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 Malinche–El Paso, TX

La Malinche Mexican Food
3910 Doniphan Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 833-7941
La Malinche in west El Paso

La Malinche in west El Paso\


La Malinche is one of El Paso’s “classic” restaurants, having been in operation for as long as I can remember and probably many years before that. There are three restaurants in the city, this one is on the west side at Doniphan and Sunland Park (just a couple of blocks west of La Malinche is the State Line Restaurant which straddles the Texas-New Mexico border). My older reviews state that the food does not vary much between the different locations, but that I liked the west side restaurant because it had a larger dining room that I found more comfortable than the others. Now I honestly do not remember the food at the other restaurants, but I have enough confidence in my earlier memories to say that it is about the same at all three restaurants.

In my early reviews I stated that La Malinche has a homey atmosphere and food that tastes as if someone made it in their own home. Now that I have other resources to consult such as Yelp I find that many other people are making this same type of comment about the home made food. I would say that by definition this is probably simple food–nothing too fancy or that is meant to dazzle people with their innovative recipes. Instead it is more simple food that stands the test of time.

Over the years I have tried a number of items here, but by the time I published the first review my go-to items were narrowed down to red enchiladas, chile rellenos, and entomatadas. I usually went for the entomatadas because I could not find any others in town that were as good. I also really liked the horchata, although these days it is not on my diet very much because of the calories and sugar content.

One thing I do remember vividly from earlier visits was that although they had an 8:00 p.m. closing time, I tried several times to go around 7:30 or so and either it was OK or else they would say they were closed (when there were very few other customers). On a recent visit on a Sunday they ran out of caldo very early (before noon), yet this is what I saw some of the employees eat after the noon rush was over. Over the years I would say that customer service has never been the restaurant’s strong suit, although on the flip side I have had very good service from the wait staff.

Chips and Salas

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Just about every restaurant in town serves good chips and salsa, so it is hard to make note of their differences and to really say which ones are best. I have a habit of taking leftover Salsa home, though, and it is there that I noticed how distinctly fresh and flavorful this one was compared to others. In my recent memory this one is really at the top of my salsa list. Earlier I had also noted that it was jalapeño based rather than puréed, and was spicy as a result of the chiles that were used. I think it is always a good thing for salsa to be genuinely spicy as long as it is not this way because it is full of seeds (and the one at La Malinche does not have a noticeable amount of seeds).

The Chips are good. I used to think they were overly salty but I did not notice this on a recent visit.

Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red Enchiladas were one of my favorite items in the past, and although I have not tried them recently I was able to get a photo when my friend ordered them. I said in the previous review that they have a “strong chile flavor” and my friend said they were quite good.

Entomatadas

Entomatadas

Entomatadas have been my favorite item at La Malinche for a number of years. Nobody else seems to do them as well as here, or at least no one that I have found. These are made the same way as enchiladas but instead of chile sauce they use a tomato sauce. I think the actual sauce is much more complicated than just saying it is made with tomato (the same way enchilada sauce contains a mixture of herbs and spices). The cheese is also excellent, and is also a key factor (but the sauce is also special in its own right).

The entomatadas have a Spanish sauce which is not spicy, but the flavor is quite complex the same way I find with good enchiladas. It comes with some green peppers which give it a little bit of a kick, and I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Other Items
In the past I thought the Chile Relleno was excellent, but I have not tried it recently. It has the same Spanish sauce they use on the entomatadas, but the chile itself is spicy, making this fall into the category of spicy Mexican food. I have found the Spanish sauce to be the classic way to make El Paso styled chile rellenos, and based on this I would say to try the ones at La Malinche because they really do have the best Spanish sauce I have tried.

Tacos contain potato mixed with ground beef. This is a popular local style, and the potatoes are a way to make the tacos more affordable, but this is not my favorite version of the beef taco.

It is somewhat annoying that they will not make substitutions on the combination plates, but this is balanced by the fact that prices are very cheap. It may be worthwhile ordering more than you think you can eat in order to get all the items you might like to sample.

When I saw the breakfast menu it looked like a little less of a bargain than the lunch and dinner menus, thus I have not tried it. Many reviewers on Yelp, though, seem to enjoy the breakfast as much as I do with the entomatadas, so it may be well worth paying a little more if you have to.

Drinks

Horchata with chips and salsa

Horchata with chips and salsa

Horchata is excellent, and like everything here is made the classic Mexican way (in the Chihuahua border style).

An Overview
For a while La Malinche had five locations throughout the city, and now they are down to three. This is still a lot for a restaurant which is competing against numerous others which are serving the same type of food. Most importantly, though, the reviews say the same thing I have thought in the past–all of La Malinche’s locations have good food.

Like most Mexican restaurants, though, there are certain items that stand out and seem to make it worthy of a special trip. For me this has been the entomatadas, and I still find them to be the best I have ever had. The sauce is excellent, but the cheese also plays a large part.

