El Paso, TX
Update Apr. 2021: Carnitas Querétaro is open but with an abbreviated menu. Some of the items mentioned in the review are not currently served, but I think they will be served again once the pandemic is over.
Carnitas Querétaro has multiple locations in El Paso, and each one is packed with extended families and groups of friends who come for “Mexican comfort food” that is filling and served as it would be found in a typical restaurant in Mexico. The emphasis at CQ is on meat– the restaurant is notable for the variety of Mexican meat dishes that are served here, including lamb barbacoa, buche, and other specialties not usually found in the more Americanized Mexican restaurants. Some of their most popular meats are the Mexican style steaks.
I tried the Lamb Barbacoa at the old restaurant (before it moved to Remcon), and it had a more “gamey” taste than I remembered from eating it in Austin many years ago. Generally, though, I have liked the food better at the new restaurant and I think it would be worth trying again.
If the restaurant has a specialty it is the carnitas, and I think the ones here are some of the best you can find (in this case I have tried it at the new restaurant).
Occasionally they serve dishes that are not normally on the menu such as some of the Lent specials served on Fridays and Holy Days before Easter. Otherwise, though, they have a somewhat streamlined menu from what was served at the old restaurant, and much of this is due to their decreased business during the COVID pandemic. I am including information on some of the items that are no longer served, though, in case they become available again.
Chicken Mole was once considered a rather exotic dish in El Paso, but is now found in most of the larger restaurants. Few do it as well, though, as Carnitas Querétaro. The mole has a more subtle flavor than at other places, and I would judge it to be one of the premier representations of this dish in El Paso. Although some first time eaters are apprehensive about the dish because one of its base ingredients is chocolate, the mole at Carnitas Querétaro is made from such a rich mixture of flavors the chocolate is not as readily discernible as in other versions.
The Chicken Mole Dinner is served with grilled chicken breast meat, in CQ’s apparent attempt to serve a more upscale version of this entrée than is being done at restaurants that use shredded chicken. Although I like the flavor of the dish it is a lot of food for my appetite (as are many dishes at this restaurant).
I think the mole dinner always goes better with a flour tortilla (they provide a corn tortilla unless you ask for the flour one). Certain drinks seem to go best as well, with one of my preferences being the cantaloupe drink (melón).
The Mole Burrito is made with shredded chicken for the more traditional style of mole. The burrito is wrapped in the same flour tortilla that comes on the side with the dinner, and might be a preferred alternative to the larger dinner portion. It has all the flavors of the mole dinner, but in a different form (I give the disclaimer, though, that I had this at the old restaurant before it moved to Remcon and I am not sure if they still do it the same way).
Enmoladas are another form of a mole dinner, and are popular with those who want the mole flavor but without a lot of meat. “Enchiladas” are tortillas with chile and “Enmoladas” substitute mole for the chile as the topping. The menu offers either cheese or chicken inside, but personally I think if I want chicken the mole burritos are probably better. The enmoladas with cheese offer a good opportunity for a delicious non-meat meal (although some would argue the cheese does not really make this vegetarian).
Carnitas (pork) is probably the signature dish of this restaurant, with the recipe originating in Querétaro (the rest of the menu is Chihuahua style). I was able to sample this at the new restaurant and found it to have an excellent flavor. There is a large quantity of meat on the plate, but if you are going to do this I think Carnitas Querétaro probably has the best flavor I have found.
Carnitas tacos are also available for a smaller portion of meat.
Enchiladas, Tacos, and Chile Relleno
Carnitas Querétaro seems to have made some pretty significant changes in the enchiladas since their move to the new location. One of the most obvious is in the Red Enchilada which is now one of the more flavorful ones in El Paso. The red chile is very spicy by El Paso standards and tastes very much like pure chile with the minimum of additives (making it much like the enchiladas in New Mexico). It has a deep red chile which I think probably comes from New Mexico.
Although enchiladas are good enough to order as a dinner on an enchilada plate, I still like them best on the Plato Mexicano with a chile relleno and taco. The Mexican Plate in every restaurant seems to have these same three items along with rice and beans, with a difference here that you can get a Carnitas Taco if you wish. I prefer this small portion of meat to a large plate of it, and you still get the carnitas flavor.
Although the Chile Relleno is one of the better ones in El Paso, I do not like it as much as some I have found in Las Cruces. Still, the one here is not one to pass up if you get the opportunity to try it. It is spicier than most, and the cheese and ranchero sauce are near the top in terms of flavor.
The Enchiladas Suizas I ordered at the new restaurant on Remcon had a somewhat different appearance than before. They have mixed crema with the green chile in addition to adding more sour cream on the top. The rice and beans are now served in side dishes while previously they were served on the plate.
Chicken is traditionally served in enchiladas suizas, although I think you can get other fillings instead.
Some Photos from the Old Restaurant on Mesa St.
These are items I had at the old restaurant on Mesa Street, and have not had at the Remcon location. Some of them may still be available or will be available the next time Carnitas Querétaro changes its menu, but I am referring to all of them in the past tense until I am able to order them again.
Pozole Tapatio, or hominy served with pork chunks and red chile, was one of the most flavorful versions of the dish I have tried. The yellow hominy might be an acquired taste for some, but mixed with the red chile and meat it offered another great opportunity to venture out from the mundane menu found at most restaurants. Several soups were on the menu but this was one of the best I found.
The pozole came with tortillas on the side, limes for flavoring, and cabbage to put into the soup if you desired. With all the side dishes that were served, I found the large bowl to be enough for a meal.
Aztec Soup was Carnitas Queretaro’s version of tortilla soup, with crispy tortillas that were made soft by floating in the soup. The white meat chicken and avocado were good, and I liked the Mexican style cheese even better. I thought the best feature, though, was the flavor of the broth. This was not quite the best version of tortilla soup I have ever eaten, but it was close.
Flautas had the same high quality as most of the other dishes, with the customary guacamole and sour cream (or at least this is customary in the more authentic Mexican restaurants). The chicken version came with meat that was tender and flavorful. The guacamole that covered the flauta was puréed, but customers could also request the more chunky variety on the side as in the photo.
Chicken Tampiqueña in El Paso restaurants refers to grilled chicken with green chiles on top, accompanied by a red enchilada (and usually rice and beans). Restaurants usually give a price break ordering it this way as opposed to ordering chicken and an enchilada separately, so I usually find this dish to be a good choice.
Rice, Beans, Chips, Salsa, etc.
The Chips are thick and I find them to be very good (although some others in El Paso are better). Sometimes they are overly salty but not always.
Salsas are excellent, and you get both a red and green salsa with the chips. In the past they have had a dark colored salsa, and sometimes have had a queso dip. The red and green avocado based salsa (now served) are both spicy, with the red being the spicier of the two.
I know the Rice and Beans are good, and I usually think the beans are the better of the two.
You can usually get free Tortillas with the meal. The corn tortillas are freshly made and cooked in the restaurant (I do not know about the flour tortillas but they seem fresh as well).
I used to order Aguas Frescas at Carnitas Querétaro but I do not know if they are currently available. These were traditioanal Mexican drinks that I use as one factor to judge a restaurant’s authenticity (now I usually order tea so I do not know whether they have the aguas frescas or not).
Horchata is a traditional drink that went well with lent specials, and the one here had a good cinnamon flavor.
Melón (canteloupe) is usually my favorite of the aguas frescas, and while it has traditionally been available only during the harvest season in the Pecos Valley or in California, I believe the availability of the fruit now lasts a large part of the year.
The Lemonade at CQ rivaled the other drinks for quality and enjoyment.
The aguas frescas are almost like a wine in that patrons can pair their meals with the proper drink just as they would at a fine dining restaurant. Personally I have had just about as much enjoyment out of the drinks at Carnitas Querétaro as I would with a fine wine.
On Fridays during Lent Carnitas Querétaro serves Comida de Cuaresma (Lent Dinner) specials that are among my favorite Mexican food experiences. Lent specials are provided for the faithful who wish to go without meat at least one day a week in favor of a fish or vegetarian meal. The restaurant says on the menu “It’s time to be good,” but I think it is also time to enjoy some delicious meals.
