaller than on the dinner plate, but customers still get all of the vegetable side dishes they can eat (I think this is a literal statement because I have found in the past that customers can get refills if they do not have enough of anything).

In the “old days” I used to sometimes get Chinese food which was on the lunch special (I do not believe it is on the dinner menu, though). This was an attempt to eat healthy, although I found out over time that the Chinese food here has MSG (the Korean food does not). For a while I had a vegetarian diet and this made sense, but for the great majority of people I would say to order the Korean food (they have fish and other items if you want to get away from eating meat).

Dinner

Vegetable side dishes served with dinner

Vegetable side dishes served with dinner

Ordering dinner here is almost a guarantee that you will have too much food, but they do let you share (and of course you can take items home, including the vegetables). The vegetables I was served are shown in the photo. The only thing I noticed that was different from about twenty years ago is that they no longer have the small fish which you eat in their entirety (at least I did this). I think what they have now is better, though, and I certainly do not really miss the small fish. There were a couple of vegetable items that I did not eat but generally they were excellent, and I think this is probably the main reason to come to Kal Bi House.

Bul gogi

Bul gogi

On my most recent visit I tried Bul Gogi, which is probably the restaurant’s most popular dish (and is the first one listed on the menu). This is marinated and had a good flavor, but the meat seemed dry. I think the meat is perfectly fine, but just not the best cut (and I am sure this is the reason they marinate it).

My “Old” Reviews
From 2004 and earlier I had several observations which I think would still apply. At that time I said that the bul gogi was better at Young Vin, but that the entire meal was better at Kal Bi because of the total experience with the vegetables. Today Young Vin is on Montwood and is an “Express” restaurant, so I am not sure how the two would compare.

At that time I also said that the barbecue chicken at Young Vin compared to the one here, and that the one at Han Il was better. I mentioned that the chicken at Kal Bi was gristly (I am not sure if this was the case at Young Vin).

I tried the seafood soup at Kal Bi and found it to have a good mixture of noodles, vegetables, and seafood in a slightly spicy red broth, although I only rated it as four out of five stars.

The kimchee at Kal Bi was my favorite out of any restaurant in El Paso, and this is one of the side dishes served with every meal. I also liked the turnips, cucumbers, and fish cakes (these are items I particularly liked on my recent visit as well).

Drinks

Korean iced tea

Korean iced tea

I particularly like the Korean Iced Tea here, and use it as the standard by which I judge the others (although some Korean restaurants do not even have it).

Other Observations
The vegetable side dishes and the Korean iced tea are the main items that draw me to Kal Bi House rather than the other restaurants in town. You get the same side dishes whether you go for lunch or dinner.

The lunch menu lasts until 2:00 p.m. I would advise coming at lunch time, although I think the dinner menu has some items that can be explored for a deeper dive into the world of Korean food. I just have not done very much of this, though, so I cannot give advice about what to order.

Some of the other Korean restaurants either admit to using MSG or I suspect they do based on my reaction to the food. Kal Bi House does not, unless you order the Chinese lunches (which I am not even sure are on the menu any more).

My rating is skewed more toward the main dishes with only a little consideration for the vegetable side dishes. The vegetables are excellent, though, and probably better here than anywhere else.


RATING: 20

Cuisine: Korean
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Mon.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 4, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Vegetable Side Dishes, Seafood Soup, Korean Iced Tea

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Korean Iced Tea
MSG: No (but is in the Chinese food)
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 4 Bul Gogi

A Look Back at the Roadfood 1992 Edition–New Mexico

Roadfood 1992 Edition

Roadfood 1992 Edition

In my quest for nostalgia and information about old restaurants, I came across a goldmine of information from the 1992 edition of Jane & Michael Stern’s book Roadfood, published by HarperPerennial (a division of HarperCollins). One thing I love about this book is that it has its mission statement on the cover, which is to be a “guide to America’s best diners, small-town cafes, BBQ joints, and other very special eateries serving great, inexpensive regional food.”

This is largely the same mission I have for my Restaurant Guide and for many of the reviews published on this site. The Restaurant Guide lists places I find reviewed on the Internet in various cities, many of which meet the criteria set forth by the Sterns. Roadfood only lists a few restaurants per state, but it covers much of the United States (the 1992 edition does not have any listings for Alaska, Hawaii, or Montana). I am also very impressed that the Sterns were able to travel to all of the places listed and personally visit each restaurant mentioned in the book.

