Some of My Favorite El Paso Lent Specials

Many restaurants in El Paso (particularly Mexican restaurants) offer Lent specials in the days leading up to Easter. These are usually served on Friday, but some restaurants have them for other holy days as well.

I found out a long time ago that this is some of the best Mexican food served, and rather than Lent being a “fast” I always found it to be a treat to enjoy the food served by these restaurants. Most Lent specials are served with fish or shrimp, but some vegetarian dishes are also available such as enchiladas (they frequently use some special sauce that is not normally served on enchiladas). The Lent specials at restaurants can really be anything as long as there is no meat.

Lentil soup

Lentil soup

My favorite Lent specials are ones that include a vegetarian lentil soup (lentejas) and the traditional bread pudding dessert (capirotada). The main plate on traditional meals usually includes mashed potatoes and either rice or bread. I usually like to get fish because the restaurants usually prepare it so well, but I think I see about two shrimp specials on the menu for every one that is fish.

Capirotada

Capirotada

The following list includes recent places I have visited, with two of them (El Jacalito and Carnitas Queretaro) being long time favorites:

 

San Isidro Mission Cafe

1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX

This restaurant seems to be well known for its Lent special, although I just tried it for the first time this year.

Pescado Marinero

Pescado Marinero

Unlike other restaurants, though, San Isidro only has one Lent special. It is called Pescado Marinero, and is cooked in foil with a fish fillet, clams, squid, and shrimp all cooked together. Frankly, I went with a friend who shared this dish with me, and we both got full. We were both very happy with the food as well. The dinner came with lentil soup and capirotada (the only down side with sharing the meal is that you only get one of each of these side dishes).

The up side of this meal was that the fish was good and the seafood and vegetables mixed in were a nice added touch. The down side was that there were no other items on the Lent menu–this was the only special available. The lentils were prepared in a different style than the others I tried (heavy on the cilantro) and were very good. The capirotada was moist to the point of being soggy (more like an actual pudding than the others). Although different, this was also a worthwhile experience.

Edit: I should mention that we got an extra order of lentils and that is the reason both of us were full.

 

Carnitas Queretaro

7410 Remcon Circle
El Paso, TX

Carnitas Queretaro is the only restaurant I have found which serves Filete Veracruzano (fish with Veracruz sauce) on a regular basis, meaning every Friday during Lent. Thus, I got to try the one dish which is probably my favorite during Lent.

Filete Veracruzano

Filete Veracruzano

I loved the sauce here, but the fish fillet was probably the most disappointing out of the ones I tried this year. I also know that it was not up to the standard I experienced in previous years at Carnitas Queretaro. This was quite an expensive meal, and I just do not understand why this restaurant has changed so much (even so it was almost worth it to get such a good veracruzana sauce).

The lentil soup and capirotada were both excellent, and Carnitas is excellent on items such as the chips and salsa. The main plate came with mashed potatoes, rice and bread. To me this is overkill on the starchy items, although I enjoyed the mashed potatoes very much.

 

Delicias Cafe

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Delicias Cafe had good fish and an excellent poblana sauce. Several shrimp items were on the menu, and the staff explained that the owner and chef decide the night before what items to put on the Lent menu (so it changes weekly).

Filete with poblana sauce

Filete with poblana sauce

The lentils here were probably my least favorite of the ones I tried, but the capirotada was one of the best. The meal was a little bit strange because they had put “Filete a la Veracruzana” on the menu but the meal they brought me had a different sauce (the poblana sauce). When I asked about this they gave me some veracruz sauce to try, but I found that the poblana sauce was actually much better. In any case, if you are all right with being surprised (in a good way) then this is a good place to come.

Edit: I returned to Delicias on Good Friday and ordered the Filete a la Veracruzana. It confirmed my previous observation that the poblana sauce was better (and at Delicias I would probably skip the veracruzana sauce).

 

El Jacalito

2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX

El Jacalito is one of the restaurants that changes the menu weekly, and like most of them offers both fish and shrimp. This is my favorite restaurant for the veracruz style fish (which I did not have this year), but it is also my favorite for breaded fish (empanizado). In fact, this is really my favorite place for Lent specials.

Pescado empanizado

Pescado empanizado

One reason it is good is because of the price, but where the food is concerned I really like everything I have tried. The breaded fish had a very good sauce which was not quite like the veracruz sauce I had hoped to try, but what I had was very enjoyable. The fish itself was very fresh, and was the best I tried at any restaurant (although San Isidro was very close). The lentils and capirotada are always my favorites here, and this year was no exception.

El Jacalito is only open for lunch (as is San Isidro) but it is a great place for Lent specials if you can make it. Sometimes they do not have either the breaded or the veracruz style fish, but others may be happier with the shrimp options than I am, and there are other items on the menu you can also choose (enchiladas, etc., or even a meat item if you are not following a Lenten diet). In any case, I think it is worth coming here just for the lentil soup and capirotada.

In past years I always included their horchata as part of the Lent tradition. This year I decided on iced tea, but the horchata really is one of the best I have found anywhere.

 

Pralines are Alive and Well in Louisiana

I think of pralines as something that used to be served for dessert at Tex-Mex restaurants, but now they are so scarce I doubt if there is anybody who has them anymore. To me the sopapillas they serve in many Mexican restaurants are a poor substitute, and is the trigger that usually reminds me that I would really like a praline.

Pralines also seem to be very hard to find anywhere, except in a few places such as Louisiana. Listed below are three places where I found them, but I passed by many more with signs advertising them for sale. With the prices they charge, I think this is a lucrative business for many people. For me, though, they are really worth the price.

Louisiana pralines

Pralines from three of the best places in Louisiana

The top two boxes are from Aunt Sally’s, probably the most famous place in the French Quarter for this candy treat. They offered free samples in the store, and all this did was make me spend more money on ones to take home. The original is the kind of praline I remember from the Mexican restaurants, so naturally I had to have this. I really think, though, that the creamy praline is probably better. It is smooth and gives you more flavor than the almost pure sugar you get from the original variety (both, of course, have pecans inside the candy).

Aunt Sally’s
810 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA
(504) 524-3373

Still being happy to stick with tradition, though, I also bought a box of original style pralines from Cafe Beignet (lower right), also in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I thought these were equally as good as Aunt Sally’s, and perhaps a bit less expensive (but I do not remember the exact price). This was my first indication, though, that you could buy pralines almost anywhere and expect good quality from them.

Cafe Beignet
600 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA

The praline on the lower left was from Poché’s in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, just outside Lafayette. Poché’s is a meat market and grocery store that has tables for those who want to eat on site, and among the grocery items are their own home made pralines. I noticed that no two of them had the same shape, and that some appeared to be larger than others (but actually they were just more flattened out). These were also the traditional variety, and I enjoyed them tremendously. I think perhaps they had more pecans than the others, but I could not swear to this. Unlike the others, these are sold individually.

Poché’s
3015 Main Highway
Breaux Bridge, LA
(337) 332-2108

Poché’s is not as big of a tourist mecca as the ones in the French Quarter, but it showed me that pralines are popular throughout the state, and that they are fairly easy to find. I did not try to find pralines in Shreveport, which I also visited, but at least in South Louisiana I think the quest for good pralines is not a difficult one at all.

Christmas in Southern New Mexico–Tularosa, NM

For those who might be in the Alamogordo or Ruidoso area at Christmas, one way to experience a traditional New Mexico Christmas is to see the luminarias at the Catholic Church in Tularosa, a historic town about ten miles north of Alamogordo.

Setting up luminarias

Setting up luminarias in Tularosa, NM

These photos were taken during the afternoon of Christmas Eve when it seems that practically the entire town participates in setting up luminarias. Hundreds of luminarias are set up outlining the church, lighting up the church grounds, and following the main street in town leading to the church. They are lit at nightfall in preparation for the the special Christmas Eve service which takes place at the church.

The Catholic Church in Tularosa

Saint Francis de Paula Church

The church in Tularosa has the typical Spanish style architecture that is found in New Mexico, and this one dates from 1869. Even without Christmas decorations the town is quite photogenic, and is worth a stop if you are in the area. With the Sacramento Mountains as the backdrop, the White Sands to the west, and extensive pistachio orchards to the south, this is one of the most scenic spots in New Mexico any time of the year. I will say from experience that usually the weather in this part of the state is agreeable enough to enjoy the celebration and possibly a few outdoor activities during the daytime.

The manger scene

The manger scene

The tradition of luminarias signifies lighting the way for Mary and Joseph to find their way to the stable where Jesus is about to come into the world. The tradition of lighting luminarias is found in towns throughout New Mexico, but I find the light show in Tularosa to be one of the most impressive I have seen.

Casa de Sueños

Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa

Of course most restaurants are closed late on Christmas eve and on Christmas day, but at other times visitors to Tularosa can enjoy traditional New Mexican cuisine at Casa de Sueños on the south edge of town. I particularly liked the red enchiladas with blue corn tortillas (the blue corn variety is not normally served in southern New Mexico). Casa de Sueños is not particularly spicy, but it is spicy enough to be what I would call “real” New Mexican food that is not dumbed down for tourists. Quite a few tourists stop here, though, because of its reputation for serving delicious New Mexican style food.

I also discovered another stop a few miles south of Tularosa on U.S. 54 and 70 where the McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch has its store and winery at 7320 US 54/70 (but don’t worry about the address, just look for the giant pistachio on the west side of the highway).

 

The giant pistachio at McGinn's

The giant pistachio marks the location of McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch

 

Of course one of the main items for sale is the pistachios grown on the McGinn Ranch, and these come in different sized bags according to how many you think you might need. They have a number of different flavored nuts, but after trying several of the free samples I decided to go with the plain ones.

Quite a number of other items are also available, including New Mexico salsas.

McGinn’s is open daily according to the newmexico.org web site, but of course there may be special hours around Christmas.