El Paso, TX
One thing I have learned about border cuisine is not to ask too many questions about where certain foods originate, but to concentrate on going to places that are popular and eating what people recommend. In the case of Mexican style barbacoa a few experiences at random restaurants convinced me that I did not like this dish until I got some informed opinions about where to go, such as to Barbacoa El Azul in east El Paso.
Finding out exactly what you are eating when you order barbacoa is not easy, because barbacoa can mean a certain cooking style regardless of the meat, or when it does refer to a meat it is usually lamb or goat. In El Paso, though, I am fairly certain it means beef cheeks (although admittedly I have not witnessed the process of meal preparation).
The one important fact I have heard from my friends is that Barbacoa El Azul serves old style barbacoa as it is prepared in Ciudad Juarez. The important factor to diners is that the meat be lean and not greasy, as is the case at El Azul. Barbacoa is made fresh every day, and they serve it until it runs out (this is probably the reason Google lists Sunday as having an earlier closing time than other days, but it is really based on when they run out of food).
Barbacoa is the only item served served here, and it is sold by the pound in the quantity you want (you can also order a half pound or get four tacos which I think is about equivalent to a quarter pound). They give you tortillas and condiments so you can make tacos out of them. Some of the chiles in the salsas have a flavor that somewhat overpowers the meat, but this is why it is critical that the meat not be fatty so that this would be the overwhelming flavor (and also give an aftertaste). All I can say is that after trying a lot of barbacoa dishes, I think it is important to go to a place that knows how to prepare it correctly, as I found at El Azul.
Visually this is not the most appealing meat to me, but inside a taco you are not looking at the meat, but just tasting its deliciousness. Yelp says there are several very good places to try it besides El Azul and this is fine, but I know from experience that El Azul is good enough to make a believer out of a barbacoa skeptic as I was before I came here.
The Barbacoa can be ordered by the pound or you can get an individual order of four tacos (the price of four tacos was $6.25 when I went to the restaurant). It comes with tortillas to make tacos, and along with this are cilantro and onions along with red and green chile (the red sauce is made with chile de arbol and is the spicy one). This is all very flavorful and I would certainly suggest trying it for anyone who is interested in this type of food. Nothing else is served at this restaurant besides the barbacoa, but I think it makes a good lunch or at least a snack.
People describe the meat as being very lean, and I think this is what makes it good. I have had several experiences with barbacoa that was not as good as the one here, and I know this restaurant has a reputation for being one of the best.
The barbacoa is made fresh every day, and they serve it until it runs out. My friends who recommended the restaurant say you are fairly safe at least until 1:00 p.m., and after that it depends on how busy they have been.
Drinks follow the pattern of the menu, and you only get one choice–Mexican sodas. Fortunately these are the good ones that I have always liked, including Mexican Coke and fruit flavored drinks including manzana (apple).
Things to Know
Restaurants in Mexico follow one of two patterns–either they just serve one item or one type of food, or they are restaurants as we know them with a varied menu. The first example gives a limited choice but it is likely where the best examples of their specialty can be found. Barbacoa El Azul just has one item but the dining room is like a regular restaurant where you eat at a table (they do not have wait staff but they will bring your order to the table). It is very casual and I think it fits a local trait where people want the best food they can get for very little money, but they do not want to pay for fancy things they do not need.
There is no issue with language here–they speak English and Spanish. It is, however, very typical of border style restaurants.
My chile index does not mean a lot for this restaurant–if you add a lot of red chile it might be 5 chiles and if you only use the green it will be about three.
Hours: 7:00 am to 3:30 pm (2:30 on Sun.) according to Google
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Jan. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Barbacoa, Salsa