Great American (Mesa Hills)–El Paso, TX

Great American Steakburger
701 S. Mesa Hills Dr.
El Paso, TX
(915) 585-7873
Great American on Mesa Hills

Great American Land & Cattle Company opened in 1977 on Alabama Street, and serves steaks that may be comparable to the ones at the more well-known Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs, east of the city. Great American’s claim to fame is probably its signature seasoning that is used on all steaks and is available for sale to take home. Equally important, though, is the quality of the steaks that makes this a “destination” restaurant for El Paso, rivaling some of the well-known Mexican restaurants in popularity.

Some of the Great American locations have the names “Steakhouse” or “Land and Cattle Company,” but they are all part of the same group. Great American Steakburger’s web site explains that the Mesa Hills location is one of the five restaurants originally started by the Nunn’s (Great American’s founders), but that it is now owned by Chris and Theresa Green. Chris started working at Great American in 1978, and opened the first Great American Steakburger on Yarbrough in 1985 (the Yarbrough and Mesa Hills restaurants are the two locations now open). There are three Great American Steakhouses with the original being in Vinton (near Anthony, TX). The Great American Land & Cattle Company restaurants have different web site addresses for the Alabama Street and Gateway North locations, so I believe these are under separate ownership.

While the various owners of the Great American restaurants have their own take on the food and their own ways of cooking, the overall quality has remained relatively consistent between the various locations I have tried. I believe the steaks on Mesa Hills to be as good as at the other locations, if not better. It does have some items I have not found at the other restaurants such as the Kobe burger. Also I am not sure that all the other locations have the chicken tampiqueña or green chile chicken sandwiches, which are two of my favorite items here.

I used to look forward to the times I could make the long drive to Fabens to eat at Cattleman’s Steakhouse, and I thought the steaks there had a better flavor of natural beef with little need to add salt or other seasonings. This was in contrast to the Great American on Alabama Street (near my old neighborhood) that seemed to add so much seasoning I could hardly taste the steak. Great American has a famous (and probably patented) seasoning that is delicious, but the Mesa Hills location used it in more moderate amounts that I thought gave the meat a better flavor.

One of the employees told me the bad news about the Mesa Hills location was that they did not have a liquor license, although the restaurant has a bar from the days when it was a Griggs Restaurant location. Great American does serve beer and wine, but I have always thought iced tea was a more appropriate drink with this type of food.

Steaks
Several cuts of steak are served, with a medium sized selection compared to most steak houses. One feature I like about Great American is that smaller cuts are available (and I believe all the locations will allow two people to split a steak). Personally I have to go on a night I am really hungry to be able to handle one of the small steaks by myself.

10 oz New York strip

10 oz New York strip

New York Strip Steak is one of the cuts that I was able to get in a small version (10 oz.). As may be evident from the photo, this was a thick steak that had very little in the way of fat. This was the only cut that the menu described as “USDA Aged Choice Beef.” Using some of the well regarded steak restaurants in Oklahoma as my benchmark, the steak here was slightly gristly, but Great American served a well cooked steak with just about as much flavor as would be expected. The steak here was also considerably less expensive than some of the ones in Oklahoma. The key here was the value– this was pretty close to high end quality served at mid-range prices. The seasoning that in years past (and at the original restaurant) was the main reason I avoided Great American in favor of the long trek to Cattleman’s, now has become a flavor enhancer instead of a detriment.

I also enjoyed the large selection of sides that were served with the steak which is pictured (a vegetable, mashed potato, rice, or steak fries can be substituted for the baked potato).

Filet

Filet

I was also able to get a photo of the filet that a friend of mine ordered, and it was reported to be very good.

