Little Shack (Resler)–El Paso, TX

Little Shack
865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 307-3205
Little Shack on Resler

Little Shack on Resler


Little Shack has several locations around El Paso, and every one lives up to its name of being “little.” The restaurant on Resler has about a dozen to fourteen tables. The original location on Mesa appears to be somewhat larger, although I have not gone inside to see the actual size of the dining room. The problem is that they almost always seem to be full (I think the reason they keep adding more locations is to fulfill the customer demand). The fact that it is always so full is what kept me away for so long, although tables are definitely more easy to come by if you like to eat during the non-peak times.

One time when it is not full is during Happy Hour (3 to 5 pm), and while this is not usually when I want to eat, it has worked out for me to experience a good deal at Little Shack. Also there are usually seats at the bar (a type of seating that is usually uncomfortable for me but it got me in for my initial visit to Little Shack, and I did enjoy the food as well as the conversation with the staff).

Little Shack is a Mexican seafood restaurant, and while I have limited experience with this type of restaurant, it did seem more like my experience in Matamoros than with the inland seafood restaurants I used to frequent in Ciudad Juarez. This is my way of saying that I think the food at Little Shack is the real deal. I think the selection of really fresh seafood here is limited, but what they serve is very good.

My experience at Little Shack has also been somewhat limited, but I can say that I was largely impressed with what they have. So far my meals have been the daily special and the Happy Hour specials, thus I am not sure if I have had the restaurant’s real specialties. If they have things that are even better than what I tried, though, this is a very good restaurant indeed.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

I think the chips here are among my favorites in El Paso, and this is because they are thick the way I usually find in Mexican seafood restaurants. The salsa is also the classic Mexican seafood style, namely pureed but hearty rather than thin and watery. The salsa is not as spicy as many others, but in flavor it can hold its own with any of them.

Happy Hour Specials

Adobada and fish tacos

Adobada taco, fish tacos

First I should note that the food served in Happy Hour (3 to 5 pm) is also on the regular menu, but it is just at a better price during these hours. I figured I could not go wrong with trying the Fish Tacos, and it turned out that they were even better than I expected. Somehow they get very fresh fish to this inland location, so the question then becomes merely what toppings you want to put on them. They bring two types of sauce, and if you want a fresh avocado it costs twenty-five cents extra (a real bargain). The sauce I liked best was the cilantro sauce, but customers can try both of them (the other sauce is chipotle).

The Adobada Taco was also very good, but this type of taco is one where similar styles can be found at other restaurants.

The Happy Hour special comes with three tacos of your choice, so you can mix or match.

Daily Specials

Aguachiles

Aguachiles

This was my first time trying Aguachiles, so I do not have a comparison of them with any other restaurants. As I understand it this is boiled shrimp with an extremely spicy red chile (you can get green if you prefer). The red onion and cucumber that come with it do not do much to quench the heat of the red chile in your mouth. It is served with crackers and lime. The spice level on this was to the point that I actually thought I would not want to order it again, although the flavor was very good (and I also might want to try it with green chile). I am not averse to extremely spicy food, but in this case I just had a little difficulty eating it.

The aguachiles was a Wednesday special, and the restaurant is good about having daily specials that I think people would actually want to order.

Drinks
I tried the fresh lemonade but it was the carbonated version and it did little to quench my mouth of the hot chile from the aguachiles. The iced tea here is good and I think will be my drink of choice.

Additional Comments
The main issue here seems to be finding a time to go when a table is available. I have passed by the restaurant many times going to other restaurants in the same shopping center and observed that it is really impossible to find empty tables at certain times such as Friday evening. The good thing about happy hour, of course, is that they do have an availability of tables in addition to the good deals you get on the food.

The fish tacos are extremely good quality, and go a long way in convincing me that you can get good seafood in El Paso. The aguachiles was very good quality as well, but just spicier than I prefer.


