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.

Jalisco Cafe–El Paso, TX

Jalisco Cafe
1029 E. 7th Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 532-7174
Jalisco Cafe

Jalisco Cafe


Jalisco Cafe is one of those places that seems to be known almost exclusively by word of mouth. I am guessing it has been operating for at least forty years, but regardless of its history it has built up a customer loyalty that is matched by few other restaurants in El Paso.

The area of South El Paso, located between downtown El Paso and the Mexican border, is one of the city’s most historic areas. The neighborhood is little changed from the early twentieth century except for the upgrade and modernization of many of the former tenements. Jalisco Cafe is adjoined by several small apartments that give it the feel of being a true neighborhood restaurant. When I used to eat at Jalisco on a regular basis during my lunch hour I observed almost as many customers ordering take-out as were dining in the restaurant, and I think Jalisco Cafe has become an integral part of the neighborhood’s life. Other restaurants have come and gone over the years, but most people have considered Jalisco to have higher quality food and have continued to patronize it as much as possible.

Jalisco offers special dishes every day, as well as a regular menu that serves lunch portions of food at lunch prices. By this I mean that people will not fall asleep when they go back to work because of overeating at lunch. One of my biggest gripes with El Paso restaurants is that they serve portions that are too large, but most places do cut it back somewhat for their “lunch specials.” Since Jalisco Cafe only serves breakfast and lunch, quantities are already geared toward the amount of food that is comfortable for people during these times of the day.

Jalisco's interior

Jalisco’s interior

One reason lunch portions are kept small is so every customer can enjoy a bowl of soup before the meal. This is actually filling enough to serve as a meal if you order the large size, but a small one will leave room for one of the lunch plates. I have probably eaten just about all of the lunch plates, but because of my advancing years I am not going to try to give reviews of them by memory. Like most of the more authentic restaurants that prepare food much the same as in Ciudad Juarez (which in the case of Jalisco Cafe is only a few blocks away), the enchiladas were one of the items that was least memorable to me. I think Jalisco Cafe excels in the variety of foods it offers, such as tacos, stews, and even mole (served as a special on Wednesdays). I am not saying to avoid the enchiladas, I just did not make a mental note of them being among the best in the city.

While the food at Jalisco is true to the heritage of most Mexican food in El Paso that originated across the border in the state of Chihuahua, it also falls into what I call the “El Paso” style of Mexican food in offering more flavorful salsa than is usually found in Ciudad Juarez with less garlic and other ingredients that would tend to adulterate the chiles, better chips, and the variety of foods that are served in many El Paso restaurants. In fact, El Paso is somewhat of a “melting pot,” taking the best of Chihuahua cuisine but adding dishes from other places in Mexico as early residents and recent immigrants contributed them from their list of recipes. I think Jalisco Cafe offers the flavors of Chihuahua with a more consistent cooking quality than is typically found south of the border.

One place the quality of Jalisco Cafe can be seen is in the home made Corn Tortillas served with soup, and probably by request to anyone who wants them. These are so light and fresh that I think I have probably unconsciously used them as the standard for other restaurants in the city. I say “unconsciously” because I pretty much took for granted that El Paso had excellent tortillas until I found out otherwise by visiting other restaurants, particularly some of the ones in the suburban shopping malls. I am not sure how tortillas are usually made, but the ones here are thin and firm without being too hard, and have only the basic ingredients needed to provide a good taste.

Caldo de Res

Caldo de Res

Caldo de Res at Jalisco is the best I have ever tasted

It would probably not be an exaggeration to call the Caldo de Res the signature dish at Jalisco Cafe. This is another dish I took for granted until I found out that few other places could come close the quality of Jalisco’s. Just as the excellent tortillas are an integral part of enjoying this beef soup, so is the fact that the caldo is simmered long enough to infuse the flavors into the broth, give the vegetables the right texture, and make sure everything is cooked just right. I think the problem with most caldos served in El Paso (and even more so elsewhere) is that the vegetables either remain in their raw state, or else they are overdone. I think Jalisco also uses herbs and spices in a way that few others have mastered. While a good quality caldo can be made with lower quality cuts of beef, Jalisco excels by using high quality, non-fatty pieces that again make this one better than the caldos found at other restaurants. Limes are provided to cut down on the greasy flavor of the caldo (from the beef fat), but at Jalisco the limes are mainly for flavor since the grease is at very low levels.

