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

San Isidro–El Paso, TX

San Isidro Mission Cafe
1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 845-8400
San Isidro Restaurant

San Isidro Mission Cafe


If San Isidro Mission Cafe were in any other city it would probably be my favorite Mexican restaurant, but in El Paso there is very stiff competition and I really cannot say that any one of them is my favorite (including this one). Instead I look at individual items and compare them one to another.

One advantage of San Isidro is that it serves two cities. It is located in El Paso’s Upper Valley on Country Club Road, but literally across the street is Sunland Park, New Mexico, a city with its own substantial population base. I have not been to San Isidro when it was not close to its capacity with customers, whether from Texas, New Mexico or other areas.

San Isidro serves breakfast and lunch with prices that are moderate. The person who recommended it to me said the Lent specials were very good, although for most of the year the breakfast and lunch seem to be about equal in popularity.

Breakfast Menu Items

Huevos rancheros

Huevos rancheros San Isidro

For breakfast I tried the Huevos Rancheros San Isidro, made with a special recipe of the owners (and different than the regular huevos rancheros which are also available on the menu). The version I tried had spicy green chile and a flavorful sauce. Although not very obvious from the photo, there are pieces of steak to give it additional substance and flavor.

While most huevos rancheros dishes in El Paso come with refried beans and hash browns, these come with whole beans and potato chunks (I think the other version of this dish on the menu is the more traditional one). The huevos rancheros San Isidro seems to be more of a New Mexico style dish (with the whole beans and green chile), so this is a good alternative if you are tired of the traditional versions served in El Paso.

Combination Plate

Combination plate

Combination plate

The combination plate gave me a good idea of what is available for lunch. I will say that I had two favorites from this plate, one being the Chile Relleno. Besides the flavor being good and having no sauce on top (New Mexico style), there were also relatively few seeds inside, and the ones that were there were near the stem.

The Red Enchilada was my other favorite item, mainly because this is always one of my favorite items in El Paso restaurants. This one had bright red chile with a good flavor, and again I think this is either New Mexico style or close to it (most El Paso red enchiladas are very close to New Mexico style).

The Quesadilla, although not one of my favorite items, was one that I judged to be very well prepared and with the flavor that it should have. I just prefer things with chile such as the enchiladas or relleno.

The Chicken Taco was better than one I had recently tried at Riviera, and therefore I have to proclaim the one at San Isidro as one of the best in west El Paso. In fact, only the taco and chile relleno were items that I thought were better than at most other restaurants.

Lent Specials

Lentil soup

Lentejas

San Isidro serves traditional Lent meals which start out with a bowl of Lentejas, a vegetarian lentil soup. This one was very good although the cilantro was very noticeable.

Fish and seafood special

Pescado lent special

There was only one choice available for the main dish of the Lent meal, Pescado Marinero. This was a mixture of fish fillet, clams, squid, and vegetables baked in tin foil and providing a complete meal in itself. I thought the fish was very good, and this dish was definitely more upscale than the typical Lent special.

Capirotada

Capirotada

The special Lent meal also included Capirotada for dessert, a traditional bread pudding. The thing that was noticeable about this was its moistness (which I judge to be a good trait, and it certainly tasted good).

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

For chips and salsa I think San Isidro is in about the middle for El Paso restaurants, but still very good overall compared to most places in the United States.

Overall Comments
Much of the food here is similar to what is found in other El Paso restaurants. One difference, though, is that they have several special items that feature New Mexico style chile such as the huevos rancheros San Isidro. I think the red enchiladas are also good and are close to New Mexico style (although I thought the one at Riviera was better).

One very unique item here, though, is the pescado marinero served as a lent special. It is expensive (I think about $16) but to me it was a special treat.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: 7:00 am to 3:00 pm (closed Tue.)
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 23, 2018
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Chile Relleno, Quesadilla, Enchiladas, Chicken Taco, Comida de Cuaresma (Lent Specials)

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Quesadilla
star 5 Enchiladas
star 5 Chicken Taco
star 5 Huevos Rancheros San Isidro
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Salsa