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.

La Choza–El Paso, TX

La Choza Menudazo & Tamalotes
1155 N. Zaragoza Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 872-1486
La Choza

La Choza


My visits to La Choza span more than a decade and the length of El Paso, but the result has always been the same–good food that is “authentic” as the restaurant claims. In 2006 and 2007 I made several visits to the west side La Choza which is now closed, and recently I was able to go to the original restaurant on Zaragoza Road in east El Paso (although I believe the original restaurant is actually in Ciudad Juarez). Both El Paso locations have stayed true to the original Chihuahua style tastes, and have not changed at all because of being located north of the border.

The El Paso Times spotlighted La Choza in its 2006 Best of the Border awards as serving the “Best Menudo” and as a runner-up in the “Best Tamales” category (as is reflected by its name Menudazo y Tamalotes). La Choza is certainly one of the city’s better Mexican restaurants, and especially in the category of what I call “Chihuahua style Mexican food,” or food that is more authentic and served the style that people tend to eat every day in Ciudad Juarez and throughout northern Mexico.

Probably the best thing to get here is a combination plate. They make it easy with about eight different plates on the menu, and an almost unlimited variety if you make substitutions (which they seem to make very easy to order). On the plates I have ordered the tamales seem to be a “must include” item.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa are usually a tip-off as to the quality of the meal that will be served. The Chips at La Choza were more than impressive– home made, thick, crispy, not too greasy, and only a bit too salty. In fact, these may be viewed as the classic El Paso and northern Mexico style chips by which others can be compared.

The Salsa may be even more impressive–a thin liquid with just the right amount of diced chiles and not too much cilantro or other spices that typically ruin a good salsa.

Appetizers and A La Carte Items

Chile con queso

Small order of chile con queso

To me a very special meal would include a small order of Chile con Queso. A lot of restaurants serve this dish, but other parts of the country do not compare to the northern Mexican style that is typified by La Choza. This dish is served with a thick cheese that does not turn either too hard or too gooey, and fresh green chile strips that taste as if they come from the local area. Some people get the full order as a dinner, but my stomach is not prepared for that much green chile at one sitting. I loved the appetizer, though, and thought it was one of the best versions of chile con queso I had tried. Others in El Paso serve very good queso, but I thought the one at La Choza was probably closer to the ones I have eaten in Mexico.

Special tamales

Special tamales

They frequently offer special tamales that are not regularly on the menu, such as the green and red ones shown here. I do not know what they are called, I only suggest getting the ones freshly made no matter what they are.

Combination Plates

Combination no. 6

Combination plate no. 6

The Combination Plate Number 6 has what I normally consider to be some of the best items to order, but here the best one is the Tamal. All the items together, though, made a very enjoyable dinner.

The Chile Relleno surprised me by coming plain without sauce on top. It also surprised me by being less greasy than most. I did not find it as flavorful as most of the ones I consider to be “New Mexico” style, but I think using the type of chile, cheese, and breading that are consistent with Ciudad Juarez style food, La Choza did a very good job.

The Red Enchilada had good cheese, but came with a rather weak red chile that was diluted with too many spices. If you are used to the ones in Ciudad Juarez you will feel right at home with the enchiladas here. Personally I prefer the ones that are more popular in El Paso using stronger chiles and without as strong of a cumin flavor.

Combination plate with agua fresca

Combination plate with a gordita, chicken tamal, flauta, rice, and beans

The Flauta on this combination plate was also among my favorites. It was notable in its lack of greasiness. The guacamole, served in a small container, was excellent. I was served sour cream that was still cold and hard to use as a dip, but it was better on a subsequent visit. La Choza also provides a third topping that completes the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white, and green. The red container has a special red chile that is more robust with flavors than it is spicy (if you want something extremely spicy you can use the salsa served before the meal). Ciro’s has been known in town for serving the same style flautas with three toppings, but I thought the one at La Choza was equally good, if not better.

The Gordita was enclosed in a soft flour tortilla shell, with roast beef inside (other types of meat are available). While this type of meat seems superior to me than the ground beef used at Little Diner and other restaurants, the unfried shell made this a different type of food than the border style gordita–really it is more like a soft taco. I enjoyed the way La Choza made it but it was not really the same dish as the deep fried ones served at Little Diner and JJ’s.

The Chicken Tamal with green chile was the first thing I ordered after I read that La Choza was one of the best places in town for tamales. It had the traditional corn husk that was opened to reveal a moist masa outside with chicken and green chile inside. I thought the chicken was the weak point of the tamal, being a little dry. The green chile was not as robust as at other restaurants, but it was one of the better tamales I have tried. While there are different styles of tamales in Mexico and throughout the American Southwest, it is not easy to get a masa that tastes just right. I think the one at La Choza comes pretty close.

A Melón (canteloupe) drink I ordered was very good– not too sweet and a good representation of this type of agua fresca drink.

Combination plate with beans, rice, flauta, red enchilada, and chile relleno

Combination plate with beans, rice, flauta, red enchilada, and chile relleno

This combination plate does not present any new items, but it shows how you can get just about any combination of items that you wish.

