Greenery–El Paso, TX

Greenery Restaurant
750 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-6706
Greenery in Sunland Park Mall

Greenery in Sunland Park Mall


Greenery Restaurant has evolved over the years from a snack bar/ restaurant in the old Popular Department Store to one of the most upscale restaurants in El Paso. Still located in Sunland Park Mall, it is now occupies a large enough space to offer meals for shoppers as well as others who come to the Mall just to eat.

Mall entrance to Greenery

The mall entrance to Greenery from the parking lot next to Sunland Park Drive

Greenery is a  “New American” restaurant with mostly American items on the menu (but also a number of Italian, Mexican, and Southwest style dishes). I think there is also a trend at the restaurant that the American items do not have a traditional American flavor. For instance, the meat loaf is made with green chile. The chicken pot pie not only has green chile added, but the traditional chicken broth has been replaced by a more Italian tasting gravy.

Previously there was a market next door that sold made from scratch baked goods, gourmet European meats and cheeses, and other items. The market was closed several years ago, but some of these items are still for sale behind the cash register at the restaurant. I think many of the items that used to be sold in the market are still used in the restaurant’s recipes.

Some of the entrées are on the pricey side, but a large number of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and similar items can provide a lighter meal for a reasonable cost. The prices have creeped up lately along with most other restaurants in town, but it is still mostly a good deal for the money and for the quality involved.

The vegetarian menu is small, but most items are so flavorful and substantial that they would be satisfying even to a carnivore. The Wood Fired Pizza is one of my favorite items, and comes with several choices of meat and vegetarian toppings. To me the vegetable pizza is quite good.

Sandwiches

Eggplant panini

Eggplant panini is one of several types available

The Eggplant Panini is flavorful, and the ingredients are so fresh it is more like a west coast restaurant than the typical desert Southwest establishment. I do not generally care much for eggplant, but the one served here is pretty good. I also like the goat cheese used instead of the typical sliced cheese that is found on most sandwiches. The biggest disappointment, though, is the fact that artichokes are not served on the panini as they used to be at the now closed Kern Place Market (this was the panini by which I measure all others). The fresh bread and vegetables are quite good, but I would just prefer it with a different selection of vegetables.

Other sandwiches, such as the Southwestern Tuna Sandwich, are good as well. Although the vegetarian selection is limited, there is quite a range of meat options.

Entrées

Chicken pot pie

Chicken pot pie

I have recently begun trying the larger plates here, mainly because I heard that some of them had green chile. The Chicken Pot Pie is one of the items with green chile, but there are some other non-traditional features about it as well. While the traditional pot pie is made with chicken broth, this one has a large number of vegetables inside that make up a large part of the “filler,” and the seasoning tastes very Italian to me. It is not spicy as I would expect with most green chile dishes, but it does have a mild chile flavor that definitely lets you know you are eating green chile. I like the flavor of it, but I also wish they had a traditional pot pie because most of the restaurants that serve it this way do not use the quality ingredients I find at Greenery (and I would like good choices for both of these two styles).

Green chile meat loaf

Green chile meat loaf

I also tried the Green Chile Meat Loaf, and had the same reaction to it. While I liked it, I wish they also had a traditional version because it seems that the restaurants which do it are not using the quality ingredients that I find at Greenery. I did like the bed of mashed potatoes underneath which gave the plate more substance as well as good flavor.

Mexican Food
Greenery has made Mexican food one of its specialties, and while almost every restaurant in the city serves Mexican food in some form each one does it a certain way. At Greenery it seems to be the upscale style found in Ciudad Juarez at hotels or stores such as Sanborn’s where you can go shopping and then eat in their coffee shop styled restaurant. I asked enough questions at Greenery to find out that their chefs are from Ciudad Juarez (at least the ones who cook the Mexican food). They take pride in preparing authentic Mexican food that I call “gourmet,” but it is actually the traditional dishes (such as enchiladas) that are cooked in a gourmet fashion rather than being a high-end restaurant serving steaks, etc.

Red cheese enchiladas

Red cheese enchiladas

It seems that in El Paso I cannot get enough Red Enchiladas, and I really enjoyed the ones here. They did seem to be authentic, but authentic ones that I remember from upscale Ciudad Juarez restaurants such as Julio’s rather than the “street food” style which also exists. These have a deep red colored chile and a mixture of white and yellow cheese (and most of the cheese was on top where it gets melted properly). Like most authentic border style enchiladas the spice level gets close to that of New Mexico chile but it stops short of being what I would really call spicy.

The sauce had an earthy or “crude” flavor (in Spanish I think of the term crudo as meaning very strong and getting the raw elements such as the straight red chile without the finesse of mixing it with a lot of spices, etc. to tone it down). In any case, if you like red chile I think you will like the enchiladas here. I am thinking that perhaps what I associate as being “crude” is actually the taste of cumin, which the staff told me that the red chile contains. I do not know if this was an informed statement and that it actually contains cumin, but I will say that while these are not my favorite enchiladas anywhere, I did like them and they did remind me of the ones served in the upscale restaurants in Mexico. They were spicier than many of the enchiladas in Mexico, though, and were definitely border style in this regard.

I also noticed the toasted tostada chips stuck into the refried beans that reminded me of the ones at Leo’s or Avila’s where the enchiladas are baked. I think the ones here were baked as well, but the only thing I can really attest to is that they came out at a good temperature.

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup

If you get a chance to try the Tortilla Soup, it is excellent (it is currently served on Tuesdays as the soup of the day). Although I think they go overboard on the chicken, it is quite fresh and flavorful, and it is superior to many places in which the tortilla soup is supposed to be a signature dish.

Other ingredients used in the tortilla soup include a noticeable amount of green chile and celery (which do give a flavor offset to the large amount of chicken they use). The tortillas are crispy and not oily.

The broth is spicy and the flavor is very strong (this is perhaps what I think is the weakest part of the soup, although it does seem to be very authentic Mexican style). I got the cup of soup but they do serve it in a bowl (perhaps it would be enough for a meal but I prefer the cup along with an entrée such as the enchiladas).

Other Comments
It seems that Greenery has been in El Paso for about as long as I have, and as long as Sunland Park Mall has existed (I think this is now far enough back that the El Paso History Radio Program could do an episode on the malls). I used to enjoy Greenery because it was somewhat of a novelty in a town that did not have a lot of upscale choices. Later it fell off my radar, and recently I have wanted to experiment with items on the menu I have not tried before. Most of the time the food is not quite what I expected it to be, but I am often pleasantly surprised.

What I have to deal with here, though, is the fact that it is “New American” (it is largely Southwest style, but so much of the food has an Italian flavor that I think New American is a better term). The chicken pot pie is not the traditional style, although the combination of the very good ingredients here and the fact that it seems much more healthy than the way others serve it are enough to make me a fan (and of course it helps that it has green chile).

However, traditional American food seems to be what is missing here, and with items on the menu such as chicken pot pie and meat loaf, this may be a little misleading to some. The only problem with the way they do the food is that it is competing with many other restaurants that do the same thing. With this much competition, I can say that the quality at Greenery is always very impressive, but the flavors have been hit or miss with me, and is the reason I sometimes prefer other restaurants.

I think the Mexican food here is slightly better than what I have tried on the American side, but both are very good and I am perhaps struck more by the high quality ingredients than the actual flavor of the food.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: New American
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. Evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 24, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Pizza, Red Enchiladas, Tortilla Soup, Chicken Pot Pie

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Pizza
star 5 Chicken Pot Pie
star 5 Green Chile Meat Loaf
star 4 Eggplant Panini
star 4 Southwestern Tuna Sandwich
star 5 Cole Slaw
star 5 Tortilla Soup
star 5 Red Cheese Enchiladas

La Malinche–El Paso, TX

La Malinche Mexican Food
3910 Doniphan Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 833-7941
La Malinche in west El Paso

La Malinche in west El Paso\


La Malinche is one of El Paso’s “classic” restaurants, having been in operation for as long as I can remember and probably many years before that. There are three restaurants in the city, this one is on the west side at Doniphan and Sunland Park (just a couple of blocks west of La Malinche is the State Line Restaurant which straddles the Texas-New Mexico border). My older reviews state that the food does not vary much between the different locations, but that I liked the west side restaurant because it had a larger dining room that I found more comfortable than the others. Now I honestly do not remember the food at the other restaurants, but I have enough confidence in my earlier memories to say that it is about the same at all three restaurants.

In my early reviews I stated that La Malinche has a homey atmosphere and food that tastes as if someone made it in their own home. Now that I have other resources to consult such as Yelp I find that many other people are making this same type of comment about the home made food. I would say that by definition this is probably simple food–nothing too fancy or that is meant to dazzle people with their innovative recipes. Instead it is more simple food that stands the test of time.

Over the years I have tried a number of items here, but by the time I published the first review my go-to items were narrowed down to red enchiladas, chile rellenos, and entomatadas. I usually went for the entomatadas because I could not find any others in town that were as good. I also really liked the horchata, although these days it is not on my diet very much because of the calories and sugar content.

One thing I do remember vividly from earlier visits was that although they had an 8:00 p.m. closing time, I tried several times to go around 7:30 or so and either it was OK or else they would say they were closed (when there were very few other customers). On a recent visit on a Sunday they ran out of caldo very early (before noon), yet this is what I saw some of the employees eat after the noon rush was over. Over the years I would say that customer service has never been the restaurant’s strong suit, although on the flip side I have had very good service from the wait staff.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Just about every restaurant in town serves good chips and salsa, so it is hard to make note of their differences and to really say which ones are best. I have a habit of taking leftover Salsa home, though, and it is there that I noticed how distinctly fresh and flavorful this one was compared to others. In my recent memory this one is really at the top of my salsa list. Earlier I had also noted that it was jalapeño based rather than puréed, and was spicy as a result of the chiles that were used. I think it is always a good thing for salsa to be genuinely spicy as long as it is not this way because it is full of seeds (and the one at La Malinche does not have a noticeable amount of seeds).

The Chips are good. I used to think they were overly salty but I did not notice this on a recent visit.

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red Enchiladas were one of my favorite items in the past, and although I have not tried them recently I was able to get a photo when my friend ordered them. I said in the previous review that they have a “strong chile flavor” and my friend said they were quite good.

Entomatadas

Entomatadas

Entomatadas have been my favorite item at La Malinche for a number of years. Nobody else seems to do them as well as here, or at least no one that I have found. These are made the same way as enchiladas but instead of chile sauce they use a tomato sauce. I think the actual sauce is much more complicated than just saying it is made with tomato (the same way enchilada sauce contains a mixture of herbs and spices). The cheese is also excellent, and is also a key factor (but the sauce is also special in its own right).

The entomatadas have a Spanish sauce which is not spicy, but the flavor is quite complex the same way I find with good enchiladas. It comes with some green peppers which give it a little bit of a kick, and I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Other Items
In the past I thought the Chile Relleno was excellent, but I have not tried it recently. It has the same Spanish sauce they use on the entomatadas, but the chile itself is spicy, making this fall into the category of spicy Mexican food. I have found the Spanish sauce to be the classic way to make El Paso styled chile rellenos, and based on this I would say to try the ones at La Malinche because they really do have the best Spanish sauce I have tried.

Tacos contain potato mixed with ground beef. This is a popular local style, and the potatoes are a way to make the tacos more affordable, but this is not my favorite version of the beef taco.

It is somewhat annoying that they will not make substitutions on the combination plates, but this is balanced by the fact that prices are very cheap. It may be worthwhile ordering more than you think you can eat in order to get all the items you might like to sample.

When I saw the breakfast menu it looked like a little less of a bargain than the lunch and dinner menus, thus I have not tried it. Many reviewers on Yelp, though, seem to enjoy the breakfast as much as I do with the entomatadas, so it may be well worth paying a little more if you have to.

Drinks

Horchata with chips and salsa

Horchata with chips and salsa

Horchata is excellent, and like everything here is made the classic Mexican way (in the Chihuahua border style).

An Overview
For a while La Malinche had five locations throughout the city, and now they are down to three. This is still a lot for a restaurant which is competing against numerous others which are serving the same type of food. Most importantly, though, the reviews say the same thing I have thought in the past–all of La Malinche’s locations have good food.

Like most Mexican restaurants, though, there are certain items that stand out and seem to make it worthy of a special trip. For me this has been the entomatadas, and I still find them to be the best I have ever had. The sauce is excellent, but the cheese also plays a large part.

A very popular time of day here seems to be breakfast, but it is not what I would call a breakfast restaurant–the lunch and dinner menu is extensive and is popular as well. Some items sell out quickly, so this is another reason to go early if you can. The food quality is still good at night, but past 7:30 they seem to be subject to closing early if they do not have a lot of customers.


RATING: 23

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

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 22, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Entomatadas, Red Enchiladas, Chiles Rellenos, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Entomatadas
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Enchiladas Suizas
star 4 Tacos
star 5 Horchata
star 5 Salsa

Little Diner–Canutillo, TX

Little Diner
7209 7th St.
Canutillo, TX
(915) 877-2176
Little Diner in Canutillo

Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner


Finding this restaurant is half the adventure. Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner, otherwise known as “Little Diner” is located in Canutillo, just northwest of El Paso, off I-10 at the Trans-Mountain exit. Eastbound traffic on I-10 would want to take the Vinton Exit and follow the frontage road to Vinton Avenue.

Order at the counter

Orders are placed at the counter, or you can get them to go

There is good reason for the name “Little,” with a few booths and tables that at times can barely hold the crowd of customers that are here to enjoy the downscale, but very enjoyable Mexican cuisine. The crowd has become much larger in recent years due to word-of-mouth and magazine articles in publications such as Texas Monthly, extolling the delights of the “roadfood” served here. You will see much of this publicity exhibited on the walls, as well as the fact that George W. Bush has been a visitor.

Little Diner's awards

Some of Little Diner’s reviews and awards

I think many of the articles published about Little Diner are inaccurate, though. It has recently experienced a change in ownership, and the staff told me they have changed the concept of the restaurant somewhat. Recognizing that many of the customers are now tourists, they have downgraded the chile spice level from almost off the charts to a more tolerable (and I think more appropriate) level. Some of the food has changed, and I will get into details in the review. Overall I do not think it is any better or worse than before, but I think they are making a conscious attempt to make it more consistent (I think this is a good thing, but I will find out on subsequent visits).

The food at Little Diner is sort of a cross between “El Paso” and “New Mexico” style cooking, with the “New Mexico” part meaning the use of unadulterated chiles that can either be hot or extra hot, depending on the time of year and the particular crop of chiles used. El Paso style Mexican food comes through in the beans, rice, tamales, and I would say most of the items served. They also follow the El Paso tradition of cooking special tamales just before Christmas (these are the ones I like to order for myself when I get the chance).

Gorditas

Little Diner's gordita

Gordita with a hard corn masa shell

Little Diner is most famous for its Gorditas, a large shell of corn masa stuffed with ground beef or other fillings. The shell here is thicker than most places, and I would say is more flavorful. One good feature is that you can order several different fillings, but the most popular is ground beef.

Ground beef gordita

Ground beef gordita

The Ground Beef is flavored with a spice that reminds me a little bit of Durkee’s.  I have come to really appreciate the flavor, especially compared to the ground beef other restaurants have to offer. As much as I like avocado, I would say that version is the one that does not really bring out the best flavor of the gordita. Little Diner provides a small cup of red salsa that I also recommend to enhance the flavor.

The gordita went through a phase where I found the shell to be exceptionally hard and crispy, but on several recent visits I have found it to be back to the same quality it had with the old ownership, and at this point it is back to being my favorite item at the restaurant.

Green Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Green Enchiladas are one of the items I have come to appreciate most over the years, not because they are the best I have ever eaten but because they are unique in El Paso. Based largely on the style of enchiladas served in New Mexico, they provide a “chile fix” that is conveniently located for El Paso residents. I would compare Little Diner’s enchiladas to many served in Las Cruces, although Little Diner does not have the extreme spice level found in some of the New Mexico restaurants. The enchiladas are served flat, with the chile sauce overflowing onto the plate and the large chunks of green chile mixed with cheese on top. The traditional yellow cheese is used, I think largely as the most effective means to help cool down your mouth from the spicy chiles (the refried beans do a good job also). Personally I like to order the enchiladas without onions– I think they are too strong. The green enchiladas are probably the spiciest item you can get at Little Diner but they are less so than people would have found if there were here under the old ownership. For flavor I prefer the green enchiladas here over the red.

If you get a green enchilada a la carte or on a combination plate it will be rolled instead of flat, but this is one of the few instances where I think the flavor is just as good either way.

Red Enchiladas

Combination dinner

Combination dinner with tamal, red enchilada, rice, gordita, taco, and beans

The Red Enchiladas are also good, but to me they have a very “earthy” taste almost as if they simply grind up the chile pods with no other ingredients to offset the flavor (my description is extreme, but I am trying to describe how it differs from many others). You do get local flavors with the red enchiladas, but for me the flavor is not quite as good as with the green enchiladas.

Chiles Rellenos

Chile relleno with a gordita

Chile relleno with a gordita, salad, beans, and rice

The Chiles Rellenos are served without sauce on top– you are left to discern the flavors of the chile, the Muenster cheese melted inside, and the egg batter. These are the closest you can get in El Paso to the style of rellenos served at Chope’s in La Mesa, a few miles north in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley. This is an instance where the “new” food has not really changed from the old one, and the chile relleno continues to be excellent as it was before.

Refried Beans
The Refried Beans are made with lard, and they are very good as long as you do not allow them to get cold. I almost always prefer the Rice that seems to be flavored with a number of ingredients (but in the past was occasionally subject to being dry and overcooked).

Tamales
Tamales are one of the standout items (green chile with chicken and cheese is my favorite). These, along with the red chile and pork variety, can be ordered individually in the restaurant or by the dozen in to-go orders. At Christmas the popularity of Little Diner’s tamales becomes apparent when the kitchen goes into full gear, and you have to call for an order ahead of time in order to get a dozen or more to take home. The Christmas tamales are actually the same ones served throughout the year, except that two varieties are added: vegetarian with green chile and sweet tamales made with raisins (these are also vegetarian). I think there is a reason the tamales at Little Diner are so popular– they are just a lot better than I find at most other places.

Chips and Salsa
Chips cost extra, and come in a rather large order. These are not the best chips I have ever eaten, but the salsa is excellent and it is good to have something to eat with it.

Additional Comments
Like most Mexican restaurants, Little Diner has its specialties, and some items that are better than others. Overall, though, this is a very unique “diner” experience–serving that down-home style that lets you know the food is made to appeal to the local population (which is still the major clientele despite the tourists who visit).

The chile here is no longer so spicy that I think it would be hard for many people to eat (although if you are totally averse to high spice levels the green enchiladas should be avoided and possibly the red).

The restaurant is willing to make substitutions for at least one of the items on combination plates, so this is a very good way to try several items and probably get all of the ones you really want.

View outside from the window

View of the Franklin Mountains from the Little Diner

With GPS widely available I do not think I need to provide directions, although the restaurant is off the beaten path and located in the middle of a neighborhood (actually it is mostly desert with a few houses scattered about).

If you saw the segment about Little Diner on Texas Country Reporter, this was shot when it had its original owners and showed the process involved in making the gorditas. After the change in ownership I thought the gorditas were no longer like the ones shown in the video, but recent visits have convinced me that they are back to their former glory.

The green enchiladas and chiles rellenos are also items that I consider to be among the best in El Paso, and in the case of the chile relleno it is one of the best I have found anywhere. Tamales are also a very good choice here.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Wed.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 17, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Gorditas, Chile Relleno, Green Enchiladas Tamales, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile

Index:

chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable (but beans are cooked with lard)

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Gorditas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Tamales
star 5 Chiles Rellenos
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Salsa

Charcoaler–El Paso, TX

Charcoaler Drive-In
5837 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 581-0660
Charcoaler's new indoor dining room

Charcoaler’s new indoor dining room


Charcoaler Drive-In has a long history in El Paso, and originally had locations on Montana as well as the present location on Mesa. It was definitely one of my favorite places for hamburgers in town, and was modeled after the Charcoal Oven in Oklahoma City which was one of my frequent haunts during high school and afterwards. The original owners of Charcoaler were friends of the people who operated the OKC Charcoal Oven, and apparently there was a sharing of the methodology used to cook the burgers and to make the barbecue sauce which is popular at the Charcoaler.

Both of these restaurants were drive-through only, and they provided awnings where you could eat in the car. The Charcoal Oven in Oklahoma City is now closed, and at about the same time the Charcoaler in El Paso closed as well. The current Charcoaler reopened with a new owner, and has adopted what I think is a better restaurant model where there is now an indoor dining room in addition to the original awnings. There is also an outdoor patio which I think was there all along. The dining room and patio have picnic tables which I find very hard to negotiate, but at least it is a step in the right direction (and the continued success of some of the Charcoal Oven’s competitors in Oklahoma City demonstrates that many find the indoor dining room concept more comfortable than having to eat in the car).

The flavor of charcoal broiled burgers, though, is the main attraction of Charcoaler and similar restaurants. At Charcoaler you get the flavor of hamburgers cooked over charcoal (although I do not know the exact process they use). In Oklahoma City they use natural gas to augment the cooking process, and I assume the same is done here. The bottom line is that you do not get the same flavor as with hamburgers that are cooked on the normal type of flat grill.

The drive-through menu

The drive-through menu

There is still a drive-through entrance at the restaurant where you can order from the car, and the food is the same whether it get it the traditional way or from the new sit-down dining room which you can access through what used to be the exit only driveway to Mesa Street. I much prefer the sit-down arrangement, mainly because you place your order directly with a person rather than through a speaker. Charcoaler has a second location on Airway Boulevard which I have not tried, but which I assume has a dining room as well.

When the original Charcoaler closed I thought it was gone forever, but the new owner who revived the restaurant has fortunately kept the same food, and seems to have expanded the menu a little bit while keeping all the old classics. The main difference I find now is in the size of the hamburgers. Although a burger and fries would technically put this restaurant in the $ cost category, I need two sandwiches (two burgers, a burger and another sandwich, etc.) to feel full. This puts it in the $$ category, which I think is realistic for what most customers will spend.

The double burger is also very popular, and I think even with a drink and fries would keep it in the $ category. The double burger still has a small bun, though, and I prefer to have two of the small sandwiches which would not only have more bun but also more of the barbecue sauce or other toppings which are one of the big reasons I come here. In any case, the difference in price is not that great.

The Burgers

Regular burger

Burger with cole slaw

The Hamburger is the main attraction here. I find both the charcoal broiled style of cooking and the barbecue sauce to make it a special treat. The one shown in the photo is the “Junior Hamburger” (with a single patty). Its diameter is not much larger than the container of cole slaw I ordered, but it does have a good flavor.

The restaurant tries to encourage people to order a double patty because this will be more filling, but it is still on the same sized bun. Whether I get a single or a double, though, I have always ordered them with the barbecue sauce. This sauce is much like the sauce used in many Oklahoma City hamburger restaurants, but I believe its actual origin was the (now closed) Charcoal Oven.

There is always the traditional mustard, mayonnaise, etc. available for those who prefer it this way.

For a side dish I recommend the French Fries. I did not order this on my recent visits but I had a sample courtesy of my dining companion, and I was impressed by the flavor and lack of greasiness.

The Cole Slaw I ordered was a little lackluster in the flavor department and of course it will not fill you up the way the french fries will do. I suppose it is more healthy, but the issue for me is that there are many restaurants in El Paso that have better cole slaw than here, but only a small number that have better fries.

Other Sandwiches

Hot dog

Hot dog

A single patty burger does not seem to be enough food, and for me a hot dog is just enough extra to make this a full meal. Because of the charcoal broiling I think this is a better tasting hot dog than most. It is good with either the barbecue sauce or the chili (this is Texas style chili rather than the “chile” they have in New Mexico).

Black bean burger

Black bean veggie burger

I tried the Black Bean Veggie Burger, but to me there were so many things wrong with it that it is likely off of my list of possible choices in the future. On the flavor I think there was something wrong with the way it was composed–probably all the ingredients were good but the way they were combined was not quite right. I like black beans as a filler in a veggie burger but perhaps there was a little too much of it here. The consistency was really the worst part, though, because it fell apart and did not hold together as a patty should. The patty had a very sharp taste which I found to be improved by the barbecue sauce which I ordered as a topping.

The other choices from the menu are limited but they do have chicken and fish sandwiches, as well as caldillo and burritos.

My only holdover recommendation from the old restaurant that I have not tried at the new one is the milk shake, but the iced tea is very good as well (and it is easy to get refills when you eat in the dining room or the patio). Theoretically those using the drive-through get free refills on tea or soft drinks as well, but I found the logistics of it to be a little difficult.

Additional Comments
I believe the food is the same as it was at the “old” Charcoaler, except for the fact that the sandwiches are smaller. Many like the double burger, but an alternative would be to get two small sandwiches if you want to get what I consider to me a normal sized meal.

Although the drive-through lane has been the way people have been placing their orders since the restaurant opened, I believe the new indoor dining room which opened in summer 2019 makes Charcoaler much more attractive and much more customer friendly. For me the best choice here is the hamburger (and this is what most people order), but there are still many variables with the toppings, side orders, and choices of other sandwiches that make the dining room an easier way to order as well as likely a more comfortable dining experience.

I grew up with the type of charcoal broiled burgers they serve here. The more I travel, though, the more I find this style of burger to still be one of the best, and I am happy that it is available in El Paso.


Charcoaler Web Site


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Hamburgers
Cost: $$
Hours: Ope Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking (in the dining room and patio areas)
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Hamburger, French Fries

Special Ratings
star 5 Hamburger
star 4 Hot Dog
star 3 Veggie Burger
star 5 French Fries
star 4 Cole Slaw

Avila’s–El Paso, TX

Avila’s Mexican Food
6232 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-3621
Avila's

Avila’s


Having been in operation for over 65 years, according to Avila’s web site, this certainly qualifies as a classic restaurant. This restaurant actually started out as Avila’s No. 2, with Avila’s No. 1 being located on Montana Avenue just east of Yarbrough. When both restaurants were open I always liked the one on Montana better, and I thought it had a truer “border flavor.” In fact I saw an interview with the owner of the Mesa Street restaurant (Avila’s No. 2) where he said the food was not very spicy because he had a lot of Anglo customers (this is a paraphrase). I understand that the owners of the two restaurants were brothers, and apparently the owner of the No. 1 location did not share this philosophy because the food was spicier, and in my opinion better tasting.

This is all history, though, because now there is only one Avila’s. To me the food has improved since it became the sole Avila’s, and I can only speculate about the reason (but I have to include the disclaimers that I may not have a totally correct memory about the food or that my tastes may have changed). What I think, though, is that it is actually better and closer to the food that was served at Avila’s No. 1. It is still not so spicy that I think it would create a problem for most Anglos, who have been one of the restaurant’s main target groups. In my opinion, though, it does have a flavor and spiciness that are in line with other El Paso restaurants (this is probably not something I would have said until after the two Avila’s merged).

In my former review of Avila’s one of my specific complaints was that it was lacking in bold flavors. This is in fact the main aspect of it that I think has been corrected. I would still call the green enchiladas bland, but other items such as the red enchiladas and chile rellenos are certainly very flavorful. Even the rice and beans seem to be better than I remember them in the past.

One feature for which Avila’s is well known is that they bake the enchiladas. I am not sure exactly how this is done, but it seems to result in food that is less oily. One feature I like is that they stick some tostadas in the beans and these come out extra crispy, yet not overcooked. It also means the food is served on a hot plate (so customers are warned not to touch the plate).

Avila’s lacks some authenticity by not serving aguas frescas, and it does not have the type of food found in some local taco joints. It does, however, serve the type of combination plates and dinners that I associate with El Paso style border food.

Chips and Salas

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips at Avila’s are solid, and live up to the standards found at most restaurants in the city. I think the best ones are always the ones they stick in the beans and bake along with the dinner, but the ones served on the table are also good.

The Salsa is the one item here that I think does not live up to the El Paso norm when it comes to spiciness. However, I can also attest to the fact that it is not gringo style (a style that you will find very often in places like Oklahoma and points north). This is the real deal when it comes to flavor and the freshness of the ingredients.

Combination Plates

Combination No. 2

Combo No. 2 containing beans with toasted chips, red enchilada, green sour cream enchilada, chile relleno, and rice

The Combination Dinner Number 2 comes with an enchilada, taco, and a chile relleno. Other combinations are also available, but they are all on the dinner menu (there is no lunch menu and they do not have lunch specials). One good thing about the combinations, though, is that you can make substitutions (in my case I got an extra enchilada instead of the taco). I usually try to get more than one enchilada when they are especially good (as they are here).

The Red Enchilada may be the “go to” item at Avila’s, and these are typical of the El Paso style. The red sauce has a good flavor and I think is probably made with New Mexico chiles (or at least they have just about the same flavor). What I do know is that it is made with “red chile pods.” The sauce here is not as spicy as is typical in New Mexico, but this is not a wimpy sauce by any means. I have in my notes that they use a white cheddar–I do not know if the staff told me this or if it is something I surmised (but I believe I got this information from the restaurant).

For my taco substitute I got a Sour Cream Enchilada with the green sauce (you have to let the kitchen know whether you want red or green). I would not order a whole dinner of this type of enchilada, but I like it as a contrast with the regular enchilada.

While the red enchilada has good cheese and a really good sauce, the Chile Relleno is the other way around (the cheese was the best part for me). I should clarify a little by saying the cheese was really good compared to other restaurants, while all the parts of the chile relleno (chile, cheese, batter, and sauce) stood up with no weak links in it.

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).

Tri-Color Enchiladas

Tri-color or "Mexican flag" enchiladas

No. 16 TriColor Enchilada Plate

Most of the enchilada plates do not come with rice and beans, but in the case of the TriColor Enchilada Plate you get a choice (it is more expensive with the rice and beans). I think it is mainly a matter of what your appetite and expense account can handle, because it is good both ways. Visually this dinner really looks small compared to the Combo No. 2, although I thought it was filling.

The TriColor plate represents the Mexican flag, with red, white and green colors. At one time this seemed to be a very popular item in El Paso and now I find it only at a few of the places that I call “classic” restaurants (thus it is becoming more of a special treat when I can order it). I am not ready to say Avila’s has the best version because I really like the one at Su Casa, but the one here is very close.

The green and sour cream enchiladas were both made with green chile. I was told that the green chile is actually made with jalapeños (not New Mexico green chile). The surprising thing, though, is that the green sauce is actually almost devoid of any spiciness and I would describe the flavor as somewhat bland as well. I think it is very good with sour cream on top, but alone as a green enchilada it is the one item I have tried recently that really does confirm my previous conceptions of this restaurant as serving uninteresting Mexican food.

Dessert

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas come free with dinners (I believe each person gets two of them). These are definitely some of the better ones in town, and I like the fact that they do not have a lot of grease.

An Overview
There is a large menu here, but I mainly come back for the enchiladas or the combination plate. In the past (meaning over ten years ago) I also thought the tortilla soup was very good but I was less impressed with the mole or chile con queso.

While I think this restaurant is much improved from the past, some things still seem to be a problem. On one of my most recent visits the waiter made a mistake and told the kitchen to put onions in my enchiladas when I specifically asked for the opposite. At first I thought it had a good taste but after a while I began to regret having the strong onions they use here (as opposed to the more caramelized ones I found in northern New Mexico).

They do not have lunch specials, but on some plates you can save money by not getting them with rice and beans. The dilemma, though, is that the rice and beans are so good I think most people will want to get them (and this is definitely not the case at a large number of El Paso restaurants).

Sopaipillas are already included in the price of the meal, and I recommend them for anyone who can afford the calories.


Avila’s Web Site


RATING: 23

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

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chile Relleno, Red Enchiladas, Tri-Color Enchiladas, Tortilla Soup, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

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