3589 Rich Beem Blvd.
El Paso, TX
In the Internet world there seem to be an increasing number of food authorities who publish an almost endless list of the best restaurants for different types of food. Usually the advice seems more authoritative if they just stick to one state or city, and it is almost guaranteed that the best authority will be someone who has been doing it since before the Internet was available. Such is the case with Texas Monthly, who has been giving readers good restaurant choices from the time when they were one of the few sources of information that were available (and I thought usually the best source).
When Texas Monthly came out with their list of the best barbecue restaurants in the state for 2021, they certainly demonstrated their state-wide knowledge by including Desert Oak on the list (specifically, in “The Rest of the Best’ category which would place them between numbers 11 and 50 in the state). Desert Oak’s barbecue is true to be Central Texas style (not that I am really an expert in the different styles), although TM rates the restaurants not on authenticity but on how much they liked the food. I do make the disclaimer that the restaurant I visited is the new location while the Texas Monthly judges were evaluating the main location on Zaragoza Road (and which is now at 11411 Gateway Blvd. West, a.k.a. Interstate 10 frontage road).
I believe the meat is the same at both Desert Oak locations, and this is the case at several barbecue restaurants with which I am familiar. I can give you the short version of this review and say I thought the meat was quite good, but I thought some of the sides could use a little work. This seems to fit in well with Texas Monthly’s criteria for rating BBQ restaurants, although they apparently give extra points when the sides are of notable quality.
After a recent visit to Central Texas, I thought Desert Oak had reasonable prices for this quality of barbecue. My question about them, though, was in adding charges to the price that was posted on the menu. For instance, there was a three percent service charge that they add to all bills–it does not matter whether you use a credit card or not (they explained that this is how much it costs them to process the orders with the machine they have). They also charged extra for pickles, onions and bread when I did not eat two out of these three (but did not know that I had to instruct them not to put them on the plate in order to avoid the extra charge). Still, though, I would say that the meals here are reasonably priced.
One advantage this location has is that I did not observe the lines that many barbecue restaurants have of people waiting to be served. They also did not run out of any of the meats, although there is probably a time late in the afternoon when this might occur.
Both of the meats from my dinner were quite good but the Brisket was my favorite, having the Central Texas flavor. I got the fatty brisket (their default) although lean brisket is also available. For the flavor of the brisket and the price, I would say this restaurant is a good deal.
The main reason I put the Pork Ribs in second place is that in my experience Oklahoma is the king of this type of barbecue, and has all the nuances down to give customers the perfect meat. Of course the opposite is true for brisket, where Texas is usually the clear winner in my book. It really comes down to whether you prefer brisket or pork, and for me brisket is usually better when they do it the right way.
I was also able to get a taste of the Sausage which had a good spice and a good flavor. This is another case where Desert Oak does it about as good as anyone.
Although I was excited to try the Green Chile Cheese Rice, it was disappointing that I did not find much green chile flavor in it (and the cheese-rice combination was one that was perplexing to me about why someone would think this was a good idea.
The Cole Slaw also was less flavorful than I had hoped.
The Potato Salad made with olive oil was the side I would most like to have again. I think there are other potato salads in town that are better, but the olive oil worked and I was happy they were trying to make it healthy.
To me the barbecue sauce was perfect by having a good flavor and not going too far in its spiciness, being either thick or thin, etc.
One negative is that you have to decide on a tip when you order the food (payment is taken when you order). This is the same I have found at most barbecue restaurants, however.
I did get good service, though, especially when they changed my drink order because I did not like the tea. Their default (and only) tea is sweetened, but I was able to change it to a Mexican Coke. At least this was something I could live with.
Texas Monthly also recommends the El Paso Stuffed Potato with butter, cheese, sour cream, beans, chives, chiles toreados and brisket. The restaurant explained to me that this was not a side dish but a meal, so I think it would be a good choice on a future visit.