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