About Steve

Hello, I am Steve of Steve's Gastronomic Home Page, which was started as a hobby to let others know about some of my favorite restaurants. This blog is an update and expansion of the original web site, and a chance for readers to leave their comments and suggestions. The most up-to-date restaurant reviews are at OKGourmet.com. For now I am including links to the reviews rather than try to move everything to Steve's Food Blog all at once. I am not a professional food person and I do not have a connection to any restaurant. As a geography major in college (Texas Christian University and the University of Texas at Austin) I am interested in different countries and cultures. This has now expanded to food in not only focusing on ethnic, national, and regional foods, but also in trying to determine what constitutes authentic ethnic food. My academic training and profession also inspired me to try to make a "master list" of restaurants, which I have included in the Blog as "Steve's List". I have included a box for comments on the list so that others can help me compile the list and keep it updated. At the very least, though, I hope it will serve as a list of interesting restaurants to try when traveling to different geographic areas.

Amigos–El Paso, TX

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

Amigos Restaurant


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 Specials
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.

Enchiladas

Combination plate

Combination plate

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).

Chile Relleno
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.

Tacos
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.

Dinner Menu
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.

Dinner salad

Dinner salad

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.

Specials
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

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. 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.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
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

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 5
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 Pescado al Mojo de Ajo
star 4 Chicken Tostada
star 4 Spaghetti Plate
star 5 Salad
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Barrigas–El Paso, TX

Barrigas Restaurant
664 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 845-1627
Barrigas on Sunland Park

Barrigas on Sunland Park


This upscale Ciudad Juarez restaurant has recently branched out into El Paso, and provides some of the most authentic Mexican food around. Probably the best feature of Barrigas is the varied menu, with many items not traditionally found in the U.S. Mexican restaurants (although this type of menu variety is increasingly found in El Paso restaurants).

Barrigas seems to specialize in meat items, particularly in finding flavorful ways to combine meat, cheese, and other ingredients. It is also a good place to go if you like a variety of salads, appetizers (such as queso fundido), desserts, and shrimp. Margaritas and other drinks are served.

The background noise and music at Barrigas can sometimes be at such a high level it is hard to hold a conversation. When they have had live mariachi bands, though, the quality of the music has been such I have not minded the temporary inconvenience in trying to converse with others at the table.

Chips and Salsa
The Chips are somewhat greasy and the Salsa has sometimes been too spicy with jalapeno peppers, but the salsa seemed to improve a lot starting about 2006. In fact I would say it is now very close to the classic El Paso and Ciudad Juarez style salsa that is spicy and flavorful, and perhaps a little heavy on extra spices that are thrown in.

The Pico de Gallo that is sometimes served in addition to the salsa is quite good, but it is usually not offered.

Enchiladas
The Red Enchiladas are good, but they are not my favorite in El Paso and I prefer them on a combination plate with other items. While they are a good example of Ciudad Juarez style enchiladas, I prefer the New Mexico style chile that does not have as many spices that modify the flavor as the Mexican style red chile. These enchiladas may be more suitable than the New Mexico style, though, for people who do not like them extremely spicy.

Chicken enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas

Green Enchiladas are made with puréed green chile that is normally very easy to make too spicy and not very flavorful, but the ones at Barrigas are an exception. I find the green chile here to have a flavor that is very similar to the New Mexico style green chile, although milder. These enchiladas also use melted Mexican cheese on top of the chile as well as inside the enchilada, adding to the flavor and making them among the best green enchiladas in El Paso. The green enchiladas seem to taste better with chicken inside and a side order of sour cream to make Enchiladas Suizas, not on the menu as such but is one of the better versions of this dish.

Flautas
Flautas here are well above average using thick, flavorful chunks of chicken and a large quantity of guacamole in which to dip it.

Mole
Chicken Mole is served the traditional Ciudad Juarez style, with chicken mixed into the mole, and Barrigas is one of the best. The mole sauce is not too sweet and I think has a very smooth and delicious taste. Some say mole is an acquired taste, but the one here is a good place to start if you want a more authentic version.

