Carlos & Mickey’s (Airport)–El Paso, TX

Carlos & Mickey’s
6701 Convair Rd.
El Paso, TX
(915) 772-5225

The designation of this Carlos & Mickey’s as the “Airport” location is no exaggeration, with it actually being in the Terminal. I was told that there were two locations at the Airport–this restaurant downstairs and a food court style restaurant upstairs near the loading gates.

Even the downstairs restaurant is an “express” location that has a smaller menu than the other Carlos & Mickey’s restaurants in El Paso. Some other experiences of eating Mexican food at airports gave me the feeling that you do not quite get the same thing with airport locations of restaurants that is available if you go to the original location (a major exception to this was at LAX which was so many years ago that I do not remember the details).

Probably the important factor here is how the food compares to the other Carlos & Mickey’s Restaurants in the city. The menu is definitely abbreviated here, and I did not see the combination plates I have ordered at the other restaurants. Because of time constraints I really was not even interested in a meal like this, but I just wanted something quick that would taste good. They certainly met all of my expectations for good food and good service. I was pleased with everything, and I certainly feel that the restaurant has some of their top people working at the Airport location.

The original Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s is actually located very near the Airport and I have always looked at it as a place that is popular for its bar and entertainment (such as mariachis which I think they have on weekends). The food is very good also, and gives people a sample of the unique style of Mexican food found in El Paso (which cannot be labeled as “Tex-Mex” or New Mexican cuisine, but is closely related to the food in the Land of Enchantment in the chile it uses but otherwise I think has its roots in northern Mexico).

To me the Airport Carlos & Mickey’s seems like a successful Airport outpost of the main restaurant given that people have time constraints and many travelers who happen in may not be familiar with the El Paso style of Mexican cuisine. In my experience the “El Paso flavor” is popular with just about everyone who tries it, the spice level is not outrageous for most people, and of course it certainly is not the typical “Tex-Mex” food. For many items Carlos & Mickey’s is near the top in the city for the flavor and quality of the food served, and this seems to be a good restaurant for El Paso to have as its Mexican food representative at the Airport.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips are whole corn tortillas that have been toasted, but in flavor and texture are like most of the ones served in El Paso restaurants.

The Salsa has a good spiciness, but I do not think it will have too much for most people.

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red enchiladas

Red Enchiladas are what I usually order at El Paso Mexican restaurants when I either do not have time or the appetite for a combination plate, and I just want the very best flavor. At my visit to the Airport I had a time constraint, and I was not disappointed with the choice I made of this dish.

The Red Enchiladas here had a very good flavored red chile, and were spicy to about the “4 chile” level without being too spicy. For some reason the red chile at Carlos & Mickey’s has a somewhat vinegary taste. This is a little out of the mainstream for El Paso Mexican food, but I have had others with a similar flavor (particularly where the restaurants or the chefs were from Ciudad Juarez). I would also describe it as an earthy flavor, as if they merely ground up the chile pods and this were all you are eating (but of course this is an exaggeration merely to try to describe the flavor). I also liked the fact that the enchiladas were served flat–a technique that gives you more of the chile flavor than when they are served as rolled enchiladas. There was enough cheese sprinkled on top so that the cheese flavor was not lacking either.

The rice and beans at Carlos & Mickey’s are both very good (I probably like the beans better).

After some recent inconsistent experiences I have had at the Montwood Carlos & Mickey’s, it was refreshing to find food at the Airport restaurant that matched the good ones I have had on Montwood, as well as the ones I remember from the main location on Magruder. I make the disclaimer that I have only visited the Airport location one time, and it may have its own inconsistencies, but my meal was as good as any I have had at the other Carlos & Mickey’s locations.

Other Items
Items I have enjoyed at the other restaurants include the chile relleno and the shredded beef taco.

Additional Comments
At Carlos & Mickey’s I have never cared for the green enchiladas as much as the red, and my favorite meals have usually been the combination plate that has red enchiladas along with other items. My Airport experience, though, confirmed that the red enchiladas are really my favorite item at Carlos & Mickey’s, and are the one thing I would like to get if I did not have time or the appetite for a combination plate.

To me it looked as if the Airport location only offers a few of Carlos & Mickey’s items (they are probably the ones that are the most popular and which can be served quickly). The service was very good, and the experience was the opposite (in a good way) of what I thought it would be from eating “airport food.”


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Barr

Most Recent Visit: Nov. 4, 2019
Number of Visits: 1
Best Item: Red Enchiladas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Tara Thai–El Paso, TX

Tara Thai
2606 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 219-9307
Tara Thai

Tara Thai next door to Rib Hut


Tara Thai is located in the Cincinnati Entertainment District, a popular night spot for UTEP students and others throughout the city. When I first visited it in 2009, though, its main customer base seemed to be the university students who came here for lunch. Tara Thai took over the former Golden Buddha restaurant, and transformed this location from what I think was considered a economical restaurant to one which is more upscale. Probably because of the dichotomy between budget minded students at lunch and a more sophisticated crowd at night, Tara Thai has different menus at lunch and dinner (the most well known Thai dishes versus ones that are more innovative and upscale).

The lunch and dinner menus have similar types of sauces and flavors, but dinner has more upscale meat selections as well as some unusual curries (such as chuchee curry for the salmon dish). Meat selections at dinner include salmon, calamari, or rib eye steak while lunch is mostly a choice of chicken, pork, shrimp, or tofu. Some substitutions are allowed, and I think you can order from the dinner menu at lunch if you want, but dinner is definitely more upscale.

One thing Tara Thai has accomplished is serving food with a real Thai taste (and this has not always been the case in El Paso). I make this statement comparing the Thai food I have tried in a number of cities. Thai food, like American food, leaves a lot of room for individual cooking styles and interpretations of the traditional cuisine. When I can taste so many spices and flavorings, though, I believe I have found the “real deal,” as at Tara Thai. The owner told me they serve food from Bangkok, and I believe this includes the best dishes from different regions as you would find in most national capitals.

Another important element of Tara Thai is high quality ingredients. I refer to some items at the restaurant as being more upscale than others, and some are ones that I believe have a better flavor, but as far as the food’s quality and faithfulness in executing any dish the way it should be, I have not seen a difference in anything I have tried here.

Lunch Menu

Lunch salad

Complimentary lunch salad

A complementary Lunch Salad is an extra benefit of going at noon time. The greens were very good and the ginger vinaigrette dressing goes very well with Asian food. I do note, though, that many Thai restaurants give you appetizers such as spring rolls or dumplings, while at Tara Thai these cost extra.

Keaw warn

Keaw warn

One good dish from the “curry” menu at lunch is Keaw Warn, a dish of chicken, green beans, bamboo shoots, and sweet basil leaves cooked in this special green coconut curry. I substituted tofu for the chicken, and for an extra charge you can also get beef, pork, or shrimp (I was very happy with the tofu, though). I believe I ordered the medium spice level which turned out to be what I normally consider as spicy (I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I do know that the three spice levels available here are low, medium, and Thai). In any case, they will not serve customers an extremely spicy dish without disclosing this at the time it is ordered.

Some notable characteristics of the keaw warn were that the flavors were complex, very good, and not sweet like Americanized Thai food. There are three other types of curry served on the lunch menu which I expect share these same characteristics.

Spicy basil chicken

Spicy basil chicken

Spicy Basil is a plate I ordered for lunch several years ago (now the menu has a Basil Sauce dish with a Thai chili sweet basil sauce). I do not know if this is still the same dish, although the vegetables are just about the same, and it still comes with the default chicken (but you can get other meats or tofu if you wish). What confuses me is whether there are really two different basil sauces (a sweet one and a spicy one) or whether they use different wording for the same sauce.

The spicy basil sauce was so good I was tempted to keep ordering it on return visits. This would probably not be a good idea at Tara Thai since everything on the menu seems to be worth trying, but nevertheless I was very impressed with the basil sauce.

The dinner menu has two basil dishes, a Street Style Chicken Basil topped with an egg and a Crispy Chicken Basil with lightly battered chicken. The crispy chicken has what they call a spicy basil sauce (the same one I ordered on the lunch plate), but the menu is not really clear about whether they have one basil sauce or two.

My experience with the basil lunch plate was that it turned out spicier than I expected (this was quite a while ago, but I believe I ordered it medium as I did with the keaw warn). In any case, I have no personal plans to order anything here “Thai spicy” just to see how hot it really is.

Ginger tofu

Ginger sauce lunch special with tofu

The Ginger Sauce lunch special is probably my favorite I have had so far (although I think I said the same thing after trying some of the other dishes). The dish I ordered was with tofu, but you have a choice of meats. This was honestly quite a special experience because the flavor was so complex and good that it can only be matched by a very few dishes I have had at Thai restaurants anywhere. In fact, all of the food at Tara Thai seems to be very high quality, but with this dish I also found a flavor combination that hit the spot for me.

The lunch menu has several sections including dishes, curries, noodles, and fried rice. The “dishes” section is the one that includes such generic sounding items as basil sauce, garlic sauce, and ginger sauce. The basil sauce and ginger sauce dishes have so far been among my favorite items of anything I have tried at Tara Thai, so I have come to the conclusion that you can get some excellent items on the lunch menu for not much money. It took me a little bit of time to realize, though, that some of the best dishes have somewhat generic descriptions on the menu.

Dinner Menu

Pad woon sen

Pad woon sen

Pad Woon Sen is listed in the “Fried Rice and Noodles” section of the dinner menu, and came with shrimp when I ordered it (but now is served with chicken). These are glass noodles with egg, garlic, baby corn, carrots, and cabbage in the restaurant’s “home cooking sauce.”

I did not find this as notable as some other dishes in terms of flavor (I was not really able to tell if the home cooking sauce made a big difference). It was good, though, and sometimes Thai noodles are exactly what satisfies a person’s craving for Thai food.

