El Paso, TX
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).
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.
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 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).
Amigos used to serve two types of salsa, but now only has a red salsa.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.).
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.
Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Hours: Open Daily except Mon. Evening
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)