Amigos–El Paso, TX

Amigos Restaurant
2000 Montana Ave.
El Paso, TX
(915) 533-0155
Amigos Restaurantd

Amigos Restaurant


For years the “amigos” worked at La Hacienda restaurant until they opened their own place on Montana Avenue and brought the food from La Hacienda with them. Today you can still order the same lunch specials that used to be found at La Hacienda, and you still get the same attentive service by professional waiters that is becoming a lost art.

I was surprised to find out that the cook at Amigos is the same person who used to cook at La Hacienda, since it is quite rare to find the exact same food we used to experience in the “old days” with no changes or updating (which usually means a diminishment in quality). I believe he only cooks in the evening and another cook takes the morning shift, but if this is not the right information then I stand corrected. I do know that dinner is the time I have enjoyed Amigos the most, especially since this is when I have been able to try special dishes (including some authentic dishes from the Mexican interior).

I have heard the recipes at Amigos originated from the owner’s mother, who came from New Mexico. When she came to El Paso she thought most of the restaurants were not spicy enough, thus Amigos serves chile at the same spice level as is common in the Land of Enchantment. I have given the restaurant five chiles in my spiciness rating, but it is actually only the enchiladas and certain other dishes that are this spicy.

Lunch Specials
Lunch is the most popular time at Amigos, with the restaurant being known for its lunch specials. Certain specials are served on particular days (such as the Spaghetti Plate on Monday), and I believe the combination plate is available every day. I used to get the spaghetti because they could make a vegetarian version, but I believe this is not one of the best items at Amigos except for the “extras.” The extras come with all lunches, and are the same elements that used to make La Hacienda a special treat that stood above all the city’s other very good Mexican restaurants.

Home made soup and a fresh salad begin the full course lunch, although portions are relatively small. Rolls used to come from La Ideal Bakery, a few blocks away, and were so good I almost wanted to fill up on them instead of the chips. With La Ideal now being closed I assume they have found a suitable substitute, but if not I know that they are providing the best lunch items they can find.

Amigos’ salsa is so good, though, that I end up eating a substantial portion of chips as well. La Hacienda used to serve a small dessert and I believe Amigos follows the same practice, although there has been nothing that has stood out in my mind the way the soup, salad, and bread do.

Enchiladas

Combination plate

Combination plate

The Red Enchiladas were a source of disappointment at the old La Hacienda, with the chile being spicier than I thought was the norm even in New Mexico. They have been equally spicy at Amigos, but it seems more flavorful. I would probably suggest ordering a combination plate rather than an whole plate of enchiladas, but I would definitely recommend getting an enchilada if possible (I do not remember how the green chile tastes– I have only the red recently).

Chile Relleno
Amigos has a rather unusual Spanish sauce topping for the Chile Relleno that is made with celery and cinnamon. This is non-spicy with a sweet flavor (although the chile itself is medium spicy). Like the enchilada this was not one of my favorite dishes at La Hacienda, but it has been excellent when I have tried it at Amigos. I think my problem with it in the past was its greasiness, but I do not find that to be the case at present.

Tacos
The Beef Taco seems more El Paso style to me than New Mexican, using a potato filler that I first experienced at Ben’s Tacos in South El Paso. I think the ones at Amigos are better than any of the other similar tacos I have had recently, though.

The Chicken Taco is also very good, with fresh and good quality meat topped with white cheese and ripe tomatoes.

Dinner Menu
The dinner menu is considerably more expensive than the lunch specials, but this is where I have found the best entrées. The Chicken Tampiqueña is an example of a dish that is well beyond the normal quality found in Mexican restaurants. Served on a chicken breast, the green chile strips are not only spicier than the ones normally found, but fresher and more flavorful. A whole peeled avocado garnishes the top, but unlike the ones in most restaurants, it is ripe without being beyond its prime. The red enchilada served on the side serves as a perfect complement, and the whole pinto beans are very enjoyable. This is a meal I like to eat slowly to enjoy every bite– it is an example of the type of food that used to be more common in El Paso that delivered quality rather than a huge quantity of substandard food.