Green enchiladas

Combination plate with green enchiladas

Green Enchiladas made Ciudad Juarez style are milder than the ones with New Mexico chile, and sometimes have a different flavor. The trick I have found to ordering them is to always get a chicken filling, and when possible get them with sour cream (enchilada suiza style). At La Choza it turned out I had nothing to worry about, since the green chile was quite good (although still not very spicy). The Mexican white cheese added a flavor dimension that is not found in New Mexico enchiladas that use yellow cheese, so in my opinion the green enchiladas at La Choza are on par with some of the city’s New Mexico style enchiladas. I enjoyed them served with chicken and a container of sour cream that was served on the side, although I think ones without chicken might be my first discovery of a truly good meatless dish at La Choza.

Other Notes
The prices were a little higher than are normally found in El Paso Mexican restaurants, but I thought were a bargain for the quality of food served. Even the items that I thought did not have the best flavor were very fresh and of good quality.

The service has always been outstanding even though I have gone to different locations and have had different servers.

Breakfast is available from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

This is a “late night” restaurant for Fridays and Saturdays since they are open 24 hours both of these evenings. This is also a time when they sever the “special” tamales.

Even if a restaurant stays true to “Chihuahua style” cooking, there is still a great allowance for individual recipes and cooking methods. I like the way La Choza prepares the food, and I have found the total meals to be a pleasurable experience that makes up for any specific shortcomings found in individual items. To me the only real shortcoming has been in the red enchiladas, but this has been my general experience with Ciudad Juarez style restaurants. The green enchiladas and just about everything else, though, have been outstanding.

More than being good, though, the food has been very enjoyable–something that is intangible but very important. I hope others will enjoy it as much as I have.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open daily except Sun. evening (open 24 hrs. on Sat.)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Dec. 1, 2017
Number of Visits: 4
Best Items: Tamales, Flautas, Green Enchiladas, Gorditas, Chile con Queso, Chips, Salsa, Agua Fresca Drinks

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Tamales Green
star 5 Tamales Red
star 5 Flautas
star 5 Gorditas
star 4 Chile Relleno
star 3 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Chile con Queso
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Beans
star 4 Rice
star 5 Melón Drink

Nopalito–Las Cruces, NM

Nopalito Restaurant
310 S. Mesquite St.
Las Cruces, NM
(575) 524-0003
Nopalito on Mesquite St.

Nopalito on Mesquite St.


There are two Nopalito Restaurants in Las Cruces, and I have been going to the original on Mesquite Street for just about as long as I have been in the area (since sometime after its opening in 1964 but I am not revealing the exact date!). I have always particularly enjoyed the salsa, although some of the menu items have been hit or miss.

I generally do not reward this type of restaurant with a rather exclusive “25 or above” rating, but I feel that its red enchiladas alone are worthy of giving this type of honor to the restaurant, not to mention the wonderful salsa made with chunks of fresh green chile and warmed so that the flavor can be enjoyed even more. Some other items are not as noteworthy, but I definitely think these are among the top red enchiladas in the state (and I could probably say the same thing about the salsa).

I am glad this restaurant has not had a Gordon Ramsay makeover because I enjoy the 1960’s style booths and tables, and if they changed it the nostalgia value of the restaurant would be lessened, even though I am sure the food would be just as good. Do not worry, though, because the seats and tables seem as if they have been refurbished or replaced since 1964, but just kept in the same style.

The cuisine here is New Mexican, with local red and green chile used in the enchiladas and other items. Of course all chefs have their own recipe for enhancing the chile and bringing out the classic chile flavor, and I think Nopalito is one of the best.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The green chile Salsa here is renowned in the local population and also with just about anyone who has visited the restaurant over the years. This is a mild chile (by New Mexico standards) made with fresh cut chile and heated just before serving for a lasting memory that I have had since my first visit here. The smaller bowl of red salsa is more spicy, but I think the green one has the edge on flavor.

I think the chips are somewhere between nondescript and a detriment to enjoying the wonderful flavor of the salsa. Although I have been disappointed by the chips, I would not call them bad (I think Oklahoma has a corner on that market).

Red and Green Chile

Red enchiladas

Some of the best red enchiladas in New Mexico

The Red Enchiladas are ones that I would rate as among the best in New Mexico, at least in terms of the chile. Spices are added in a way that enhances the chile without overwhelming it, and Nopalito left me with one of the most pleasant chile aftertastes in my mouth that I have ever experienced. They use regular tortillas instead of blue corn (as is the custom in Las Cruces), but the chile is so good it really does not matter.

The egg was overcooked with regard to the way I ordered it. This and the chips are part of a pattern of little things that detract from the experience here, but not enough to change my opinion about the things that really matter such as the red chile and green salsa.

Besides the egg there is also a choice of beef, chicken, or sour cream if you want something besides plain cheese enchiladas.

I really should rate the red chile as five on the one-to-five chile scale I have set up, and I think it will be too spicy for some. I wanted to distinguish it, though, from the super hot chile found at some old style restaurants such as Pepper Pot in Hatch. There is a time in my chile experience that I like the spicy stuff, but I think Nopalito has the same good flavor without some of the possible side effects of extremely spicy food.