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Mexican Seafood
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, wine

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 26, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Fish Tacos, Adobada Tacos, Chips, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Fish Taco
star 5 Adobada Taco
star 5 Aguachiles
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

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

Zino’s–El Paso, TX

Zino’s Greek & Mediterranean Cuisine
7040 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-8166
Zino's on Mesa St.

Zino’s on Mesa St.


I have lived in both Oklahoma City and El Paso, and based on years of experience my stereotype of El Paso is that you cannot find really good American food, barbecue, Latin American cuisine other than Mexican, European food, or Middle Eastern food (there is an equally valid stereotype that you cannot find really good Mexican food in Oklahoma). Of course this is not true in all cases, but if I am to believe otherwise I need to go back to my earlier roots in the Show Me State where I have to taste it to believe it.

Thus when I say Zino’s is as good as the Mediterranean food in Oklahoma, this is about the highest compliment I can give to it. I currently have very limited experience with Zino’s, but the flavor and quality are definitely there to know that this restaurant is not like the many others I have tried (I should also mention that the now closed Mediterranean Restaurant on Mesa near UTEP was also this same type of quality, and for some dishes other restaurants in El Paso are at this level).

Not actually having been to Greece, however, I can only say that Zino’s seems to be the real deal based on what I have tasted in other cities. I know that on-line reviews rave about the gyros (and my friends also like it). I saw items on the menu such as moussaka and chicken souvlaki that reinforced my idea that Zino’s is making a genuine effort to serve authentic Greek dishes, and combined with what I tasted, this gives me great confidence in the restaurant.

Daily Specials

Lemon chicken

Lemon chicken

In the case of Zino’s a daily special is something that is not on the regular menu. The one I tried also had a lower price than many of the menu items, so this is what I call a no lose situation. The Lemon Chicken was a Thursday special, but I do not have a list of all of their specials and I do not know if they are changed from time to time.

The chicken was a small piece, and was the kind that had a better flavor than the giant pieces of chicken served in many restaurants. I think it was a breast but I do not remember, and to me it does not matter if it is white or dark meat as long as it is of high quality.

The flavoring was lemon, as they advertised, and actually it is an adaptation of rosemary chicken which was printed on my check (and I think is another one of their daily specials).

What I found out about the specials is that they do not serve a huge quantity, the food is very good, and the price is good. Other than the sandwiches and daily specials, the food mostly comes in large servings at higher prices, and I think is really meant to be served in the evening when people expect larger portion sizes.

Salads
The Lunch Salad was notable for being small but loaded with lots of good stuff (as I would describe it in technical food review terms). If the salad had not been as good as the other parts of the meal (meat, pita, rice, tzatziki sauce) I would not give this restaurant as high of an endorsement as I am doing.

The menu lists three types of salad including tabouli. According to the photos on the menu, most of the dinner plates do not come with a salad (but perhaps there is a separate salad as there is with the lunch specials).

Summing It Up
So far I really cannot say what are the best dishes, etc. except to say that I liked everything I tried. The sauce, pita, etc. were at the same level of quality as the main dish.

Definitely come at lunch if you can to try the daily specials. They seem to be smaller than the entrees on the menu, but they are less expensive and the quality seems to be just as good. (I do not know if the specials are available in the evening).

There is another location at 6590 Montana Ave. in El Paso (on the east side).

I do not really see the “Mediterranean” aspect of the menu except perhaps with the lamb osso buco and some soups which also seem to be Italian. The good news, though, is that they have a very extensive menu of Greek items. I think they do not serve alcohol and you would not be able to get Retsina here (for me that would not really take away from the experience).