Chuchee salmon

Chuchee salmon

Salmon with Chuchee Sauce was something that really turned out to be better than I expected. The salmon was good quality (although I do not know what kind of salmon was served). The chuchee sauce made this one of the best salmon dishes in El Paso, with a complex flavor worthy of a good Thai dish (chu chee curry in Thailand is made specially for seafood dishes). With Tara Thai’s specialized curries and dishes that cannot be found at most other restaurants, I really see that they have upped the game for Thai food in El Paso (although at higher prices than at most Thai restaurants).

Other Dishes
The menu is somewhat of an odd combination of not having some of my favorite dishes (such as pad prik king), while other dishes are listed that I have not seen anywhere else. There seems to be very little overlap between the lunch and dinner menu, so if you want familiar dishes (pad thai, panang curry, etc.) go at lunch. For dinner you can expect very upscale items that I think will be served at few restaurants anywhere in the country (they do have panang curry at night, but it is with sliced beef and not the normal meats served in this dish).

Other Information
Tara Thai shares a parking lot with the Rib Hut next door, and this sometimes makes finding a parking space, and especially an accessible space, somewhat difficult. I think Tara Thai does not have any control over the parking situation, but this could be a factor if you come at a busy time.

The restaurant, though, is apparently able to handle customers even when the restaurant is full (as it has been certain times that I have gone). With the quality of the food served and the lack of alternatives for similar food, I do not see how it could not be full most of the time.

I believe you can ask for a default spice level that the chef believes will best bring out the flavor. I do not remember if I have ever tried this, though, and I know that on a recent visit the waiter asked me which of the three spice levels I wanted (low, medium, or Thai). When I find out more information I will report it, but for now I strongly advise the great majority of people not to get anything above the medium level.

The Thai tea here is very good and works well to help quench any heat in your mouth that might result from the chefs being very zealous in adding chiles to the meal.


RATING: 26

Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: There was no marked handicapped parking on my last visit
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Nov. 4, 2019
Number of Visits: 4
Best Items: Ginger Sauce, Basil Sauce, Keaw Warn (lunch items); Chuchee Salmon (dinner item)

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Thai Tea
MSG: No
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chuchee Salmon (dinner)
star 5 Pad Woon Sen (dinner)
star 5 Spicy Basil (dinner)
star 5 Keaw Warn (lunch)
star 5 Basil Sauce with Chicken (lunch)
star 5 Ginger Sauce with Tofu (lunch)
star 5 Thai Tea

G&R–El Paso, TX

G&R Restaurant
401 E. Nevada Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 546-9343
G&R Restaurant

G&R Restaurant


G&R (also known as Gonzalo’s G&R) Restaurant is one of El Paso’s “classic” restaurants, having been in operation since 1960. The original restaurant was located on Myrtle Avenue near Kansas Street. My first experience with G&R was in 1977 after it had moved to Nevada Avenue. One of the original owners’ children operated a branch on Pebble Hills for a while, while their daughter continues to operate what is now the restaurant’s only location.

G&R serves traditional border style Mexican food, which I would say is highly influenced by cooking styles in northern Mexico but modified by what is locally available in the El Paso area. G&R also seems to have a strong connection with New Mexico in the chiles it uses. The enchiladas are among the spiciest ones served in El Paso, and other items such as the chile con queso are on the spicy side as well. The salsa is one of the spiciest and most flavorful in the city as well.

In the past I asked how they made the beans, and they said with lard (I assume they still are). This is another indication of traditional El Paso style Mexican food, although a number of restaurants have switched to vegetable oil because it is considered to be healthier and it really has little effect on the food’s flavor.

The dining room is really not designed to accommodate a huge crowd, and the restaurant is not located on a major street where a lot of people would notice it passing by, but it seems to thrive on loyal customers who consider it a favorite neighborhood hangout. In my case the “neighborhood” is the downtown area where I used to work, and G&R was definitely one of my favorite places located nearby.

Appetizers

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa are part of every meal here, and I think the Salsa is especially notable. It is fresh, flavorful, and spicy (and if you are like me you will make a special effort to take home any leftovers).

Caldo

Caldo

Some restaurants use Caldo as an appetizer, serving customers a small bowl with every meal. At G&R it comes in a rather substantial serving and is considered a meal, although a lighter meal than many other menu items.

I particularly like the Chile con Queso here (compared to the ones at other restaurants). This comes with a very spicy green chile, and is one of the items with a notable New Mexico flavor. This can be ordered as an appetizer, but is also one of the items on the combination plates.

Enchiladas

Tri-color enchiladas

Tri-color enchiladas

If you order an enchilada plate, I would particularly recommend the Tri-Colored Cheese Enchiladas. This includes red, green, and a sour cream enchilada. Unlike some other restaurants the sour cream enchilada does not have red or green chile on it, there is just the flavor of the cheese, sour cream, etc. I would not be overly enthusiastic about an order of sour cream enchiladas by themselves, but with other enchiladas that have chile on top the sour cream makes a good flavor combination.