The Beans and Rice are excellent as side dishes, but especially the beans.

The enchiladas and other dishes have a side salad that looks like cole slaw without the sauce. This is a garnish and does not have to be eaten, but I think it is much better than at restaurants where they only serve lettuce.

Stuffed sopapilla

Stuffed sopapilla

The Stuffed Sopapilla is served as an individual item, and would be equivalent to the small order at Nellie’s. Even though it was small it was overkill with an order of enchiladas, but I enjoyed the flavors.

The stuffed sopapilla that is pictured came with green chile, which I also like but I do not think it is quite comparable to the red. It is a little spicier than the red but not noticeably so.

Other Dishes
The Chiles Rellenos are made with Hatch chiles, and are topped with the same green chile used on the green enchiladas (both are very good). I still consider Chope’s in La Mesa, though, to have the best rellenos in the valley.

When I tried the Gorditas I found them less exciting that other items, but I need to have a more recent experience to give a more thorough review.

Other Notes
I think just about any dish here will be excellent by Mexican food standards, but the red enchiladas really stand out to me as a “must try” if you like this type of food.

South of the border and modern style Mexican restaurants are proliferating in Las Cruces, but Nopalito is one of the best places to go for traditional New Mexican style food. Hatch chiles have recently come into popularity throughout the country, but they have been a staple of Las Cruces cuisine all along. The green chile salsa at Nopalito, though, is probably one of the best examples of the green chile that can be found.

The other location of Nopalito is at 2605 Missouri Street, and it is also open seven days a week.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes (But the restroom does not have a grab bar)
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Jul. 8, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable (Lard used in the refried beans)

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Green Enchilada
star 5 Stuffed Sopapilla
star 4 Chile Relleno
star 4 Gordita
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Great American–Vinton, TX

Great American Steakhouse
600 Valley Chili Rd.
Anthony, TX
(915) 886-4690
Great American Steakhouse

Great American Steakhouse in Vinton


Great American is a mini-chain of steak restaurants that also qualifies as an El Paso institution because it has been here for so long. For years I thought the steak was not quite as good as Cattleman’s in Fabens, although the sides were better. This has changed because Cattleman’s has gone through some changes lately and because of some experiences I have had at Great American on Mesa Hills that gave me a better opinion of their steak. I now believe that both restaurants have good cuts of steak and others that are less impressive. For sides, it is hard to beat the cole slaw at Great American.

Although I only have one recent experience at the Vinton Great American (which has a postal address of Anthony, TX), I have also had a number of experiences at various locations throughout El Paso over the years. This review is only for the Vinton restaurant, although I think all of the restaurants serve pretty much the same food.

The Steak

New York steak

New York steak with potato, beans, and cole slaw

Although the New York Steak was a little disappointing in some ways, this quality of steak is still a special treat. It seems that almost no steak tastes the same as I remember when I was younger, although this one comes close. It had a very good flavor (which is the reason I like to order the New York cut) and they cooked it very well.

The disappointing part was that it was gristly in part of the steak, although part of it was very good. I think this is a characteristic of the cut, although I do not eat enough steak to be an expert on the different cuts.

I do not think the steaks here are grass fed or have the other special characteristics I sometimes find in Oklahoma City, although the prices at Great American are relatively affordable and the steak is a good bargain.

Side Dishes
The Cole Slaw has been my favorite dish at Great American since I first tried it years ago. The most noticeable characteristic of it is the pineapple flavor, although they keep the sweetness to just the right level. I made a special note that there was at least one chunk of pineapple in every bite I took at the Vinton restaurant.

The Baked Potato was very good, although it is still not like the ones I remember when I was younger and living in Austin (I don’t know why they were so good there, but like all food I judge everything by the best examples I have found).

The Beans were disappointing to me after having remembered them being so good in the past. I do not think they have changed, but my tastes have changed so that I do do not like them as spicy as they are at Great American. I have been on a barbecue kick lately, and my favorite beans are ones you typically find in barbecue restaurants. The people at Great American told me they put Tabasco sauce in the beans, but personally I think they put too much.

Additional Comments
I have experienced better cuts of steak at Great American than the New York, but I just wanted to give this one a try. It was not bad, and had a great flavor in spite of the gristle in parts of it.

I do not know why, but the staff in Vinton seem to be the most friendly of any of the Great American Restaurants, and this was true even about 20 years ago when I made my first visit. I do not know if this translates into better food, but I do think they try to do what they can to make your visit enjoyable.

I know from past experiences that Great American has better steaks than the New York, and the Mesa Hills location even had a Wagyu style steak which I believe is still available at all the locations. Something that is this much more expensive would obviously give a better meal, but I believe some less expensive steaks such as the filet would also be a good choice. For the rating of this restaurant, though, I have to base it on what I have actually tried (and I would expect it to go up with some other steaks).


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Steak
Cost: $$$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Full Bar

Most Recent Visit: Apr. 15, 2018
Number of Visits: 4
Best Items: New York Steak, Cole Slaw

Special Ratings
star 5 New York Steak
star 5 Cole Slaw
star 5 Baked Potato
star 3 Beans