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.

Las Palmas–El Paso, TX

Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant
1605 George Dieter Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 629-9898
Las Palmas

Las Palmas


I received a tip that Las Palmas was one of the most flavorful Mexican restaurants in El Paso, but that the albondigas served as a Thursday lunch special was the one dish that I really needed to try. Of course I had to try the albondigas, and based on the fact that they fully met my expectations I have reason to believe that the other things I heard about the restaurant are true. I believe this is a restaurant people will want to put on their rotation for Mexican food.

There are different lunch specials each weekday, but rather than regular menu items served at a lower price, they are items that are only served on that day (and only for lunch). These seem to be items that take longer to prepare than most dishes, and include such items as mole (also available on Thursday). Of course I do not know if these are the best items at Las Palmas, but I know that they are not typically available at El Paso restaurants.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa were a good indication that the food would be very good here, particularly because of the fresh and flavorful salsa.

Albondigas

Albondigas

Albondigas is a special on Thursday

The Albondigas served Thursdays as a lunch special are a little deceiving because a bowl of soup like this does not look as filling as it actually is. It actually has several beef meatballs that make a very substantial meal, and the broth is so flavorful I could tell the restaurant really knows what it is doing when it comes to Mexican food. Albondigas are not typically one of my favorite Mexican foods, but I always enjoy something that is among the best in its class, as the one here proved to be.

Other Notes
The restaurant is very busy at lunch time, and the service is a little slow by the standards of when I was working in an office and only had an hour for lunch. After the usual wait for a table, though, things go pretty smoothly from that point forward.

From what I tried I believe this is one of the better Mexican restaurants in El Paso, but I am only working from a sample size of one dish (and of course the chips and salsa). I think the crowd at lunch says something about what the locals think about the food.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open daily (breakfast Fri-Sun.)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 1, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Items: Albondigas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Albondigas
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Food Writers Don’t Seem to Get Respect, Even in Hong Kong

As television networks become less and less interesting, I am finding other means of entertainment that I never knew existed. One is the television programs from Hong Kong which are broadcast on the TVB channel. They are usually a one-time program of about 20 to 30 episodes which are broadcast and later distributed on DVD’s or on the Internet. Of course the programs later distributed come with English subtitles or else I would not be able to understand them (even Mandarin speakers have to have Chinese subtitles in order to follow what is happening).

One can gain a surprising amount of food knowledge through the programs, although this is usually done as a means to develop the program plot. In The Rippling Blossom the entire plot is built around Japanese food, which the main characters import to Hong Kong through competing Japanese restaurants. I am mentioning the show as a backdrop, which can be viewed for free at this web site:

https://www.viki.com/explore?country=hong-kong .

I have checked the site and there are no strings attached except that they show ads in the middle of the episodes. Be sure to turn on the English subtitles, though, through the settings icon in the lower right part of the window.

One of my favorite parts of the show is where Keung Keung, a young food writer who specializes in Japanese food, comes to live with the Yu family (their two sons end up operating rival Japanese restaurants). At her first family meal with them Keung Keung is served some dishes but begins to complain about them making such statements as “this is too salty,” and “this does not taste right.” She definitely does not mean this as an insult but out of habit probably said it out loud as she would do when visiting restaurants which she wanted to review. Chi-ying, one of the sons who later becomes Keung Keung’s boyfriend instinctively says to her, “Why do you criticize a family meal?” Keung Keung, not really embarrassed but at the same time not trying to be snooty, replied “I can’t help it. I have sensitive taste buds!” While not condoning her actions, I do understand how she feels.

One of the jokes of the program is that the family’s name “Yu” has the same pronunciation as the word meaning fish, and the sons deal with fish every day as their profession.

Many commenters on forums about this program indicate that they cannot watch any of the episodes without getting hungry for sushi or the other Japanese food shown in the program. The program does show the amount of effort that goes into really good sushi. I think it is helpful when visiting high end sushi restaurants and realizing what really goes into the food they are serving.

Viet–El Paso, TX

Viet Restaurant
1700 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 855-8888
Viet Restaurant

Viet Restaurant


When I visited Viet Restaurant for the first time I had not realized it was recognized by Texas Monthly as one of the best new restaurants in the state. Instead, I just knew that it had good reviews and I wanted to try one of the few choices in town for this delicious cuisine.