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Greek & Mediterranean
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 20, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Lemon Chicken

 

Salad

Special Ratings
star 5 Lemon Chicken
star 5 Salad
star 5 Pita

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

Amigos–El Paso, TX

Amigos Restaurant
2000 Montana Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 533-0155
Amigos Restaurant

Amigos Restaurant


For years the “amigos” worked at La Hacienda restaurant until they opened their own place on Montana Avenue with the partnership of Mr. “Hooky” Apodaca who is the restaurant’s owner. The amigos were always into cooking and customer service, where they helped Alfonso Lopez Galindo and his wife Enriqueta (the long time owners of La Hacienda) build and maintain La Hacienda as one of El Paso’s most well known and beloved institutions. Located on the banks of the Rio Grande, La Hacienda was once known as Hart’s Mill which was an operating business as well as one of El Paso’s earliest homes. I believe the building is the city’s oldest home which is still standing (it has been vacant, though, since La Hacienda closed). When Mr. Lopez bought the building in 1939 in anticipation of opening La Hacienda he did extensive restoration to the building, otherwise it would likely not be standing today.

After Mr. and Mrs. Lopez passed away La Hacienda had a series of new owners, and when one of them changed the food the employees left the restaurant en masse. I think what was unusual, though, was the respect they had for La Hacienda’s food and way of doing things to the point that they wanted to continue on in a new restaurant. This was the genesis of Amigos Restaurant, where a group of the La Hacienda employees came together, bringing the food from La Hacienda with them

To me, La Hacienda was the city’s showcase restaurant featuring old world style service and waiters who did it for a career, getting to know customers individually and treating them as old friends. The unique thing about La Hacienda, though, was that it was not an upscale restaurant in the food or the prices. Customers did get upscale service, though, in a very unique and historical setting.

Today at Amigos you still get the same attentive service by professional waiters that is becoming a lost art. The food is mostly the same as at La Hacienda, or at least I can say that some of the same cooks are still here. When Amigos opened it had the same lunch specials that were at La Hacienda, but these have now been discontinued. The recipes of the items are the same, but while La Hacienda was mostly known as a place for lunch, Amigos serves everything from a dinner menu with larger portion sizes.

I have heard a story that the recipes at Amigos originated from the owner’s mother, who came from New Mexico. When she came to El Paso she thought most of the restaurants were not spicy enough, thus she served chile at the same spice level as is common in the Land of Enchantment. I think this story actually applies to La Hacienda rather than Amigos, and it would have been the mother of Mrs. Lopez who inspired the spicy recipes. In any case, you will get New Mexico chile levels with the Mexican plate or any other dinners that have items with red chile (I am not sure how spicy the green chile is).

Amigo's dining room

View from the front dining room looking into the bar and rear dining room area

Amigos is in an old house that has a large dining room in front and several small ones in the rear (along with the bar). There is a parking lot on the east side of the building, and also parking at the west side on Eucalyptus Street. A Brio station is located in front of the restaurant in anticipation of the Montana line’s inauguration.

The “Old” Amigos Restaurant
I started coming to Amigos in 2007 shortly after La Hacienda closed, and I think it was well known even at the time that this was the old La Hacienda food in a new location. I had some of the lunch specials that were like the ones at La Hacienda, but unfortunately I do not have any photos of them. I remember that on one of the days of the week the special was spaghetti (the intent of La Hacienda and Amigos was not to maintain the authenticity of its Mexican food but to provide dishes that were popular with customers).

Home made soup and a fresh salad begin the full course lunch special, although portions were relatively small. Rolls used to come from La Ideal Bakery, a few blocks away, and were so good I almost wanted to fill up on them instead of the chips. Amigos’ salsa is so good, though, that I ended up eating a substantial portion of chips as well. La Ideal later closed, and this may be one reason the lunch specials were discontinued.

La Hacienda used to serve a small dessert and I believe Amigos followed the same practice, although this does not stand out in my mind the way the soup, salad, and bread do.

The "old" combination dinner

Combination dinner from the “old” Amigos

I do have some photos from the dinner menu of the “old” Amigos, though. The combination dinner which I ordered at the time is still available, and is called the Deluxe Mexican Plate. All the food looks exactly the same as the times I have ordered it recently.

The "old" Amigos salad

Salad from the “old” Amigos

The salad at the “old” Amigos was larger than the one now, and was served with the dinner combination plate. They used to have a smaller salad with the lunches, but now the small salad is served with the dinner plates (it is packed with goodness, though, and I do not think it is a big deal that the salads are now smaller).

Chips with two kinds of salsa

Chips and salsa from the “old” Amigos

Amigos used to serve two types of salsa, but now only has a red salsa.

Deluxe Mexican Plate

Deluxe Mexican plate

Deluxe Mexican plate

Although the photo is from a different angle, this is the same plate as the one from the “old” Amigos shown in the previous photo. It has an enchilada, chile relleno, taco, rice, and beans (and comes with a salad).

The Red Enchiladas were somewhat of disappointment to me at the old La Hacienda, with the chile being spicier than I thought was the norm even in New Mexico. They have been equally spicy at Amigos, but they seem more flavorful. I think the enchiladas have actually remained constant through the years, but my perception of them has changed since I have become more accustomed to the spicy food of the desert Southwest. I do not remember how the green chile tastes– I have only the red recently.

Amigos has a rather unusual Spanish sauce topping for the Chile Relleno that is made with celery and cinnamon. This is non-spicy with a sweet flavor (although the chile itself is medium spicy). Like the enchilada this was not one of my favorite dishes at La Hacienda, but it has been excellent when I have tried it at Amigos. I think my problem with it in the past was its greasiness, but I do not find that to be the case at present. In general I say that the food is the same at Amigos as it was at La Hacienda, but actually it has proved to me to be even better.

The Beef Taco seems more El Paso style to me than New Mexican, using a potato filler that I first experienced at Ben’s Tacos in South El Paso. I think the ones at Amigos are better than any of the other similar tacos I have had recently, though.

Some Pre-2010 Notes
I think all of the items mentioned here are still on the menu and still prepared the same way, but I am giving the disclaimer than I tried them in 2010 or earlier and do not have a recent experience with them.

The Chicken Tampiqueña was an example of a dish that is well beyond the normal quality found in Mexican restaurants. Served on a chicken breast, the green chile strips were not only spicier than the ones normally found, but fresher and more flavorful. A whole peeled avocado garnished the top, but unlike the ones in most restaurants, it was ripe without being beyond its prime. The red enchilada served on the side served as a perfect complement, and the whole pinto beans are very enjoyable. This was a meal I liked to eat slowly to enjoy every bite– it was an example of the type of food that used to be more common in El Paso that delivered quality rather than a huge quantity of substandard food.

The Pescado al Mojo de Ajo was a classic presentation of this type of fish fillet topped with garlic. The cod used in the fillet was better than the fish found at many restaurants that specialize in Mexican seafood, and I would not hesitate to recommend the one at Amigos. The one here did not come with mashed or baked potatoes on the side as is traditional, but it is not such a bad thing to have less starch in the meal.

The Chicken Taco was also very good, with fresh and good quality meat topped with white cheese and ripe tomatoes.

Specials (pre-2010)
For a while the restaurant was offering “seasonal specials” with dishes from the interior of Mexico. These have now been discontinued because not enough people ordered them, giving great insight as to why El Paso does not have many choices other than the standard border dishes. I have to give the chef credit, though, for not giving up in trying to serve good food but in maintaining a very high quality for the regular menu.

Amigos may have had the best Tortilla Soup in town, but unfortunately it was almost never served. I was told they only made it “once every two weeks.” This was part of a rotation of specials that were being served, but which I think have now been discontinued.

More Recent Experiences

Tostada compuesta

Tostada compuesta

The Tostada Compuesta is an example of an item that is not spicy at all, and which shows the variety that can be found in Mexican food. I added some salsa from the table, but this is just me. Customers have their choice of toppings on the tostada but the standards are beef and chicken. I tried both of these, and found the chicken to be more flavorful (with good spices). The beef is deshebrada (shredded) with good meat but it did not have a lot of spices or flavoring added. You can get other toppings such as beans, but none of them are spicy unless you add your own salsa.