A very popular time of day here seems to be breakfast, but it is not what I would call a breakfast restaurant–the lunch and dinner menu is extensive and is popular as well. Some items sell out quickly, so this is another reason to go early if you can. The food quality is still good at night, but past 7:30 they seem to be subject to closing early if they do not have a lot of customers.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 22, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Entomatadas, Red Enchiladas, Chiles Rellenos, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Entomatadas
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Enchiladas Suizas
star 4 Tacos
star 5 Horchata
star 5 Salsa

Ripe–El Paso, TX

Ripe Eatery
910 E. Redd Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-7473
Ripe

Ripe


The genre of “New American” restaurants has become very popular in El Paso, but Ripe was one of the original ones in the city and I think helped to create the market which many other restaurants are now filling. I have had a hard time defining exactly what “New American” means other than that it is different from restaurants which serve traditional American food. Having the “New” in the name allows the chefs to experiment and combine American food with other cuisine in some cases (in the case of Ripe I think there is a very large Italian influence). When Ripe first opened I read articles about the brother and sister team who opened the restaurant, and the one theme which dominated was their passion about good food and their desire to share it with the city.

One of the core principles at Ripe’s founding was to provide a la carte orders cooked in small batches made from the freshest ingredients. The “a la carte” portion of this directive has some flexibility, because there is a wide range of choices including full dinners, sandwiches, and small plates. The “freshest ingredients” aspect of the restaurant of course is a very good concept but it does create some difficulty in the sense that the menu changes all the time. They have seasonal menus, there are daily specials, and the regular items seem to change from time to time. When the restaurant first opened there was a large choice of panini sandwiches, but now there is only one that is offered. A waiter told me that if I wanted a certain type of panini I could request it (and if they could make it they would). It seems that in most instances, though, it is best to go with whatever is on the menu at the moment because these make use of their fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Some of the items I liked are listed as “Best Items,” although they may or may not ever again be listed on the menu. The menu is constantly changing, but the quality of food does not. Everything here has a high quality which I really appreciate, and so far they have flavored the food in a way that I appreciate as well. Combined with the top notch service, I always feel that it is worth the money even though it is sometimes in the upper range of the $$ price level or higher if you consider drinks, desserts, etc.

The international aspect of the menu is also a good feature. In the past some of my favorite items were the panini and the Moroccan vegetable tagine. I was told that on their fall seasonal menu Swedish meatballs are included. It seems that whenever they have international dishes they are as good as if you went to a restaurant owned by someone from that country. The only caveat is that they do not consistently serve any particular item, and I would say this particularly applies to the international dishes.

Drinks

Stout beer

Stout beer

It is not unusual for restaurants in El Paso to offer beer, but it is unusual for them to offer anything that would entice me to order it–especially ones that come in a can. This generally happens when they have craft beer, local brews, or some unusual labels I cannot find anywhere else. On a visit to Wisconsin I found a local brand that was good enough to make this my drink of choice at restaurants, but for me this is definitely not normally the case.

In El Paso, Ripe and Ardovino’s are the two restaurants that come to mind when I think I might want beer with the meal instead of my normal iced tea or other type of tea. This is because of the variety they serve and the quality of them. I want to emphasize, though, that this is not saying that Ripe and Ardovino’s are better than anyplace else, just that they had things that sounded interesting enough to make me want to try them.

Sandwiches

Black bean burger

Black bean burger with a Simple Salad

There are at least three advantages of ordering a sandwich at Ripe: (1) they are always on the menu, (2) it keeps you in the $$ price range, and (3) the ones I have tried have been better than at other restaurants. In the case of the Black Bean Burger I am not sure that this is the best I have had anywhere, but I do think it is one of the best in the city. The one I ordered here was a Tuesday special, but I think this meant it was at a lower price rather than that they only serve it on Tuesday. I liked the fact that it was slightly spicy but they were not using the spice to try to bump up the flavor (there was flavor enough from the fresh ingredients). The Simple Salad that came with it was fresh and had a good flavor.

BLTA

Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich

I ordered the BLTA because it was on the summer seasonal menu, and it looked like it would be interesting. I will have to say that even adding the “A” (avocado) to the traditional BLT does not fully describe it–the menu lists toasted ciabatta, bacon, pepper jack, avocado, chipotle mayo, lettuce, and fried green tomatoes. In terms of flavor I think what I appreciated the most over the traditional BLT was the cheese. The chipotle mayo was something about which I was wary, but it turned out to be very good with just the right amount of kick. The avocado was fresh but not so soft that it oozed out of the sides to make a messy meal as well as a tasty one. On the bacon they did a good job of making it just a little bit crispy so that it still had most of its flavor but I did not feel as if I were eating something greasy and soggy (usually I prefer bacon that is crispy rather than soft).