I think the general rule here is that the green chile is spicier than the red (thus the green enchilada would be the spiciest one). Both colors are spicy compared to most other restaurants in El Paso, and I think both of them have a good flavor (on the Tri-Color plate I particularly liked the green chile but most of the time I order the red and I think this is very good as well).

I think the rice and beans are both five-star quality, and it is important to note that all the elements of a meal here are good, and not just the main dish.

Combination Plate

Mexican plate special

Mexican plate special

Several combination plates are available, but the Mexican Plate Special has two of G&R’s best items–a red enchilada and a chile relleno. The Chile Relleno has a thick breading which I like (these are very non-greasy) and the chile inside the breading has a good flavor. They do not seem to be consistent about the sauce on top of the chile relleno–I have seen red, green, and New Mexico style (no sauce). I did not note that any of these had a better flavor than the others. I also did not note the type of cheese that was inside so it must have been the standard cheese that most restaurants use.

The Taco is traditional Ciudad Juarez style and is very flavorful. For me its negative point is that it has cumin (but I think restaurants in Ciudad Juarez typically do it this way).

The Guacamole had a good taste but was surprisingly bland considering the flavor of the rest of the food.

One alternative to this is the Super Special Plate which omits the taco and adds chile con queso. To me it is well worth the extra cost (25 cents more than the Mexican Special Plate on the current menu). I have not ordered it on a recent visit, though, and therefore I do not have a photo that I can show.

An Overview
For a while the food at G&R seemed inconsistent, but all of my recent visit have been consistently excellent. I have been for both lunch and dinner, and the food seems to be the same all the time.

I am the happiest here when I can get a combination plate that has a number of items (this is because everything is quite good). The only thing I do not mind skipping is the taco and this is because it has cumin (the owner confirmed to me that this is one of the ingredients). I did not know until recently that cumin is one of the ingredients in much of the classic Ciudad Juarez style food, and apparently its use is widespread in El Paso restaurants (especially the tacos). Unlike some other bloggers I do not gag at the thought of eating cumin, but like them I can say that cumin is not my first choice of flavoring for Mexican food.

The red enchiladas here are about on par with most other restaurants in town, but the green enchiladas are a rarity because they are spicy and have a flavor like the ones in New Mexico (I think this is because of the chiles G&R uses versus the ones used by most restaurants). The chile con queso is another excellent item here, and I think uses New Mexico green chile as its base.

I will make a note that at times the enchiladas are close to a five on the chile heat level, and this is in line with New Mexico restaurants where the spiciness depends on the chile crop that year.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Has a bar (I am not sure what drinks are served)

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 30, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Green Enchiladas, Chiles Rellenos, Salsa, Chile con Queso

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Lard (the last time I asked)

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Sour Cream Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 4 Guacamole
star 5 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 5 Chile con Queso
star 5 Chips
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 generally 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. 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 on the Summer Seasonal Menu

I ordered a BLTA from the Summer Seasonal Menu, and it turned out to be one of my favorite sandwiches. 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 think that at some point this will be worth a try.

Dinners

Swedish meatballs on the fall seasonal menu

Swedish meatballs on the Fall Seasonal Menu

Large plates do not really seem to be Ripe’s specialty, but they do offer some such as the Swedish Meatballs on the Fall Seasonal Menu. It is apparently served every year and thus could be considered one of Ripe’s regular items. I had been looking forward to trying it since I heard about it, although perhaps I built it up too much in my mind because it turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. The sauce was good, and although it was similar to stroganoff dinners I thought this was better than most stroganoff dishes I have tried. The meatballs seemed somewhat dry, though, and it did not have much flavor contrast to the overwhelming amount of sauce that it contained. I certainly cannot say that this was a bad dish at all, but it was just a little less than I expected from something this expensive and which I had anticipated for so long.

Remembering the Past
Over the years the menu seems to have undergone a fairly extensive transformation, and I would say the major change is that there are now fewer choices offered. The specials now served make up for this somewhat, but it used to be that I could order my favorite items any time I went, and this is much less the case now.

Some of the highlights from the past include a delicious Stuffed Chicken and a Moroccan style Vegetable Tagine. Panini is still available, and I was told that some additional types of sandwich may be available by special order. However it was the vegetable panini (which is no longer on the menu) that I particularly enjoyed. 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.

It is my understanding that Ripe has a different owner than it did when the brother and sister team were running it, and this would certainly explain why the menu seems to now be focused on different things. I still like many of the items here, but all of my favorites are still from the old menu.

Other Comments
I think many aspects of Ripe that were true in the “old days” are still true now, and this is a reason Ripe is still one of the city’s most popular restaurants. One thing I believe is still true is that there are many menu items that are good for takeout and that can be successfully reheated later for an excellent dinner. They used to have a full-fledged deli, and although this is no longer the case I still would think this is a good place for take-out items.

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 still think that anything Italian at Ripe would be very good.