Somehow the Sterns got very good intelligence about which restaurants to visit, and this was in the age before the Internet was available. The restaurants included were obviously not picked randomly out of a phone book (one of my methods for finding places to eat in 1992), but there was a specific reason each one was chosen (I imagine they must have eaten in some places that they judged to not be worthy of inclusion in the book). In any case, I judge this book to be a treasure for restaurant historians (is it acceptable for me to invent a new field of academic study which I am sure does not actually exist anywhere?).

NEW MEXICO

There are a couple of reasons I would like to include the New Mexico restaurants in my first blog post about the Sterns’ book. One is that I found this book at the fabulous Coas Books in Las Cruces, a used book store that concentrates on excellence in books as much as the Sterns have done with food. Many of the best additions to my own collection have come from this store (I have always gone to the one at 317 N. Main although they have another location at 1101 S. Solano Dr.).

Also we got word this week that Tecolote Cafe in Santa Fe, one of the restaurants listed in the Sterns’ book, has closed. Now that I have this list I plan to deliberately put many of the ones that are still open on my list of places I would like to visit (some of them are already on the list). One of them, Nellie’s in Las Cruces is where I had lunch right before going to Coas where this book almost magically appeared, with Nellie’s being one of the first restaurants I spotted.

The Sterns list the restaurants alphabetically by state. I am listing all of them here, whether they are still open or not. I will only include a brief summary of the information about each restaurant (there is additional information available from other sources such as the Roadfood web site and later editions of the book).


Abeyta’s Mexican Kitchen–2805 San Mateo NE, Albuquerque.  Chicharrones, carne adovada, and menudo are what made the best impression.

Bien Mur Indian Market–Exit 234 off I-25 (Tramway Rd.), Albuquerque.  Come here for cookies and fry bread.

Chope’s–Rt. 28, La Mesa.  (Not surprisingly) they recommended the chile relleno. Since Dr. Paul Bosland, America’s foremost chili breeder, recommended that they get red enchiladas instead of green, they complied (and were very glad with the result). Note: The Sterns use the spelling “chili” throughout the book.

Don Jose’s Cocina–Route 279, Bibo.  They were surprised this place was even open (with the town’s uranium mine being played out and the area being so isolated). They described eating what was apparently the only thing offered that day (roast beef burritos topped with green chili and an enchilada platter). One fact revealed in the write-up was that the source of many of the Sterns’ tips was Bart Ripp from the Albuquerque Tribune.

Dora’s–401 E. Hall St, Hatch.  Supposedly the owner was trying to change the name because it was named after his ex-wife, but locals kept calling it Dora’s no matter what sign he put in front. What impressed them the most was the chili, red or green (I think they liked the red better). Dora’s had 3 levels of spiciness, and the Sterns said all of them were very good.

Double Rainbow–3416 Central SE, Albuquerque.  They were coming here for the coffee, and eventually tried the food (pastries, Zuni stew, East Indian pot pie, and sourdough bread filled with smoked turkey were all hits).

Duran Central Pharmacy–1815 Central NW, Albuquerque.  Located in a working pharmacy, they recommended both breakfast and lunch here. For lunch they liked the specials of the day (all were New Mexican cuisine). They were quite impressed by the freshly made tortillas.

Frontier–2400 Central SE, Albuquerque.  They recommended the sweet roll served with coffee. What they liked best, though (and said so), was the breakfast burrito with green chili. They also mentioned that the orange juice was freshly squeezed.

The Hacienda–2605 S. Espina, Las Cruces.  They enjoyed the blue corn enchiladas, tacos in blue corn shells, chili colorado, and chili relleno. Sopaipillas were a must with this, “to salve the tongue.”

Josie’s Casa de Comida–225 E. Marcy, Santa Fe.  Josie’s was said to be good for New Mexican cuisine or Southwest (chicken fried steak, etc.), but the real gem here was dessert (a wide variety and all of them were good).

La Tertulia–416 Agua Fria, Santa Fe.  The Sterns said “the food at La Tertulia isn’t as spectacular and hot as it used to be, but it still tastes good.” What they recommended, though, was the carne adovada, which was one of the best examples of it anywhere. This had become a very formal restaurant, by Santa Fe standards, that gave a very pleasant experience even if the meal wasn’t as good as it used to be.