Ripe is known for its burgers, which account for the majority of sandwiches they serve. Burgers are not usually high on my wish list, but what I have heard about the ones here must mean that they are very high quality.

In the past one of my favorite items here was the Panini. There is currently only one type of panini on the menu, but a waiter indicated that you might be able to make a special request if there was a certain type of sandwich you wanted. I wanted to try some different items before I went back to what used to be my usual order at Ripe (assuming I can still get the types of panini I used to order). I still think, though, that whatever they make here will be among the best sandwiches in El Paso.

Other Items
For other items that are served I have to go back to dishes I have ordered in the past, but which are not currently available. If you keep an open mind and think that whatever is fresh and seasonal would be good, then Ripe will be a very good experience (all the items I have tried here were fresh and seasonal when I ordered them). It is just frustrating that many of the items I ordered in the past were so good that I would really like to have them again.

Some of the highlights from the past include a delicious Stuffed Chicken and a Moroccan style Vegetable Tagine. I have already mentioned the panini, but it was mentioned to me that some types of panini may still be available by special order. I was very impressed in the past by the Asparagus and I think this is likely still available on some of the seasonal or special menus.

Other Comments
Originally this was an “Eatery and Market,” but the deli has been phased out and the glass cases of the market are no longer here. I believe it is still a very good place for takeout, though–either to get food to go or to get individual items or a meal that can be reheated later. I have not tried this approach but I know it was one of their original concepts.

When Ripe first opened it was very big on Italian food. I thought the cheese was especially good, and I liked dishes such as the pizza, lasagna, and panini. The veggie pizza, for instance, was piled high with vegetables instead of the typical sprinkling you get at many pizza restaurants–the one here was not very traditional but it was very good.

I have always considered Ripe to be the best place in town for vegetarian dishes after Kern Place Market closed, although the menu has now gotten smaller and I think there must now be better choices for vegetarian food (although I have not found them). Still, some items I have had here such as the vegetarian pizza were very memorable.

One item I would like to try here is the Swedish Meatballs, which will be on the fall seasonal menu.

Ripe has a breakfast restaurant next door called Ripe Sunrise Cafe, and between the two you can eat from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 pm (it closes at 3:00 pm on Sunday).


Ripe Web Site


RATING: 25

Cuisine: New American
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. Evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 20, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: BLTA, Veggie Burger,

Special Ratings
star 5 Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Avocado
star 5 Black Bean Veggie Burger

Little Diner–Canutillo, TX

Little Diner
7209 7th St.
Canutillo, TX
(915) 877-2176
Little Diner in Canutillo

Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner


Finding this restaurant is half the adventure. Canutillo Tortilla Factory & Little Diner, otherwise known as “Little Diner” is located in Canutillo, just northwest of El Paso, off I-10 at the Trans-Mountain exit. Eastbound traffic on I-10 would want to take the Vinton Exit and follow the frontage road to Vinton Avenue.

Order at the counter

Orders are placed at the counter, or you can get them to go

There is good reason for the name “Little,” with a few booths and tables that at times can barely hold the crowd of customers that are here to enjoy the downscale, but very enjoyable Mexican cuisine. The crowd has become much larger in recent years due to word-of-mouth and magazine articles in publications such as Texas Monthly, extolling the delights of the “roadfood” served here. You will see much of this publicity exhibited on the walls, as well as the fact that George W. Bush has been a visitor.

Little Diner's awards

Some of Little Diner’s reviews and awards

I think many of the articles published about Little Diner are inaccurate, though. It has recently experienced a change in ownership, and the staff told me they have changed the concept of the restaurant somewhat. Recognizing that many of the customers are now tourists, they have downgraded the chile spice level from almost off the charts to a more tolerable (and I think more appropriate) level. Some of the food has changed, and I will get into details in the review. Overall I do not think it is any better or worse than before, but I think they are making a conscious attempt to make it more consistent (I think this is a good thing, but I will find out on subsequent visits).

The food at Little Diner is sort of a cross between “El Paso” and “New Mexico” style cooking, with the “New Mexico” part meaning the use of unadulterated chiles that can either be hot or extra hot, depending on the time of year and the particular crop of chiles used. El Paso style Mexican food comes through in the beans, rice, tamales, and I would say most of the items served. They also follow the El Paso tradition of cooking special tamales just before Christmas (these are the ones I like to order for myself when I get the chance).

Gorditas

Little Diner's gordita

Gordita with a hard corn masa shell

Little Diner is most famous for its Gorditas, a large shell of corn masa stuffed with ground beef or other fillings. The shell here is thicker than most places, and I would say is more flavorful. One good feature is that you can order several different fillings, but the most popular is ground beef.

Ground beef gordita

Ground beef gordita

The Ground Beef is flavored with a spice that reminds me a little bit of Durkee’s.  I have come to really appreciate the flavor, especially compared to the ground beef other restaurants have to offer. As much as I like avocado, I would say that version is the one that does not really bring out the best flavor of the gordita. Little Diner provides a small cup of red salsa that I also recommend to enhance the flavor.

The gordita went through a phase where I found the shell to be exceptionally hard and crispy, but on several recent visits I have found it to be back to the same quality it had with the old ownership, and at this point it is back to being my favorite item at the restaurant.

Green Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Green Enchiladas are one of the items I have come to appreciate most over the years, not because they are the best I have ever eaten but because they are unique in El Paso. Based largely on the style of enchiladas served in New Mexico, they provide a “chile fix” that is conveniently located for El Paso residents. I would compare Little Diner’s enchiladas to many served in Las Cruces, although Little Diner does not have the extreme spice level found in some of the New Mexico restaurants. The enchiladas are served flat, with the chile sauce overflowing onto the plate and the large chunks of green chile mixed with cheese on top. The traditional yellow cheese is used, I think largely as the most effective means to help cool down your mouth from the spicy chiles (the refried beans do a good job also). Personally I like to order the enchiladas without onions– I think they are too strong. The green enchiladas are probably the spiciest item you can get at Little Diner but they are less so than people would have found if there were here under the old ownership. For flavor I prefer the green enchiladas here over the red.

If you get a green enchilada a la carte or on a combination plate it will be rolled instead of flat, but this is one of the few instances where I think the flavor is just as good either way.

Red Enchiladas

Combination dinner

Combination dinner with tamal, red enchilada, rice, gordita, taco, and beans

The Red Enchiladas are also good, but to me they have a very “earthy” taste almost as if they simply grind up the chile pods with no other ingredients to offset the flavor (my description is extreme, but I am trying to describe how it differs from many others). You do get local flavors with the red enchiladas, but for me the flavor is not quite as good as with the green enchiladas.

Chiles Rellenos

Chile relleno with a gordita

Chile relleno with a gordita, salad, beans, and rice

The Chiles Rellenos are served without sauce on top– you are left to discern the flavors of the chile, the Muenster cheese melted inside, and the egg batter. These are the closest you can get in El Paso to the style of rellenos served at Chope’s in La Mesa, a few miles north in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley. This is an instance where the “new” food has not really changed from the old one, and the chile relleno continues to be excellent as it was before.

Refried Beans
The Refried Beans are made with lard, and they are very good as long as you do not allow them to get cold. I almost always prefer the Rice that seems to be flavored with a number of ingredients (but in the past was occasionally subject to being dry and overcooked).

Tamales
Tamales are one of the standout items (green chile with chicken and cheese is my favorite). These, along with the red chile and pork variety, can be ordered individually in the restaurant or by the dozen in to-go orders. At Christmas the popularity of Little Diner’s tamales becomes apparent when the kitchen goes into full gear, and you have to call for an order ahead of time in order to get a dozen or more to take home. The Christmas tamales are actually the same ones served throughout the year, except that two varieties are added: vegetarian with green chile and sweet tamales made with raisins (these are also vegetarian). I think there is a reason the tamales at Little Diner are so popular– they are just a lot better than I find at most other places.

Chips and Salsa
Chips cost extra, and come in a rather large order. These are not the best chips I have ever eaten, but the salsa is excellent and it is good to have something to eat with it.

Additional Comments
Like most Mexican restaurants, Little Diner has its specialties, and some items that are better than others. Overall, though, this is a very unique “diner” experience–serving that down-home style that lets you know the food is made to appeal to the local population (which is still the major clientele despite the tourists who visit).

The chile here is no longer so spicy that I think it would be hard for many people to eat (although if you are totally averse to high spice levels the green enchiladas should be avoided and possibly the red).

The restaurant is willing to make substitutions for at least one of the items on combination plates, so this is a very good way to try several items and probably get all of the ones you really want.

View outside from the window

View of the Franklin Mountains from the Little Diner

With GPS widely available I do not think I need to provide directions, although the restaurant is off the beaten path and located in the middle of a neighborhood (actually it is mostly desert with a few houses scattered about).

If you saw the segment about Little Diner on Texas Country Reporter, this was shot when it had its original owners and showed the process involved in making the gorditas. After the change in ownership I thought the gorditas were no longer like the ones shown in the video, but recent visits have convinced me that they are back to their former glory.

The green enchiladas and chiles rellenos are also items that I consider to be among the best in El Paso, and in the case of the chile relleno it is one of the best I have found anywhere. Tamales are also a very good choice here.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Wed.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 17, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Gorditas, Chile Relleno, Green Enchiladas Tamales, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile

Index:

chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable (but beans are cooked with lard)

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Gorditas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Tamales
star 5 Chiles Rellenos
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 4 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Salsa