The Pescado al Mojo de Ajo is a classic presentation of this type of fish fillet topped with garlic. The cod used in the fillet is better than the fish found at many restaurants that specialize in Mexican seafood, and I would not hesitate to recommend the one at Amigos. The one here does not come with mashed or baked potatoes on the side as is traditional, but it is not such a bad thing to have less starch in the meal.

I have heard from a friend that the Carne Adovada is the best dish at the restaurant, but I have not yet been able to try it.

Dinner salad

Dinner salad

The same Dinner Salad served with the lunch specials comes in a larger portion with the dinner combination plates. I did not really realize how good this salad was until I got the large dinner serving (pictured above). Patrons will never find a wilted or over-ripe piece of lettuce, and the toppings are light and delicious. This is not a Mi Piaci quality salad, but it is about as good as you can get in any of El Paso’s Mexican restaurants.

Specials
For a while the restaurant was offering “seasonal specials” with dishes from the interior of Mexico. These have now been discontinued because not enough people ordered them, giving great insight as to why El Paso does not have many choices other than the standard border dishes. I have to give the chef credit, though, for not giving up in trying to serve good food but in maintaining a very high quality for the regular menu.

Amigos may have the best Tortilla Soup in town, but unfortunately it is almost never served. I was told they only make it “once every two weeks.” This is part of a rotation of specials that I believe are still being served.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The chips and salsa may not be my absolute favorite in El Paso, but they are close. Amigos is not afraid to make certain dishes “New Mexico spicy,” and the salsa is no exception.

Additional Notes
Amigos is casual but comfortable, giving the kind of service that is seldom delivered in El Paso. Lunch is usually very busy, but at dinner they seem to make a special effort to create a place where you can relax. Amigos is nicely decorated, quiet, with tasteful music, and with professional waiters that I think are more appreciated when you have more time for a leisurely meal. They also make it a point, though, to get you served quickly at the lunch hour.

Everything is quite clean– this and the service would probably bring me back even if the food wasn’t as good as it is.

Prices are moderate– not the cheapest in El Paso nor the most expensive. They do charge for refills on sodas, though.

The posted closing time is 8:00 p.m., but this is one of the few restaurants in El Paso that will stay open later if there is a lot of business (usually on weekends), and will not make you feel that you are being rushed if you go late.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, drinks

Most Recent Visit: May 11, 2010
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Tampiqueña, Red Enchiladas, Chile Relleno, Salad, Tortilla Soup, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 5
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Beef Taco
star 5 Chicken Taco
star 5 Pescado al Mojo de Ajo
star 4 Chicken Tostada
star 4 Spaghetti Plate
star 5 Salad
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa

Barrigas–El Paso, TX

Barrigas Restaurant
664 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 845-1627
Barrigas on Sunland Park

Barrigas on Sunland Park


This upscale Ciudad Juarez restaurant has recently branched out into El Paso, and provides some of the most authentic Mexican food around. Probably the best feature of Barrigas is the varied menu, with many items not traditionally found in the U.S. Mexican restaurants (although this type of menu variety is increasingly found in El Paso restaurants).

Barrigas seems to specialize in meat items, particularly in finding flavorful ways to combine meat, cheese, and other ingredients. It is also a good place to go if you like a variety of salads, appetizers (such as queso fundido), desserts, and shrimp. Margaritas and other drinks are served.

The background noise and music at Barrigas can sometimes be at such a high level it is hard to hold a conversation. When they have had live mariachi bands, though, the quality of the music has been such I have not minded the temporary inconvenience in trying to converse with others at the table.

Chips and Salsa
The Chips are somewhat greasy and the Salsa has sometimes been too spicy with jalapeno peppers, but the salsa seemed to improve a lot starting about 2006. In fact I would say it is now very close to the classic El Paso and Ciudad Juarez style salsa that is spicy and flavorful, and perhaps a little heavy on extra spices that are thrown in.

The Pico de Gallo that is sometimes served in addition to the salsa is quite good, but it is usually not offered.

Enchiladas
The Red Enchiladas are good, but they are not my favorite in El Paso and I prefer them on a combination plate with other items. While they are a good example of Ciudad Juarez style enchiladas, I prefer the New Mexico style chile that does not have as many spices that modify the flavor as the Mexican style red chile. These enchiladas may be more suitable than the New Mexico style, though, for people who do not like them extremely spicy.