I was confused at first about the name–it went by both “Viet” and “Nhà Hàng Viet,” but the owner told me the longer name was simply the Vietnamese translation of “Viet Restaurant.” Many people seem to love Vietnamese food as much as I do, as evidenced by the fact that the cuisine seems to be almost as common as Chinese food throughout the United States. Like Chinese food, there is a form of Americanization happening with Vietnamese cuisine, although to me it seems that the standard dishes served in most Vietnamese restaurants retain the true form of the authentic cuisine much more than was the case with truly Americanized Chinese dishes such as General Tso’s chicken, sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, etc. at Chinese restaurants.

Unlike Chinese food, Vietnamese restaurants generally prepare the same dishes the same way everywhere, and the “Americanization” factor has mostly to do with which dishes are available and whether the local population will support the restaurant offering some of the more exotic food available from Vietnam. Although El Paso is like most cities in mainly having the most common dishes available at the Vietnamese restaurants, Viet Restaurant’s menu is one of the most varied in the city, as well as (in my judgment) having an authentic presentation of the food in another way that many restaurants make it more “Americanized” without many people realizing it. The ingredients and flavors used are as important as the dishes themselves, and Viet does not cut corners here.

I do not go along completely with the idea that less authentic means less flavorful, but for some dishes such as pho and the vermicelli bowl, I generally want it as authentic as possible.

Vermicelli Bowl

Vermicelli with lemongrass chicken

Vermicelli with lemongrass chicken

The standard vermicelli bowl is served at almost all Vietnamese restaurants, but in El Paso it seems that every restaurant serves it on a plate instead. This does not affect the flavor, but the way it is prepared and the ingredients used do vary from one restaurant to another. At Viet the Vermicelli with Lemongrass Chicken is the best I have tried in El Paso, and I have been able to use my favorite Vietnamese dish as a benchmark to compare the different restaurants. Viet Restaurant has good chicken with a very good flavor, and this is about all one can expect at any restaurant.

The advantage of a plate instead of a bowl for this dish is that you can add your own toppings as you desire instead of having them mixed together. I like to go easy on the bean sprouts so the plate works for me as long as all the “essentials” are included. Viet has the normal vegetables along with a good portion of peanuts, so this made me happy. What made me even more happy was the excellent flavor of the sauce and the lemongrass. Missing from the vegetables was cucumber, but there were enough carrots to give a good vegetable flavor. Overall I think they did an excellent job of making this delicious as well as authentic.

One ingredient missing here was mint, an item most American restaurants omit. I later talked to the owner who said they have mint and you can request it, but most customers do not like the flavor of the dish once the mint is added. If I were not familiar with the Oklahoma City Vietnamese restaurants I probably would not even know that this dish should have mint, but I am now spoiled and I wish I had known about the mint at Viet. The fact that they even have it at all puts this ahead of the other Vietnamese restaurants in town. I also know that Viet will customize the food to a certain extent if you request it (although the non-customized dishes here are really delicious enough that I think most people will be happy).

Tea
Although the restaurant gives you a tea bag instead of loose leaves or brewed tea, this is standard for El Paso and is becoming standard in other places such as Oklahoma City. They also have boba tea, which I have not tried.

An Assessment
El Paso has at least three Vietnamese restaurants with fairly extensive menus (Viet, Pho Tre Bien, and Saigon Taste). I do not have a lot of experience yet with Viet, but the other restaurants have certain dishes which I find to be better than others. My benchmark dish (lemongrass chicken) has been best at Viet, although Pho Tre Bien is very close (Saigon Taste has other items that I like very much).

My explanation of why Viet Restaurant has the best reviews and is winning awards such as the Texas Monthly recognition is that the owner is present in the dining room and interacts with customers. My understanding of Asian restaurants is that they need a good kitchen with chefs who know what they are doing, but a good part of it is customer service where you can make special requests, get food prepared the way you want, etc. Viet has this, and I will certainly be wanting to go back.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 3, 2018
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Vermicelli with Lemongrass Chicken

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Vermicelli with Lemongrass Chicken