M & J Restaurant–403 2nd St. SW, Albuquerque.  They say the burrito stuffed with carne adovada may be the best version of the dish anywhere, but I think they liked the blue corn enchilada plate equally well. They said it was great fun to watch people come in from the Greyhound station, just down Second Street, and “accidentally” discover some of the best food they have ever experienced.

Nellie’s–1226 W. Hadley, Las Cruces.  They pointed out that the sopaipilla compuesta was sensational, and the chili relleno and the salsa were also quite notable (they gave great compliments to the green chili, but apparently did not try the red). They also complimented the rich and lardy beans. At that time Nellie’s was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

OJ Sarah’s–106 Guadalupe St., Santa Fe.  This was a restaurant that catered to locals, and which really shined for breakfast. They had so many great sounding items it was hard to choose, but the Sterns liked the cottage pancakes best (the batter was made with cottage cheese).

Powdrell’s Barbecue–11309 Central Ave. NE, Albuquerque.  They say the beef is done right, and they like this the best of the items served. The reason they like this out of the three Powdrell’s locations is the setting in the mountains, particularly at sunset.

Rancho de Chimayo–Route 520, Chimayo.  Their top recommendation is the carne adovada, or the sopaipillas rellenos for those who want something a little less spicy. The town is a destination in itself, having a history that goes back to the eleventh century.

Roque’s Carnitas–Corner of Palace and Washington, Santa Fe.  These are served out of a food cart at lunch time, and unlike most carnitas these are made with beef. Apparently you don’t have to choose the chili you want–these come with green.

Stop And Eat Drive In–110 S. Paseo de Onate, Espanola.  This is a true drive in (you eat in your car). They have jumbo burgers (which are not really very jumbo), but it sounds as if the best items are the burritos or the frito pies. The Sterns recommend getting Hawaiian Punch with a frito pie if you want the ultimate Roadfood experience.

Tecolote Cafe–1203 Cerrillos Rd., Santa Fe.  The Sterns state that the real mission of the restaurant is breakfast, and what they liked best were the atole pinon hotcakes. However, there were so many other excellent items on the menu it required many trips through town to try them all. For lunch they liked the carne adovada (excellent here, as they are at many New Mexico restaurants).

Truchas Mountain Cafe–Truchas.  This was a very small place that served traditional New Mexican food, but what they liked best was the stuffed sopaipilla with green chili. They also had interesting desserts that may be rooted in the area’s Indian history.

Woolworth’s–58 E. San Francisco, Santa Fe.  Apparently they take a local favorite, Frito pie, and turn it into an art form. Most people take it outside and eat it on the square. A bag of Fritos is torn open where they pour in red chili with hamburger meat and cheese. You will need a spoon because the Fritos become soft when saturated by the chili.

Some Comments
For some of these eating places I have written the narrative in the present tense as they are in the book. I did not research which places are still open, and whether I write in the past or present tense is not indicative of whether the restaurant is still in business or not.

There are only a very few points over which I disagree with the Sterns about these restaurants. I would say the Sterns are are correct about some major points such as (1) Red chile usually seems to be a better choice than green for items such as enchiladas, (2) Stuffed sopapillas are a better choice than enchiladas at many restaurants–mainly when they really know how to make the stuffed sopapillas the right way, (3) Blue corn enchiladas are usually preferable to ones made with regular tortillas. The Sterns did a very good job of trying different New Mexican items, and identifying which restaurants served the best versions.

I know that some restaurants have changed over time. I think the New Mexican food in Las Cruces was a lot spicier in 1992 than it is now, except at a few restaurants that are very local and do not attract a lot of out of town visitors. The Sterns comment on several restaurants throughout the state that the flavor is just as good if you get the milder version, and I believe that is the case now with Las Cruces restaurants which serve milder chile than in the past (I am now using the correct spelling of “chile” rather than the Stern version, but of course it is still good no matter how you spell it).

When I ate at La Tertulia it must have been when it was still “spectacular and hot,” because I remember it as being some of the best New Mexican food I have ever eaten.

I don’t know how the Sterns missed El Modelo in Albuquerque, which has been around since well before 1992, but for the most part I think they found and described the truly good New Mexican food that existed at the time.