Chicken enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas

Green Enchiladas are made with puréed green chile that is normally very easy to make too spicy and not very flavorful, but the ones at Barrigas are an exception. I find the green chile here to have a flavor that is very similar to the New Mexico style green chile, although milder. These enchiladas also use melted Mexican cheese on top of the chile as well as inside the enchilada, adding to the flavor and making them among the best green enchiladas in El Paso. The green enchiladas seem to taste better with chicken inside and a side order of sour cream to make Enchiladas Suizas, not on the menu as such but is one of the better versions of this dish.

Flautas
Flautas here are well above average using thick, flavorful chunks of chicken and a large quantity of guacamole in which to dip it.

Mole
Chicken Mole is served the traditional Ciudad Juarez style, with chicken mixed into the mole, and Barrigas is one of the best. The mole sauce is not too sweet and I think has a very smooth and delicious taste. Some say mole is an acquired taste, but the one here is a good place to start if you want a more authentic version.

Enmoladas

Enmoladas

Enmoladas, or mole enchiladas, are a way to enjoy the sauce without the chicken (enchiladas are served either with cheese or chicken). With a side order of flour tortillas I really like the mole sauce just as well as on the chicken dinner. To me, though, the enchiladas have a strong corn oil flavor that makes this a less desirable dish than the chicken mole dinner. I am tempted to go on a rant here about the less nutritious and less well balanced food customers frequently receive when they try to order vegetarian dinners, and this is a clear example. One alternative would be to order a mole burrito which is not fried (and would probably have little or no corn oil). In my opinion, though, the best flavor comes with the chicken mole dinner. Mexican food seems to be at its best when you order it with meat.

Chile Relleno
The Chiles Rellenos have been quite greasy at times but other times have been quite good. The yellow tomato sauce served on top of the relleno is flavorful. For the most part I would recommend against ordering it here–other restaurants have much better rellenos.

Puntas de Filete

Puntas de filete

Puntas de filete

Puntas de Filete is a dish of sirloin tips that is served with a choice of several sauces. I enjoyed it not only because of its flavor, but because it is something that is not served in a great number of restaurants. I suspect all the sauces are good, but if you have a hard time deciding I think the waiters will give their suggestions.

Side Dishes
Rice and beans are very good, and overall you should expect a good meal here. Barrigas does not take the time to make Mexican style agua fresca drinks, but I have been pretty happy with the food, and the prices are not bad.

More About the Restaurant
Barrigas is open late (10 p.m.) on weekdays, and later on weekends. The outdoor patio is an excellent idea to take advantage of the El Paso weather, but smoking is allowed making it unusable to me. Because of this, the usually cold air inside, and frequent loud noise, I would have to give low marks for the restaurant’s atmosphere. Still, though, it is one of the better places to get good Mexican food in an upscale setting.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, drinks

Most Recent Visit: Feb. 27, 2008
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Flautas, Chicken Mole, Green Enchiladas

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Green Enchiladas with chicken and sour cream
star 5 Flautas
star 5 Mole
star 4 Enmoladas
star 3 Chile Relleno
star 5 Puntas de Filete
star 4 Beans
star 5 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 3 Lemonade

Casa Pizza–El Paso, TX

Casa Pizza
5435 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 775-2010

Update 2017: Casa Pizza has moved to the west side of El Paso at 5435 N. Mesa (where Chutney Restaurant used to be). The following review was written when Casa Pizza was at its old location:

The old location

Casa Pizza’s old building on Magruder St.

Casa Pizza seems to be so well hidden in a small strip shopping center behind Casa Ford that I may not have known about it except for an inquisitive nature that has led me to many of El Paso’s backroads and side streets. Casa Pizza is across the street from Carlos and Mickey’s, one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the city, but the restaurant is tucked away in the back of the shopping center so that it may not be noticeable to the majority of people who pass by it.