Chile con queso steak

Chile con queso steak

The Chile Con Queso Steak is one of the more expensive items, and is supposed to be one you order when you want to splurge. It is made with a cube steak which I found to be a little tough, so this was disappointing. The chile con queso was good, but not exciting enough to really enjoy the dish as the special treat that I thought it would be.

Lent Specials

Lent special lentil soup

Lentil soup served as part of the Lent special

In 2019 I made it to Amigos for their Lent special, which started out with an excellent tasting Lentil Soup (unlike some restaurants, this one was vegetarian).

Lent special

Breaded fish on the Lent special

For the main dish they had Breaded Tilapia, with no other choices. No others were needed, though, because I considered this to be the best Lent Special of the year out of the ones I tried at various restaurants. I have been complaining about the fish at various restaurants not being as good as it should, but the fish at Amigos shows me that higher quality is possible in a desert city. Breaded fish is available on Amigo’s menu all the time (either tilapia or cod), but the side dishes are different for the Lent meal.

Although the breading was excellent, I do not think this accounted for the better taste of the fish that I experienced. El Paso is not Galveston, and I know the fish here is not the freshest that you can get. Amigos seems to find the best that is available, though.

The restaurant said that they had run out of the Capirotada dessert that I usually enjoy with a Lent meal, but I told them I wanted to order the meal anyway (and I am glad I did).

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa may not be my absolute favorite in El Paso, but they are close. Amigos is not afraid to make certain dishes “New Mexico spicy,” and the salsa is no exception.

Additional Notes
Amigos is casual but comfortable, giving the kind of service that is seldom delivered in El Paso. Lunch is usually very busy, but at dinner they seem to make a special effort to create a place where you can relax.

Amigos is nicely decorated, quiet, with tasteful music, and with professional waiters that I think are more appreciated when you have more time for a leisurely meal.

Everything is quite clean– this and the service would probably bring me back even if the food wasn’t as good as it is.

Prices are moderate– not the cheapest in El Paso nor the most expensive. It does seem more expensive now, though, because they no longer have lunch specials. I know, though, that on the tostada plate you can order one tostada instead of two, and I believe that other plates can be made similarly less expensive by deleting certain items.

Most items are not extremely spicy, but the red enchiladas or the Mexican plate (with a red enchilada) would be five out of five on the chile scale.

The posted closing time is 8:00 p.m. (3:00 on Mondays), but this is one of the few restaurants in El Paso that will stay open later if there is a lot of business (usually on weekends), and will not make you feel that you are being rushed if you go late.

I have heard from a friend that the Carne Adovada is the best dish at the restaurant, but I have not yet been able to try it. This is one of several large dishes that seem to exceed my appetite, but which many say are the best dishes (steaks, carne adovada, etc.).

Gumball machine

Even the gumball machine is your amigo

Many of the dishes here from south of the border, and I think locals like it because it is authentic. The red enchiladas were purposely made with New Mexico style chile, but I do not know of other items that would be considered New Mexican. Mr. Lopez, one of the original owners of La Hacienda, came from Jalisco and may have brought some recipes from there as well. I think I would classify Amigos mostly as Chihuahua style food, but certain dishes seem to be from different areas.

Some dishes here have not been a big hit with me, but overall I definitely think it is one of the best Mexican restaurants in El Paso. It is “almost” like the old La Hacienda, and what has been changed seems to be for the better.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Mon. Evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, drinks

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Tampiqueña, Red Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Breaded Tilapia, Salad, Salsa, Tortilla Soup (if they still have it)

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Beef Taco
star 5 Chicken Taco
star 5 Breaded Tilapia
star 5 Pescado al Mojo de Ajo
star 5 Chicken Tostada
star 4 Beef Tostada
star 4 Chile con Queso Steak
star 5 Salad
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa