Peppe’s Restaurant & Cantina
6761 Doniphan Dr.
Perhaps my favorite long time El Paso restaurant was Griggs Restaurant, located on Doniphan Drive about a mile north of Country Club Road. There were branches in Kern Place, a long-running one near the airport, and for a brief time on Mesa Hills. These all used the Griggs family recipes, but the Doniphan restaurant is the one that stayed in the family until shortly before its closing in 2003. I also thought the Doniphan restaurant stayed the most consistent to the family recipes, although for the most part the other restaurants served the same great food.
I heard that the east side Griggs Restaurant closed sometime around 2008, and unfortunately it was related to the health of the owner. This led to an agreement between the owner and his long time employees Peppe and Lorena Morales that the latter could open their own restaurant using the Griggs family recipes. Thus Peppe’s Restaurant & Cantina has been open since 2009 in Canutillo, Texas, carrying on the Griggs tradition and using the same recipes that were used in the original restaurants.
Peppe’s dining room with much of the memorabilia from the old restaurants
The Griggs Restaurants on Doniphan and Montana were probably as famous for their antique furniture and artifacts as for the food, and both were in spacious buildings that resembled haciendas. In contrast Peppe’s Restaurant is rather small, with only a few of the antiques from Griggs Restaurant on display. Peppe likes it this way, though, allowing him to concentrate on the food which has been purposely copied from Griggs. The menu even looks the same as the old ones I remember.
Peppe’s menu modeled after the former Griggs Restaurant
With Peppe’s Restaurant being small and the owners present every time I go there, I think the food will keep the consistency I found at the old Doniphan location (Peppe worked as a chef at the Montana location and is very familiar with the Griggs family way of doing things).
In 1968 the Griggs family published a cookbook with Mrs. Josephine Griggs’ recipes, and copies were still being sold as late as about 2015 at El Pinto in Albuquerque. Mrs. Griggs’ children owned Griggs Restaurant in El Paso, La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico, La Posta in Rancho Cordova, California, and El Pinto (the Albuquerque restaurant). La Posta in California is closed, but it is apparent that the restaurants still operating do not cook the food in exactly the same way, and have done a lot of tweaking to the original recipes. Peppe says that Mrs. Griggs’ book was not complete in that it did not explain what type of pots and pans to use for cooking the food, where to source the ingredients used, etc. Presumably, though, this information was passed down to all the Griggs children and to anyone operating the family’s restaurants.
One of the unique features of Peppe’s (and Griggs before it) is the source of its chiles. These come from a farm in La Union, New Mexico (near the El Paso Upper Valley) and are fresh inasmuch as the growing season allows. Peppe takes further steps, though, to ensure a good quality and flavor of his chile (including the chiles rellenos). The chiles used at Peppe’s are all sun dried, which gives a mild flavor (many restaurants use machine dried chiles, which have a darker color and a more bitter taste). His chiles are not terribly spicy, and the Griggs family understanding of New Mexican chile was that it is not supposed to be as spicy as some of those from Mexico such as chile de arbol, habanero, etc. The Griggs recipes also make generous use of tomatoes which further tone down the food.
In my opinion La Posta and El Pinto are geared toward tourists in their chile spice level. El Pinto seems to start with milder chiles than Peppe’s, and by the time they tone them down with tomatoes and other ingredients, there is very little New Mexico chile heat left (although there is enough flavor that I do not totally dismiss La Posta’s food as being unauthentic, only that it is one of the mildest New Mexico style restaurants in the Las Cruces area). I have not been to El Pinto in a while, but the review on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog indicates that it is very mild as I remember it.
At Peppe’s I think the the red chile has the highest spice level. It does not match the level of some restaurants in New Mexico, but it is definitely noticeable. The chile con queso is probably next on the spice level, with the green chile being the mildest (although it definitely seems to be more potent than the green chile served at La Posta).
In some ways the recipes at Peppe’s are a little non-traditional for New Mexican food, and offer a little bit of a different take on this cuisine than I normally find. Some examples are the following:
- The green enchiladas are a solid choice here although I rarely care much for them anywhere else. The spice level is less than with most other New Mexico style green enchiladas, but they are hot enough that to me this is not an issue. The flavor, though, seems to be a perfect blend of chile, tomato, and spices (and few others have a flavor that I like this much).
- The Griggs family recipe for the chile relleno is similar to the one at Chope’s in serving it plain with no sauce on top, and both Chope’s and Peppe’s use local chiles. Although Chope’s has what I think is the iconic New Mexico chile relleno, the one at Peppe’s is very good, and makes this one of the few restaurants where I go out of my way to order the chile relleno.
- Peppe’s presentation of chile con carne is a little different than at most restaurants, and in addition to serving it plain also features it on a tostada compuesta with the beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese on top. Several restaurants use chile con carne in a sopapilla compuesta, but Peppe’s is one of the few I have found that serves it on a tostada.
- The slaw at Peppe’s is quite unique and is my favorite side dish over the rice or beans (La Posta, though, has a similar slaw which is also made from Mrs. Griggs’ recipe).
Salsa and Appetizers
Chips and salsa
After all these years it is still hard to beat Griggs’ Salsa, now served at Peppe’s along with with their excellent chips (and tortillas if you desire). In fact, I used to think that the Griggs salsa was a little wimpy, but I appreciated it a lot more after all the Griggs Restaurants closed and it was no longer available (and fortunately it was only a short wait until Peppe’s opened). It is true that this is not the spiciest salsa in El Paso or in New Mexican restaurants throughout the Southwest, but I appreciate the flavor and the fact that it is always fresh.
Radio FREE Salsa Sampler
The Radio FREE Salsa Sampler came as a promotion on the El Paso History radio program which airs Saturday mornings on KTSM-AM. Peppe’s is a sponsor of the show, and anybody who mentions the “Radio FREE Salsa Sampler” gets the above pictured salsa samples for free. The original purpose of it is so that you can try all of their sauces and find out which ones you like best in terms of the flavor and the spice level before you order a whole plate of it. It is also a good thing to order, though, if you simply want to try different things (you can ask for it whether you heard it on the radio program or not).
The Chile con Carne (at the top of the photo) is the same meat sauce used on the tostada compuesta, and it also comes on some of the combination plates such as the Combo #3. Peppe says this is also a sample of their red sauce used on the enchiladas, although this sauce comes without the meat.
The Green Sauce (at the bottom) is used on the green enchiladas, although I think it has a better flavor on the enchiladas because of the cheese that is added.
Peppe’s has one of the best examples of Chile con Queso I have found anywhere (shown on the left of the photo). The cheese at Peppe’s is a little thicker than is usually found, offering the reason people will either like it or dislike it (depending on their viewpoint), but I am glad it is more of a solid than a liquid. The green chiles are fresh and flavorful, but not of the ultra hot variety.
The salsa on the right is the regular one that all customers get with the chips.
Combination Plate No. 3 with green enchilada instead of red
Usually I like meals with a variety of items, and the combination plates offer several choices for this (they will also make some substitutions). The Combo Plate #3 on the dinner menu is a good way to sample some of my favorite items. Although the red enchilada comes standard on the plate, I think the Green Enchilada is one of the best items at Peppe’s, and can be substituted for the red. To me the green enchilada offers a very flavorful blend of New Mexico chiles, cheese, tomato, and tortilla (but one which is not as spicy as most of the ones in Las Cruces).
There is no question in my mind that the Chile Relleno is another “best dish” at Peppe’s. Peppe’s serves the chile relleno New Mexico style, with no sauce on top. The chile, cheese, and batter are all much better than average, making it unnecessary to add a sauce (and in my mind it would be an adulteration of the dish to do so). The trick of the cheese is to cook it just right, and I have found that Peppe’s has this nailed (the menu says they stuff it with a mild cheddar). There is also the factor that the chile is local, and is sun dried.
Another notable item on the Combo #3 is the Chile con Carne, made with pork carnitas and red chile. This was one of the spicier items served, and I thought it went well with the other items. My favorite form of chile con carne, though, is when it is served on a tostada compuesta with beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. Thus my choice is usually to get the Noonday Combination C that includes a tostada compuesta, and because of the substitutions that are allowed I usually get the other items I want as well.
The Rolled Taco is an item I often substitute because I am usually not a big fan of ground beef, but the one at Peppe’s was quite good. It tasted as if it were mixed with potato, and everything was simple but prepared well.
Green enchiladas are New Mexico style
An order of Green Chile Cheese Enchiladas comes with rolled enchiladas, but you can ask for them to be flat, as pictured. Stacked (flat) enchiladas seem to have more sauce, and I think this is the best way to enjoy one of the best versions of this dish I have tried in the El Paso area (in fact, I am gradually reaching the point that these are the only green enchiladas in El Paso that I really like).
Red enchiladas with an egg on top
The Red Chile Cheese Enchiladas plate is also quite good, and is prepared New Mexico style (with more of the chile flavor coming through than in restaurants that serve the typical El Paso style enchiladas). These enchiladas are spicier than the green ones, but mild compared to ones found in Las Cruces or northern New Mexico. I recommend it with an egg on top (as shown in the photo).
The Rice is excellent, with a good mixture of flavors. Its moisture content indicated that it had not been sitting around for a long time.
Peppe’s serves whole beans by default. It is really hard to judge these compared to others, since preparing them is pretty straightforward. I prefer these, though, to just about any refried beans that are served in El Paso.
The Slaw is notable for being one of the best, although slaw is somewhat of a novelty in El Paso restaurants unless they are New Mexico style as Peppe’s is. One of the secrets of the slaw here is that it is made with apple cider vinegar (and Peppe says it has to be a certain kind of vinegar mixed just right with the other ingredients that are used).
Chile con Queso Dishes
Chicken breast with chile con queso
I do not think there are any items with chile con queso available on the combination plates, so the best bet is probably to order one of several plates available from the menu. One of the best is the Chicken Breast with Chile con Queso (you can also get it Tampiqueña style). One reason I like this dish is the high quality of the chicken. Another one of my favorites from Griggs was the Grinder (chopped steak), but I have not yet had this at Peppe’s. Burritos are also available topped with chile con queso.
Noonday Combination with items from both C and D
The Noonday Combination C is one of my “go to” choices at Peppe’s, although I usually substitute a green enchilada (an item from Combination D) for the folded taco (an item normally served on C). I think the reason I can make this substitution is that Combinations C and D are the same price (A and B are less expensive, and probably allow similar substitutions between them).
The above photo shows my preferred mix and match, resulting in slaw, tostada compuesta, chile relleno, and a green enchilada. It does not have rice and beans, but I do not really miss them since I have the slaw. Griggs Restaurant only served the Nooday Combination at lunch (hence the name), but Peppe’s lets you order it any time.
Peppe’s charges extra for a Sopaipilla, as did Griggs Restaurant. You can get them plain or get the bite size version with cinnamon and sugar.
Other desserts are also available, such as Flan. I do not know if this is one of the items from the Griggs family recipes, but I was quite impressed with it.
One of the little things that I particularly enjoy about Peppe’s, is the fresh Corn Tortillas that are served with the meal on request. The tortillas are made fresh daily at a nearby tortilla factory, and I think are excellent.
There is a full cantina (bar) here, but Peppe says he is keeping a family atmosphere (there are no TV’s or loud music playing although you can sometimes watch football games without the sound playing).
I do need to mention that they have an additional charge if you use a credit card. It does not become official until you sign the receipt and they run it through, so if you decide you want to pay by cash after seeing this charge on the check, you can do so.
My usual meal here is the Noonday Combinations C, with an enchilada substituted for the folded taco. The Combination Plates have a larger number of items, and are also very good. For those who want smaller plates, though, the Noonday Combinations are available any time and not just at lunch.
For a one-item plate, though, my top choices would be enchiladas (green or red) or something with chile con queso. Be advised, though, that the green enchiladas are served rolled unless you specifically ask for them to be stacked (the red enchiladas come default as stacked).
So many of El Paso’s classic restaurants are now gone that I make a special effort to support the ones that are still around or that have been reincarnated with new names. What is especially good about Peppe’s is that it maintains the quality that Griggs had, and the food here is not exactly like anything I have had in El Paso or New Mexico. La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico gives a good presentation of the Griggs family recipes, but I think Peppe’s gives one that uses hotter chiles and has a better flavor.
Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Hours: Closed Sun. evening & Mon.
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Oct. 20, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Green Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Tostada Compuesta, Red Enchiladas, Grilled Chicken Breast with Chile con Queso, ICX (chopped steak with chile con queso), Slaw, Beans
Mexican Food Details