The caldo in my photo is the small version usually ordered before patrons indulge in one of the lunch plates, but a large version can also be ordered that would pretty much serve as a meal in itself. In either case, if you can only try one caldo de res in El Paso, Jalisco would most likely be my suggestion. If there are others that are better I have not found them.

Daily Specials

Chicken mole

Mole available on Wednesday

The plate dinners at Jalisco are not large in size, but they pack a large amount of flavor into what they serve. For instance, the Chicken Mole served on Wednesday is made in the traditional style from Puebla, Mexico. It comes in a dark brown color with what many describe as a “chocolate” flavor, although it is much more complex than that. I find the mole at Jalisco to be very similar to the ones served at other restaurants, except for the fact that the chicken here is shredded into very small pieces.

Mole, the daily special for Wednesday, is only available on this day (I do not know if the same is true for other daily specials). It was not any more or less expensive than the other dinners, but I can say that I enjoyed it more than I have with some of the regular menu items I have tried in the past. In this respect it was truly a “special item” to me.

Other Menu Items
The items I tried years in the past are not ones that I will include in the review, but I can say that they have the full range of popular Mexican items. The ones that stick out in my mind as being good are the tacos and stews (chile verde, chile colorado, etc.).

Jaslisco Cafe does not have a full line of aguas frescas drinks, but the Lemonade is home made and is typical of this type of Mexican style drink. I thought it was a little too sweet, but it was very good.

Additional Comments
I do not find myself downtown at lunch time very often any more, but Jalisco Cafe remains one of the better choices in the area. It is a little off the beaten path, located on a neighborhood street, but it is well worth searching out. The dining room is rather small, but you know you are getting something authentic. One thing many people will appreciate is that fact that although it is located very near the Mexican border, you do not need to know any Spanish to communicate with the staff. Also you do not need to bring a lot of cash (Yelp says they accept credit cards but it is so cheap I do not bother with this).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Dec. 13, 2017
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Caldo de Res, Mole

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Caldo de Res
star 5 Mole
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 4 Lemonade

Su Casa–El Paso, TX

Su Casa Restaurant
2030 E. Yandell Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 544-5136
Su Casa

Su Casa Restaurant


Any list of classic El Paso restaurants would have to include Su Casa, a neighborhood hangout that has been operating at the same place for longer than I can remember. A friend reminded me that Arnold’s, another classic El Paso eatery, was at this location before Su Casa opened. While Arnold’s may have already established the popularity of the location, Su Casa has kept people coming back even if their residences or jobs have since moved out of the neighborhood. Having a central meeting place is part of the reason, but people have a hard time finding the same food anywhere else.

Su Casa seems to have escaped the notice of most tourists, but the restaurant is already so crowded for lunch I doubt that one of the priorities of the owners is to advertise in the local travel guides to attract new customers. Instead, word of mouth seems to bring most people who are not already regular customers. I have a hard time choosing any one Mexican restaurant that I would advise out of town travelers to visit if they have only one meal in El Paso, but Su Casa is certainly one that would be on the short list. The food here typifies the classic El Paso style of Mexican food, and is of consistently good quality no matter what you order from the menu. The combination plates are good at Su Casa, as are many of the single item plates.

Mexican Dishes

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas

For me one of the best tests of El Paso style Mexican food is the Red Enchilada, and the one at Su Casa is certainly one of the best (this is the opinion of myself as well as several of my friends). The one here has a good spiciness, and the cheese provides quite a good flavor. It can sometimes be skimpy on the sauce, but if you need more sauce you can ask for it. These are an El Paso variation of the New Mexico style enchiladas, which are generally slightly more spicy than their borderland cousins. The deep red color with the accompanying flavor, though, is something they have in common.

Combination No. 2

Combination No. 2

Every day there is a plate served as a special, and I think this is a good deal provided it includes a red enchilada (and I think most of them do). One example is the Combination No. 2 which includes a beef taco, rice, chile relleno, red enchilada, and beans. This might be nick-named the “classic” plate because it includes all the classic El Paso dishes on one plate.

The Beef Tacos are among the most enjoyable anywhere, made with ground beef and topped with Mexican cheese. They are not spicy, though, which is why I like to get them in combination with other items. What is really noticeable here is the way they are cooked so that they are neither too hard nor too greasy.