Enmoladas

Enmoladas

Enmoladas, or mole enchiladas, are a way to enjoy the sauce without the chicken (enchiladas are served either with cheese or chicken). With a side order of flour tortillas I really like the mole sauce just as well as on the chicken dinner. To me, though, the enchiladas have a strong corn oil flavor that makes this a less desirable dish than the chicken mole dinner. I am tempted to go on a rant here about the less nutritious and less well balanced food customers frequently receive when they try to order vegetarian dinners, and this is a clear example. One alternative would be to order a mole burrito which is not fried (and would probably have little or no corn oil). In my opinion, though, the best flavor comes with the chicken mole dinner. Mexican food seems to be at its best when you order it with meat.

Chile Relleno
The Chiles Rellenos have been quite greasy at times but other times have been quite good. The yellow tomato sauce served on top of the relleno is flavorful. For the most part I would recommend against ordering it here–other restaurants have much better rellenos.

Puntas de Filete

Puntas de filete

Puntas de filete

Puntas de Filete is a dish of sirloin tips that is served with a choice of several sauces. I enjoyed it not only because of its flavor, but because it is something that is not served in a great number of restaurants. I suspect all the sauces are good, but if you have a hard time deciding I think the waiters will give their suggestions.

Side Dishes
Rice and beans are very good, and overall you should expect a good meal here. Barrigas does not take the time to make Mexican style agua fresca drinks, but I have been pretty happy with the food, and the prices are not bad.

More About the Restaurant
Barrigas is open late (10 p.m.) on weekdays, and later on weekends. The outdoor patio is an excellent idea to take advantage of the El Paso weather, but smoking is allowed making it unusable to me. Because of this, the usually cold air inside, and frequent loud noise, I would have to give low marks for the restaurant’s atmosphere. Still, though, it is one of the better places to get good Mexican food in an upscale setting.


RATING: 23

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

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 27, 2008
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Flautas, Chicken Mole, Green Enchiladas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas with chicken and sour cream
star 5 Flautas
star 5 Mole
star 4 Enmoladas
star 3 Chile Relleno
star 5 Puntas de Filete
star 4 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 3 Lemonade

Young Vin Express–El Paso, TX

Young Vin Express
11335 Montwood Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 525-2100

Young Vin was one of the oldest (if not the oldest) Korean restaurants in the city, but the original restaurant on Dyer Street no longer exists. In its place, though, is the recently opened Young Vin Express in far eastern El Paso. I only know of it through information on the Internet, but I believe this is an important development in El Paso’s restaurant scene. Rather than saying that one of the the city’s most well known restaurants is gone, I can instead say that it has merely adapted and moved to a location that is more convenient for a large segment of the city.

My review of Young Vin on the okgourmet.com web site is available for viewing, and reflects my years of dining experience there. For most of these years I had no thought about reviewing the restaurant or trying to analyze the food–I simply went because I enjoyed it. My first experience with Korean food was at Young Vin, and I kept going back for more, as well as visiting the other Korean restaurants in the city.

As the review indicates, the Korean barbecue has always been the main draw of the restaurant. Over time I came to enjoy the side dishes as much or more, but in any case there was plenty to bring me to the restaurant.

I do not know how Young Vin Express is set up, but I am sure that much of the food remains the same. It sounds as if it is now a fast food restaurant, and would not provide the same experience of having an overabundance meat and side dishes to the point that they did not expect anyone to eat all of it. Still, with food this good, it would be difficult not to have a good experience with it even if the portions are smaller.

Recommendations
At Young Vin I always enjoyed the food, but my main issues were with questions such as what you got for your money. The Express restaurant seems to be informal and low priced, so I think this is a good way for people to try Korean food that may not be very familiar with it. In my opinion the barbecue beef is usually a good place to start in experiencing Korean cuisine, and the one here was never disappointing.


RATING: N/R
Cuisine: Korean
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun