El Paso, TX
For years the “amigos” worked at La Hacienda restaurant until they opened their own place on Montana Avenue and brought the food from La Hacienda with them. Today you can still order the same lunch specials that used to be found at La Hacienda, and you still get the same attentive service by professional waiters that is becoming a lost art.
I was surprised to find out that the cook at Amigos is the same person who used to cook at La Hacienda, since it is quite rare to find the exact same food we used to experience in the “old days” with no changes or updating (which usually means a diminishment in quality). I believe he only cooks in the evening and another cook takes the morning shift, but if this is not the right information then I stand corrected. I do know that dinner is the time I have enjoyed Amigos the most, especially since this is when I have been able to try special dishes (including some authentic dishes from the Mexican interior).
I have heard 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 Amigos serves chile at the same spice level as is common in the Land of Enchantment. I have given the restaurant five chiles in my spiciness rating, but it is actually only the enchiladas and certain other dishes that are this spicy.
Lunch is the most popular time at Amigos, with the restaurant being known for its lunch specials. Certain specials are served on particular days (such as the Spaghetti Plate on Monday), and I believe the combination plate is available every day. I used to get the spaghetti because they could make a vegetarian version, but I believe this is not one of the best items at Amigos except for the “extras.” The extras come with all lunches, and are the same elements that used to make La Hacienda a special treat that stood above all the city’s other very good Mexican restaurants.
Home made soup and a fresh salad begin the full course lunch, although portions are 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. With La Ideal now being closed I assume they have found a suitable substitute, but if not I know that they are providing the best lunch items they can find.
Amigos’ salsa is so good, though, that I end up eating a substantial portion of chips as well. La Hacienda used to serve a small dessert and I believe Amigos follows the same practice, although there has been nothing that has stood out in my mind the way the soup, salad, and bread do.
The Red Enchiladas were a source of disappointment 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 it seems more flavorful. I would probably suggest ordering a combination plate rather than an whole plate of enchiladas, but I would definitely recommend getting an enchilada if possible (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.
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.
The Chicken Taco is also very good, with fresh and good quality meat topped with white cheese and ripe tomatoes.
The dinner menu is considerably more expensive than the lunch specials, but this is where I have found the best entrées. The Chicken Tampiqueña is 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 are not only spicier than the ones normally found, but fresher and more flavorful. A whole peeled avocado garnishes the top, but unlike the ones in most restaurants, it is ripe without being beyond its prime. The red enchilada served on the side serves as a perfect complement, and the whole pinto beans are very enjoyable. This is a meal I like to eat slowly to enjoy every bite– it is 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 is a classic presentation of this type of fish fillet topped with garlic. The cod used in the fillet is 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 does 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.
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.
The same Dinner Salad served with the lunch specials comes in a larger portion with the dinner combination plates. I did not really realize how good this salad was until I got the large dinner serving (pictured above). Patrons will never find a wilted or over-ripe piece of lettuce, and the toppings are light and delicious. This is not a Mi Piaci quality salad, but it is about as good as you can get in any of El Paso’s Mexican restaurants.
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 the best Tortilla Soup in town, but unfortunately it is almost never served. I was told they only make it “once every two weeks.” This is part of a rotation of specials that I believe are still being served.
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. They also make it a point, though, to get you served quickly at the lunch hour.
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. They do charge for refills on sodas, though.
The posted closing time is 8:00 p.m., 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.
Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, drinks
Most Recent Visit: May 11, 2010
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Tampiqueña, Red Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Salad, Tortilla Soup, Salsa