I used to consider Ripe to be the best place in town for vegetarian dishes after Kern Place Market closed. Now the vegetarian choices seem to be much more limited, although the quality here is still excellent and the black bean burger I had recently was good.

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). I do not know if the breakfast menu was added recently or whether it has been here for some time, but I think it would be worth checking out.

After several recent visits my main takeaways here are (1) the service is always excellent and notably good compared to most El Paso restaurants, and (2) it is almost always best to get whatever is on special (i.e. at a price that is lower than the regular menu price)–here a lower price does not mean lower quality, it just means that you do not pay as much.


Ripe Web Site


RATING: 24

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

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 28, 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

Peppe’s–Canutillo, TX

Peppe’s Restaurant & Cantina
6761 Doniphan Dr.
Canutillo, TX
(915) 877-2152
Peppe's Restaurant

Peppe’s Restaurant


Perhaps my favorite long time El Paso restaurant was Griggs Restaurant, located on Doniphan Drive about a mile north of Country Club Road. There were branches in Kern Place, a long-running one near the airport, and for a brief time on Mesa Hills. These all used the Griggs family recipes, but the Doniphan restaurant is the one that stayed in the family until shortly before its closing in 2003. I also thought the Doniphan restaurant stayed the most consistent to the family recipes, although for the most part the other restaurants served the same great food.

I heard that the east side Griggs Restaurant closed sometime around 2008, and unfortunately it was related to the health of the owner. This led to an agreement between the owner and his long time employees Peppe and Lorena Morales that the latter could open their own restaurant using the Griggs family recipes. Thus Peppe’s Restaurant & Cantina has been open since 2009 in Canutillo, Texas, carrying on the Griggs tradition and using the same recipes that were used in the original restaurants.

Peppe’s dining room with much of the memorabilia from the old restaurants

The Griggs Restaurants on Doniphan and Montana were probably as famous for their antique furniture and artifacts as for the food, and both were in spacious buildings that resembled haciendas. In contrast Peppe’s Restaurant is rather small, with only a few of the antiques from Griggs Restaurant on display. Peppe likes it this way, though, allowing him to concentrate on the food which has been purposely copied from Griggs. The menu even looks the same as the old ones I remember.

Peppe's menu

Peppe’s menu modeled after the former Griggs Restaurant

With Peppe’s Restaurant being small and the owners present every time I go there, I think the food will keep the consistency I found at the old Doniphan location (Peppe worked as a chef at the Montana location and is very familiar with the Griggs family way of doing things).

In 1968 the Griggs family published a cookbook with Mrs. Josephine Griggs’ recipes, and copies were still being sold as late as about 2015 at El Pinto in Albuquerque. Mrs. Griggs’ children owned Griggs Restaurant in El Paso, La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico, La Posta in Rancho Cordova, California, and El Pinto (the Albuquerque restaurant). La Posta in California is closed, but it is apparent that the restaurants still operating do not cook the food in exactly the same way, and have done a lot of tweaking to the original recipes. Peppe says that Mrs. Griggs’ book was not complete in that it did not explain what type of pots and pans to use for cooking the food, where to source the ingredients used, etc. Presumably, though, this information was passed down to all the Griggs children and to anyone operating the family’s restaurants.

One of the unique features of Peppe’s (and Griggs before it) is the source of its chiles. These come from a farm in La Union, New Mexico (near the El Paso Upper Valley) and are fresh inasmuch as the growing season allows. Peppe takes further steps, though, to ensure a good quality and flavor of his chile (including the chiles rellenos). The chiles used at Peppe’s are all sun dried, which gives a mild flavor (many restaurants use machine dried chiles, which have a darker color and a more bitter taste). His chiles are not terribly spicy, and the Griggs family understanding of New Mexican chile was that it is not supposed to be as spicy as some of those from Mexico such as chile de arbol, habanero, etc. The Griggs recipes also make generous use of tomatoes which further tone down the food.

In my opinion La Posta and El Pinto are geared toward tourists in their chile spice level. El Pinto seems to start with milder chiles than Peppe’s, and by the time they tone them down with tomatoes and other ingredients, there is very little New Mexico chile heat left (although there is enough flavor that I do not totally dismiss La Posta’s food as being unauthentic, only that it is one of the mildest New Mexico style restaurants in the Las Cruces area).  I have not been to El Pinto in a while, but the review on Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog indicates that it is very mild as I remember it.

At Peppe’s I think the the red chile has the highest spice level. It does not match the level of some restaurants in New Mexico, but it is definitely noticeable. The chile con queso is probably next on the spice level, with the green chile being the mildest (although it definitely seems to be more potent than the green chile served at La Posta).

In some ways the recipes at Peppe’s are a little non-traditional for New Mexican food, and offer a little bit of a different take on this cuisine than I normally find. Some examples are the following:

  • The green enchiladas are a solid choice here although I rarely care much for them anywhere else. The spice level is less than with most other New Mexico style green enchiladas, but they are hot enough that to me this is not an issue. The flavor, though, seems to be a perfect blend of chile, tomato, and spices (and few others have a flavor that I like this much).
  • The Griggs family recipe for the chile relleno is similar to the one at Chope’s in serving it plain with no sauce on top, and both Chope’s and Peppe’s use local chiles. Although Chope’s has what I think is the iconic New Mexico chile relleno, the one at Peppe’s is very good, and makes this one of the few restaurants where I go out of my way to order the chile relleno.
  • Peppe’s presentation of chile con carne is a little different than at most restaurants, and in addition to serving it plain also features it on a tostada compuesta with the beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese on top. Several restaurants use chile con carne in a sopapilla compuesta, but Peppe’s is one of the few I have found that serves it on a tostada.
  • The slaw at Peppe’s is quite unique and is my favorite side dish over the rice or beans (La Posta, though, has a similar slaw which is also made from Mrs. Griggs’ recipe).

Salsa and Appetizers

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

After all these years it is still hard to beat Griggs’ Salsa, now served at Peppe’s along with with their excellent chips (and tortillas if you desire). In fact, I used to think that the Griggs salsa was a little wimpy, but I appreciated it a lot more after all the Griggs Restaurants closed and it was no longer available (and fortunately it was only a short wait until Peppe’s opened). It is true that this is not the spiciest salsa in El Paso or in New Mexican restaurants throughout the Southwest, but I appreciate the flavor and the fact that it is always fresh.

Radio salsa sampler

Radio FREE Salsa Sampler

The Radio FREE Salsa Sampler came as a promotion on the El Paso History radio program which airs Saturday mornings on KTSM-AM. Peppe’s is a sponsor of the show, and anybody who mentions the “Radio FREE Salsa Sampler” gets the above pictured salsa samples for free. The original purpose of it is so that you can try all of their sauces and find out which ones you like best in terms of the flavor and the spice level before you order a whole plate of it. It is also a good thing to order, though, if you simply want to try different things (you can ask for it whether you heard it on the radio program or not).

The Chile con Carne (at the top of the photo) is the same meat sauce used on the tostada compuesta, and it also comes on some of the combination plates such as the Combo #3. Peppe says this is also a sample of their red sauce used on the enchiladas, although this sauce comes without the meat.

The Green Sauce (at the bottom) is used on the green enchiladas, although I think it has a better flavor on the enchiladas because of the cheese that is added.

Peppe’s has one of the best examples of Chile con Queso I have found anywhere (shown on the left of the photo). The cheese at Peppe’s is a little thicker than is usually found, offering the reason people will either like it or dislike it (depending on their viewpoint), but I am glad it is more of a solid than a liquid. The green chiles are fresh and flavorful, but not of the ultra hot variety.

The salsa on the right is the regular one that all customers get with the chips.

Combination Plates

Combination Plate No. 3

Combination Plate No. 3 with green enchilada instead of red

Usually I like meals with a variety of items, and the combination plates offer several choices for this (they will also make some substitutions). The Combo Plate #3 on the dinner menu is a good way to sample some of my favorite items. Although the red enchilada comes standard on the plate, I think the Green Enchilada is one of the best items at Peppe’s, and can be substituted for the red. To me the green enchilada offers a very flavorful blend of New Mexico chiles, cheese, tomato, and tortilla (but one which is not as spicy as most of the ones in Las Cruces).

There is no question in my mind that the Chile Relleno is another “best dish” at Peppe’s. Peppe’s serves the chile relleno New Mexico style, with no sauce on top. The chile, cheese, and batter are all much better than average, making it unnecessary to add a sauce (and in my mind it would be an adulteration of the dish to do so). The trick of the cheese is to cook it just right, and I have found that Peppe’s has this nailed (the menu says they stuff it with a mild cheddar). There is also the factor that the chile is local, and is sun dried.

Another notable item on the Combo #3 is the Chile con Carne, made with pork carnitas and red chile. This was one of the spicier items served, and I thought it went well with the other items. My favorite form of chile con carne, though, is when it is served on a tostada compuesta with beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. Thus my choice is usually to get the Noonday Combination C that includes a tostada compuesta, and because of the substitutions that are allowed I usually get the other items I want as well.

The Rolled Taco is an item I often substitute because I am usually not a big fan of ground beef, but the one at Peppe’s was quite good. It tasted as if it were mixed with potato, and everything was simple but prepared well.

Green Enchiladas

Green enchiladas are New Mexico style

Green enchiladas are New Mexico style

An order of Green Chile Cheese Enchiladas comes with rolled enchiladas, but you can ask for them to be flat, as pictured. Stacked (flat) enchiladas seem to have more sauce, and I think this is the best way to enjoy one of the best versions of this dish I have tried in the El Paso area (in fact, I am gradually reaching the point that these are the only green enchiladas in El Paso that I really like).

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas with an egg on top

Red enchiladas with an egg on top

The Red Chile Cheese Enchiladas plate is also quite good, and is prepared New Mexico style (with more of the chile flavor coming through than in restaurants that serve the typical El Paso style enchiladas). These enchiladas are spicier than the green ones, but mild compared to ones found in Las Cruces or northern New Mexico. I recommend it with an egg on top (as shown in the photo).