The Chile Relleno is served with a fairly mild sauce and a very doughy crust that distinguishes it from the New Mexico version. The chile itself and the cheese inside, though, are very similar to ones I have had in Las Cruces and other places throughout the Land of Enchantment. I was especially impressed by the way the cheese melts to just the right consistency for maximum enjoyment of this dish.

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-Color Enchiladas are another good choice for a combination plate, and provide more classic El Paso style dishes. Known as the “Mexican Flag” in some restaurants, the red, green, and white represent the colors of the flag, but also give a variety of flavors. I think the green chile at Su Casa is one of the best in El Paso, although the red is really my go-to choice. The “white” enchilada is actually a red one with sour cream on top, so you are in effect getting two red enchiladas and one green one. They tend to spread the sour cream over all three enchiladas on the plate, but you do end up with the three distinct flavors.

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup

The Tortilla Soup is well spiced with excellent cheese. If this were going to be the main part of the meal, though, I would prefer the caldo tlalpeño at Café Mayapán that also contains avocado and a whole chipotle chile. Su Casa serves the soup in either a whole order, which would constitute a pretty substantial meal, or a half order.

The Refried Beans, topped with a generous amount of cheese, are delicious when eaten on chips. Traditional wisdom seems to be that beans made with lard have a better flavor, but the ones at Su Casa made with vegetable oil seem to disprove this theory.

Middle Eastern Food

Spinach pies

Spinach pies

I think Su Casa should be known as much for its Middle Eastern food as for the Mexican menu. The Spinach Pies, made from scratch in the owner’s home, have the best flavor I have tasted anywhere, but suffer from the fact that they are kept frozen and then microwaved when you order them. The ones here are probably not like you would find in Lebanon, but they are better than the ones I have tried in the city’s Middle Eastern restaurants. Even though the crust shows some signs of being microwaved, the inside filling is fresh and moist, with a rich Middle Eastern flavor. For me, this is one of the best lunch plates served at Su Casa.

Tabouli

Tabouli

The Tabouli is made fresh, and has a well deserved reputation as one of Su Casa’s most popular dishes. The light sauce brings out the true flavor of the vegetables that I find typical of good quality Middle Eastern food. My respect for the tabouli at Su Casa has increased over the years as I have tried other versions in El Paso and other cities that seemed too have to much or too little of certain ingredients, while the one at Su Casa has just the right balance of its various components. Lebanese food is a real passion of the owners, and it definitely shows in the tabouli and other dishes that are served.

Several other Lebanese dishes are offered including kebby, Middle Eastern style chicken, and shish-kabob.

Before and After the Main Meal

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Salsa is not the spiciest in El Paso, but may have the freshest ingredients. The owners’ Middle Eastern heritage comes through a little bit in the mixture of ingredients that come together to provide one of the most complex flavors of any salsa in the city.

Sopaipilla

Sopaipilla

Complimentary Sopaipillas are served after every meal, and are some of the tastiest around. This one, like many served in El Paso, are thinner than the New Mexico version.

Things to Know
One feature I really like is that just about every plate is available in a half order, and many times the half order is large enough for a meal (although a half order of the soups or salads would not fill me up). Several of the combination plates come in half orders with fewer main dishes, but you still get the beans, rice, and sopaipillas. My favorite at night is the “dinner special,” that comes with one taco, one enchilada, rice, and beans (and can also be served with two enchiladas or two tacos). However, Su Casa has cut back its hours to the point that Friday is the only evening it is open, and only until 7:00 p.m. (Update 2018: I am not sure it is still open later on Friday but Yelp is reporting that it is)

Almost everyone who is a regular will say that one of the attractions is the excellent service. Su Casa is a neighborhood, family style restaurant, and once you go you will likely be remembered from then on. There is a higher likelihood of running into my friends here than at any other restaurant in the city. Everything seems to come together to make it feel like “your home” (su casa).


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican & Lebanese
Cost: $
Hours: Lunch only Mon.-Sat. (open until 7 pm on Fri.); closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, wine, Sangria

Most Recent Visit: Aug. 1, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Tri-Color Enchiladas, Spinach Pie, Tacos, Tabouli, Sopaipillas, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Tri-Color Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Spinach Pies
star 5 Tabouli
star 5 Tacos
star 4 Tortilla Soup
star 5 Refried Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Peter’s–El Paso, TX

Peter’s German Grill & Bakery
255 Shadow Mountain Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 626-6368
Peter's German Grill

Peter’s German Grill


The owner of Peter’s (whose name you can guess) was formerly a baker at Lo Mart Supermarket, a grocery store that had a large selection of German baked goods and other items imported from Europe (and is a store I have missed since it closed). Fortunately, though, Peter’s German Grill and Bakery goes a long way in filling the void, except for the fact that Lo Mart used to be on both the west and east side while there is only one Peter (who is located on the west side on Shadow Mountain Dr.).