The Lent menu has changed over the years, and it now offers fewer choices than before. The full dinner is very good, and comes with either fish or shrimp and a choice of sauces (veracruzano, chipotle, diabla, and mojo de ajo). Dinners come with soup and capirotada for dessert, and the side dishes on the plate are mashed potatoes, rice, salad, and bread.
Also available are some lighter plates including fish tacos (but these do not come with the soup and dessert).
I particularly like the Lentejas, or lentil soup that comes with the full dinner special. This soup is wonderful in its simplicity, with whole lentils, a few spices, and a dark broth. Served with Horchata, a rice drink with cinnamon, this is the start to a classic El Paso style Lent meal. Corn or flour tortillas are available on request with the meal, but I like the tortilla better with the soup (I think corn goes best with it).
I was surprised to discover that fish dinners are only available at Carnitas Querétaro during Lent, and shrimp choices are more limited on the regular menu (they do have fish enchiladas, shrimp enchiladas, shrimp tacos, and several mahi mahi dishes on the regular menu). For me it is definitely worthwhile to get the fish plates on the Lent special while they are available.
One of the styles served is Pescado Veracruzano, or Veracruz style fish with a tomato sauce and green olives. The flavor of the fish is mild, and this helps to highlight the delicious sauce with green olives, chiles, and spices. I probably enjoy the Mashed Potatoes as much as anything on the plate, with a home made (not from instant potatoes) taste. The sauce is slightly spicy and is made with guero chile (which is not considered to be one of the hottest varieties).
The Diabla Style Fish Fillet of course is known for being extremely spicy food, and I believe it is on the current menu (this photo, though, is from the old restaurant).
Order the Al Mojo de Ajo fish or shrimp if you like an overwhelming garlic flavor (this is also something I tried at the old restaurant).
It is also possible to order a vegetarian meal, and of course enchiladas are always available from the menu. The old restaurant had a special sauce available on the Lent menu on the Green Chipotle Enchiladas (shrimp chipotle enchiladas were also available). This may still available as a special order, but is not on the current menu (creamy chipotle enchiladas are available on the regular menu, and the sauce is one of the choices for the Lent specials).
Capirotada dessert tops it off, a kind of drunken bread pudding with raisins and the little sugar balls on top that are sometimes used on cupcakes.
There are several Lent specials I enjoy in El Paso, but the one at Carnitas Querétaro is one of the best in terms of food quality (good fish, soup, and dessert). It is also one of the most filling and most expensive, which to me is probably its biggest drawback. Because this is a special menu only done once a year, though, I have found that it pays to go to restaurants with a long history of doing it, such as Carnitas Querétaro. The quality and flavor here are good, and it is worth the money if you have a good appetite.
Carnitas Querétaro currently has four locations in El Paso, but I would advise checking on line because the locations change from time to time. The former restaurant at 6516 N. Mesa St. is where many photos in this review were taken, but it has now moved a few blocks west to 7410 Remcon Circle (at the corner of Mesa and Remcon).
I have also been to the restaurant on Interstate 10 (9077 Gateway West), which has the same menu as the west side location. There are now two other east side restaurants at 1451 N. Zaragoza Rd. and 12706 Montana.
Carnitas Querétaro has been a pleasant surprise in the way they have changed some of the dishes from the style served at the old restaurant on Mesa (enchiladas suizas are an example of dishes I think have improved). The carnitas also tasted better than the ones I tried at the old restaurant, but I have not eaten them enough to say that this is a trend rather than just my own somewhat random experiences.
Prices have risen quite a bit from the days of the “old” restaurant, and I have particurly noticed this on the Lent specials. So far, though, I have mostly thought the higher prices are a good tradeoff for the very comfortable dining room they now have and the upgrades they have made to some of the dishes.
Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Apr. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Mole, Enchiladas Suizas, Chicken Tampiqueña, Carnitas, Pozole, Aztec Soup, Lent Specials, Aguas Frescas
Mexican Food Details
|Green Enchiladas (cheese)|
|Green Enchiladas (Suizas)|
|Pico de Gallo|
Green Chipotle Enchiladas (from the old menu)
Pescado al Mojo de Ajo