The Rice is excellent, with a good mixture of flavors. Its moisture content indicated that it had not been sitting around for a long time.

Peppe’s serves whole beans by default. It is really hard to judge these compared to others, since preparing them is pretty straightforward. I prefer these, though, to just about any refried beans that are served in El Paso.

The Slaw is notable for being one of the best, although slaw is somewhat of a novelty in El Paso restaurants unless they are New Mexico style as Peppe’s is. One of the secrets of the slaw here is that it is made with apple cider vinegar (and Peppe says it has to be a certain kind of vinegar mixed just right with the other ingredients that are used).

Chile con Queso Dishes

Chicken breast with chile con queso

Chicken breast with chile con queso

I do not think there are any items with chile con queso available on the combination plates, so the best bet is probably to order one of several plates available from the menu. One of the best is the Chicken Breast with Chile con Queso (you can also get it Tampiqueña style). One reason I like this dish is the high quality of the chicken. Another one of my favorites from Griggs was the Grinder (chopped steak), but I have not yet had this at Peppe’s. Burritos are also available topped with chile con queso.

Noonday Combinations

Noonday Combination

Noonday Combination with items from both C and D

The Noonday Combination C is one of my “go to” choices at Peppe’s, although I usually substitute a green enchilada (an item from Combination D) for the folded taco (an item normally served on C). I think the reason I can make this substitution is that Combinations C and D are the same price (A and B are less expensive, and probably allow similar substitutions between them).

The above photo shows my preferred mix and match, resulting in slaw, tostada compuesta, chile relleno, and a green enchilada. It does not have rice and beans, but I do not really miss them since I have the slaw. Griggs Restaurant only served the Nooday Combination at lunch (hence the name), but Peppe’s lets you order it any time.

Desserts
Peppe’s charges extra for a Sopaipilla, as did Griggs Restaurant. You can get them plain or get the bite size version with cinnamon and sugar.

Other desserts are also available, such as Flan. I do not know if this is one of the items from the Griggs family recipes, but I was quite impressed with it.

A Summary
One of the little things that I particularly enjoy about Peppe’s, is the fresh Corn Tortillas that are served with the meal on request. The tortillas are made fresh daily at a nearby tortilla factory, and I think are excellent.

There is a full cantina (bar) here, but Peppe says he is keeping a family atmosphere (there are no TV’s or loud music playing although you can sometimes watch football games without the sound playing).

I do need to mention that they have an additional charge if you use a credit card. It does not become official until you sign the receipt and they run it through, so if you decide you want to pay by cash after seeing this charge on the check, you can do so.

My usual meal here is the Noonday Combinations C, with an enchilada substituted for the folded taco. The Combination Plates have a larger number of items, and are also very good. For those who want smaller plates, though, the Noonday Combinations are available any time and not just at lunch.

For a one-item plate, though, my top choices would be enchiladas (green or red) or something with chile con queso. Be advised, though, that the green enchiladas are served rolled unless you specifically ask for them to be stacked (the red enchiladas come default as stacked).

So many of El Paso’s classic restaurants are now gone that I make a special effort to support the ones that are still around or that have been reincarnated with new names. What is especially good about Peppe’s is that it maintains the quality that Griggs had, and the food here is not exactly like anything I have had in El Paso or New Mexico. La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico gives a good presentation of the Griggs family recipes, but I think Peppe’s gives one that uses hotter chiles and has a better flavor.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun. evening & Mon.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 20, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Green Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Tostada Compuesta, Red Enchiladas, Grilled Chicken Breast with Chile con Queso, ICX (chopped steak with chile con queso), Slaw, Beans

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: N/A

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Tostada Compuesta
star 5 Rolled Taco
star 5 Chicken Breast with Chile con Queso
star 5 ICX (chopped steak with chile con queso)
star 5 Slaw
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chile con Queso
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 4 Flan
star 4 Sopaipilla

 

Menu (May 2019):

India Hut–El Paso, TX

India Hut
4410 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 260-9900
India Hut

India Hut


I know that many Indian people believe in reincarnation, and if this principle applies to buildings there is probably no better example in El Paso than the one that now houses India Hut. A number of restaurants have operated in this building over the years, and one that I particularly remember was Asia Garden which was here in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s serving a foretaste of what has turned into a trend of authentic and very good Chinese food in El Paso.

An Indian buffet is actually a very good use of the building which for some unknown reason is long and narrow, allowing the placement of tables on one side of the main dining room and the buffet line on the other. What is not so efficient is the fact that the parking lot surrounds the building, yet only those who find spots on the north side are situated near the restaurant’s one and only entrance (although there is an emergency exit at the south end).

India Hut is in good company with other restaurants which have repurposed a former restaurant with another one which is just as good or even better than before. I put up with quirks in the architecture or layout of the building in order to get good food, and those who are familiar with my reviews are probably aware that this many times involves humble surroundings rather than the city’s fanciest new buildings (although good food is non-discriminatory and may be found in all types of restaurants).