Peter operates a German restaurant that mainly serves bratwurst and schnitzel, although I know that some other items are available as well (the web site lists two other types of Wurst). Side dishes are available, and there are lunch specials every day where you can get a main item, potato salad, drink, and dessert for a price that makes it hard to resist (also when you taste the food it is hard to resist as well). Most of what I have tried so far has been because it was the daily special.

The bakery is similar to Marina’s Bakery on the east side, except here there is a greater selection of breads while Marina’s mostly serves pastries. Each of these bakeries gives you a good selection of both, though.

Peter kept telling me that Friday night is the beer special night (I think it is half price) but I have yet to check it out. So far, though, I have found more than enough to keep me interested in coming back.

Bratwurst

Bratwurst

Bratwurst

Bratwurst is one of the specialties of the restaurant, and it is obvious that Peter takes care in finding a good source and in cooking it the right way. The one here is grilled, resulting in an excellent flavor of an already good sausage. Sauerkraut is served on top (unless you want onions), and all around it is excellent (but due to the nature of how it is prepared I would think it should be eaten in the restaurant like I did rather than trying to get an order to go).

A very good Potato Salad was served with mine as part of the daily special deal. The potato salad is served cold. I have been told that it is prepared in house daily (this is evident by how fresh it is, but I just want to get my facts correct).

I tried various mustards which are available for customers to use, but I did not find any that I liked as much as the mustard that Marina’s Bakery puts on their bratwurst. Otherwise, though, I would rate the bratwurst here as probably being the best in El Paso.

Jagerschnitzel

Jagerschnitzel

Jagerschnitzel

Jagerschnitzel is one of the variations of schnitzel served here, and the mushroom gravy covering the meat lived up to my expectations (as did the meat).

The portion of meat on the schnitzels here seems smaller than at other restaurants, and to me this one is about the right size and also the right price. I also think other patrons will be happy with the flavor.

Pretzels

Pretzel

German style pretzel

One feature at Peter’s is that they have German style Pretzels made with rye, covered with rock salt, and served with butter. Like all of the bread it is fresh and baked in house.

Pastries

Cranberry and walnut bread

Cranberry and walnut bread

After trying the Cranberry and Walnut Bread I have made it a point to buy more every time I go back. This is one of my favorite things to eat at home for snacks or as part of breakfast–the sweetness is just right but it is not to the point that you will get a sugar high from it.

For those who like bread with fruit and nuts, I would honestly say I have tried quite a few of them and this one, along with the cranberry and walnut at Whole Foods, are my favorites (Whole Foods usually sells cranberry and pecan which I also like and would rate almost as highly as Peter’s).

Pastries

Black forest

Black forest

The Black Forest has a very nice cherry filling with a liqueur flavor along with a very fresh cake and European style (not too sweet) cream topping. This is definitely one of the best I have tried (I would say probably the best). The price is a little steep, but if you get it with a daily special which includes a dessert it is almost like getting it on the house.

Drinks
There is a large variety of specialty drinks in the cooler (I think most are from Europe) that include some I have tried and would recommend. Most of the drinks are available as part of the daily special although a few are more expensive and would cost extra.

Peter does not have a drink fountain (Coke, etc.) and does not serve iced tea. Beer is available, though.

Other Comments
This is a German deli that mainly serves schnitzel and bratwurst, but it is quite good. I have to look at Ingrid’s in Oklahoma City as a restaurant that is really similar in serving both deli items and baked goods/pastries. Comparing these two restaurants would probably not mean a whole lot to most readers, but it is a way of describing them–Ingrid’s has a lot larger selection of sandwiches and meat plates, but I think for what Peter’s does serve it has a better flavor. Peter’s main drawback is its small menu, but I really think people will enjoy what they get.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: German
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer

Most Recent Visit: Jun. 21, 2018
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Jagerschnitzel, Bratwurst, Cranberry and Walnut Bread, Black Forest

Special Ratings
star 5 Bratwurst
star 5 Jagerschnitzel
star 5 Potato Salad
star 5 Pretzel
star 5 Cranberry & Walnut Bread
star 5 Black Forest