Open since 1987, Casa Pizza is not lacking customers, many of which seem to be “regulars.” I have heard that Casa Pizza began when the original owners of House of Pizza on Piedras split up, and that the owner of Casa Pizza is the one who developed the recipes at House of Pizza. Many people say House of Pizza has some of the best pizza in the city, and although I have not been there recently, I can confirm that it had excellent pizza when I used to go before 1987. Fortunately, though, the same pizzas are available at Casa Pizza.

Pizza
Pizza is the most popular item at Casa Pizza, and the owners say everything is made with “all natural ingredients.” Pizza is one of the foods with the highest potential to cause me stomach problems, so the fact that the ones here “sit well” with me is probably due to the natural ingredients.

Even though the flavor of a pizza is less important to me than how well my body can tolerate it, the pizzas here have the flavor and quality that have earned them such a loyal following. The crust, sauce, and cheese are all top notch. Outside of the pizzas that are wood fired (at Cafe Italia) and New York style (at Hello Pizza), the ones here are probably the best in town. At least that has been my opinion since I first tried Casa Pizza, and House of Pizza before that.

Half and half pizza

Pizza with one half pepperoni and sausage, and one half green olive and mushroom

The toppings, though, do make a difference. In the pizza pictured above, I thought the half with pepperoni and sausage was outstanding, with excellent flavor and good quality meat. I have gone through long periods of staying away from pork products, and have tried various vegetarian toppings and other types of meat. If your objective is to get the best pizza at Casa Pizza, though, I would say to order the sausage and pepperoni. I generally do not like pepperoni, but the one here was fresh and moist (in some restaurants it is dried up almost like a chip). The sausage also had a good flavor, and was not overly spicy.

The olive and mushroom pizza, on the other hand, was a letdown in terms of the flavor. I think the problem here is that you cannot order a “vegetarian” pizza, instead patrons can only choose individual toppings to add. With green olives, black olives, and mushrooms being about the only choices, I think any of these would leave the pizza with the flavor of the chosen vegetable, and not much else. I did not think the olives or the mushrooms were particularly flavorful. In the case of vegetarian pizzas I would probably point to Ardovino’s as serving the ones with the best toppings.

Greek Food

Musaka

Musaka is one of the “House Specialties”

Even though Casa Pizza is justifiably famous for its pizza, I think its best feature is the Greek food. I first tried Musaka (others spell it “moussaka”) in a Greek restaurant on the Houston Ship Channel, and found a very good version in a Greek restaurant in downtown El Paso when I first came to the city. Since that time, though, I think Casa Pizza has come the closest to capturing the essence of musaka as I originally experienced it. The eggplant was cooked so that it was neither too hard nor too soft, the spices were right, and the crust tasted perfect to me. The dish came with ground beef that was not terribly appealing to me, but I know this is the way musaka is supposed to be made, and I was happy because of the fact that the meat was cooked properly. Overall I thought this was an excellent dish.

Casa Pizza has a rather limited Greek menu, and gyros is the other Greek entrée available, but I do not remember having tried it. If I do, I will use Mediterranean Cuisine as a guide, since I think the gyros are very good there.

Salads

House salad

House salad

House Salad came with some of the dinners when I tried it in 2008, and was one of the best I had eaten in El Paso. The salad was made with fresh greens, feta cheese, and a delicious dressing.

With the pizza, though, salads cost extra (but several types are available). The Greek Salad had all the same ingredients I remembered from the house salad, but I did not think it was nearly as good. The tomatoes were not ripe and the lettuce was not very green. The salad came in a large bowl and was over five dollars. I probably ate a little over half of it, both because of it being so large and because of the lettuce not being very green. The dressing and feta cheese, though, were very good.

Summing It Up
All of the pizzas here are reasonably priced, but the large ones seem to be particularly good deals for families who are on a budget. For me, though, I really enjoy the fact that Casa Pizza serves very good Greek food. It doesn’t hurt, though, that I enjoy the pizza too.


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Pizza, Greek & Italian
Cost: $$
Hours: Closed Sun.
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Catering service

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 29, 2010
Number of Visits: 7
Best Items: Musaka, Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Musaka
star 5 Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza
star 4 Green Olive and Mushroom Pizza
star 4 Greek Salad