One other part of the story is that Indian food has always seemed to be very popular in El Paso, yet there have traditionally been very few choices for it in the city. In my opinion it has been better quality and less Americanized than many of the ethnic cuisines served, and business has seemed to be good at the Indian restaurants that have been here over the years. For some reason, though, most of them do not seem to last for a long time. India Hut is one that seems to be doing things right–it delivers good quality for the money. Of course this is no guarantee that the restaurant will have staying power but things look hopeful.

The Buffet

The buffet at India Hut

The buffet at India Hut

At times the buffet is the only type of food available, including Sunday lunch (at other times it is also possible to order from the menu). I am not usually a fan of Indian buffets because the food is usually nowhere near the spice levels that should be found in Indian food. In the case of India Hut there usually seem to be one or two items that are more spicy than the others, and they are about as spicy as I would order them from the menu. This alone makes the buffet at Indian Hut better than most I have tried.

The flavor of the food from India Hut’s buffet is generally very good. Here there are generally one or two items that I think fall short, while at many buffets it is the opposite (I can only find one or two items that I really like).

As of this date I have been to India Hut twice, so I cannot make blanket statements about the consistency of the food. What I can say is that both visits have been consistent in the fact that I liked several of the items. They have not been consistent, though, concerning which items these were. On the first visit one of the servers told me he had cooked the navratan korma, and this was one of the items I liked the best. On the second visit I did not like this item as much, and I did not see that particular server at the restaurant (so I assume the korma was cooked by someone else).

More than half of the clientele I saw in the restaurant appeared to be of Indian ethnicity, and it is always a good sign when a restaurant is popular with the people it is supposed to represent. I did think it had a good flavor, although most of the items were not as spicy as I think many Indian people prefer.

One area which was disappointing was their chutney and pickle selection. This has been a deficit in many of El Paso’s Indian restaurants, and is something I use as a test of Indian restaurants. Until recently I thought India Palace did not have them, but I discovered that it is available at an extra cost. At India Hut there are a couple of chutney/pickle varieties available on the buffet, but the ones I tried were so sweet and non-potent in the spicy category that I do not consider them to be true chutneys (they may be authentic, but just not the kind I need to spice up Indian food).

The Naan is one of the most important elements of an Indian meal, and the one here was excellent. They mostly serve garlic naan and at times I have had to wait for the plain one, but they serve it eventually.

Chai is available here, and they have a fruit flavored iced tea that I like. They give one free refill on the chai, and I am not sure about the sweet tea.

The price and quality of the buffet are good enough that I probably would question the desirability of ordering from the menu instead, although if you go for Sunday lunch (and I think any day at lunch time) the buffet is the only option.

Buffet Items

Items from the buffet

Navratan korma, channa masala, spinach tadka, dal makhni

In my two trips to the restaurant there has been very little variation in the buffet items served. The photo shows some of the items I tried on a Sunday buffet. At another buffet they added tadka dal and they had black lentils instead of the dal makhni, but other items were the same including the korma, channa masala, rice, naan, etc.

One of the biggest things I noticed, though, is that some of the items had different flavors and different spice levels on my different dining experiences. There was not really a difference in overall quality, but just that different items were ones I liked best on different trips. For instance, on my first visit the Channa Masala and Navratan Korma were my favorite items. On the second visit the Tadka Dal was the best item, while others that I liked before were somewhat of a disappointment (such as the channa masala).

Thus I really should not write a description of individual items because they seem to change from one visit to another. With a buffet you can sample different items and than get more of the ones you like, so I think this system works pretty well. Overall I liked the food but I was disappointed that only one or two of them were spicy enough for my taste (my sample was mostly of the vegetarian items). I do like the selection of vegetarian items that they offer (the number of choices is about equal to the meat items).

Drinks
On one of my visits they did not have chai (the owner was not there and no one else could make it). Instead I had a fruit flavored iced tea that was very good and turned out to be much better than it sounded when they described it as “sweet tea.” When I had the chai on another visit I thought the flavor was not as good as the one at India Palace, but they give one free refill and I think this is a good drink to have with the meal.

Other Comments
The positive about the buffet here is that almost everything has a really good flavor, and at least one or two of the items on each visit have been spicy enough for me. They do not have a problem with leaving the food sitting until it gets cold, and the price is good. For now I will probably always eat from the buffet until I can find something I like well enough to order from the menu.

My favorite items have been different on each visit, but there have always been items that I thought were very good. In figuring out an overall evaluation of the restaurant, though, it is not only the flavor which should be considered but also the quality and healthfulness of the food. Indian food is definitely one of the ones I feel best about eating, and India Hut has well prepared food on the buffet which gives a good choice of items to try.


India Hut Web Site


RATING: 23

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

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 13, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Tadka Dal, Navratan Korma

Special Ratings
star 5 Tadka Dal
star 5 Navratan Korma
star 5 Spinach Tadka