Steakburgers

Steakburger with green chile and cheese

Steakburger with green chile and cheese

The restaurant has long highlighted its namesake, the Steakburger. This is a thick, juicy, ground steak that provides both a smaller and less expensive meal for those times when customers do not want to order a steak. Great American takes great pride in the quality of the meat served, and deservedly so. The meat patty was so thick that this really amounted to a steak as much as a burger. Great American offers a choice of American cheese or Monterey Jack. I remember thinking that the burger was not cooked quite the way I ordered it, but I am more particular about burgers than steaks.

I ordered the steakburger with green chile and cheese partly to compare with the ones I had at Jaxon’s, and partly because the green chile cheeseburger has become a highly sought delicacy along the Rio Grande, with the joy of discovering a good one equal to or greater than the excitement in experiencing a great enchilada, chile relleno, or carne adovada. The green chile and cheese were more flavor enhancers than the main point of the burger, and in fact I think this burger would have been just about as good with mustard, barbecue sauce, or a number of different toppings. The green chile and cheese were fresh, but somehow the experience fell short of the ones I used to have at Jaxon’s (Jaxon’s also included mushrooms the Tampico sandwich which was their version of this dish). It is nice to have a version of the green chile cheeseburger here, but while I thought this was one of the better burgers in town I did not rate it as one of the top GCC versions I have tried.

Kobe burger

Kobe burger

In 2008 the Mesa Hills restaurant followed the lead of Great American in Albuquerque by offering Wagyu beef, raised only by approved ranchers following strict guidelines (and hopefully tasting the same as the Japanese Kobe beef). I found out the steak only comes in a large size, so I ordered the less expensive Kobe Steakburger. Gil’s Thrilling Blog gave an excellent report about the Wagyu beef at the Albuquerque Great American Steakhouse, and also noted the Duke City branch’s closing in 2008. The high regard Gil had for this restaurant is one that I share for the one in El Paso.

However, my reaction to the beef patty was not quite as positive as many have had for the steak. I did enjoy a very good burger, and it included the knowledge that I was eating the best quality beef (including the guildelines followed to keep the cattle off of hormones and antibiotics). I saw a group of people enjoying the Kobe steak, and it looked as if it would be a worthwhile experience. The size and price of it made it seem that the steak should be shared by at least two or three persons, but I do not fault people who want to keep it to themselves.

Great American recommends that the Kobe burger be cooked no more than medium, and also has guidelines for the steak to provide maximum flavor. I think with beef this good they do not want to cook all the juice out of it.

I should also point out that around 2008 many restaurants were calling their beef “Wagyu” or “Kobe,” but since that time the ranchers in Japan have taken a dim view of this. The beef at Great American may be a similar quality but I do not think they claim that it is real Kobe beef (it is still called Kobe on the menu, though).

Sandwiches

Chicken tampiquena sandwich

Chicken tampiqueña sandwich

Two items which I particularly like here are different types of chicken sandwiches. The Chicken Tampiqueña Sandwich is the one I think is best, and reminds me somewhat of the Tampico sandwich which used to be served at Jaxon’s (except that the one at Jaxon’s had mushrooms). To get this sandwich you order the chicken breast sandwich (which comes with pickles, lettuce, and tomatoes)  and get the tampiqueña upgrade (which gives you jack cheese, green chile, and onions). My experience has indicated that the most flavorful way to do it is just get the tampiqueña toppings and have them omit the ones from the chicken sandwich.

Green chile chicken sandwich

Green chile chicken sandwich

The Green Chile Chicken Sandwich is another good choice from the “Burgers & Sandwiches” menu. Technically it is the Green Chile Cheese Steakburger with chicken substituted for the beef. There is enough green chile served to cover the entire sandwich if desired, and this chile is spicy compared to the one in the tampiqueña sandwich. For me the tampiqueña is more flavorful and is my preference, but both sandwiches are a taste treat and include good quality green chile.

Other Items

Beer battered fish bites

Beer battered fish bites

“Other Items” is a catch phrase to describe anything that is not one of the restaurant’s specialties (steaks or sandwiches). At Great American there is not much on the menu that is not a steak or sandwich, but one choice is the Beer Battered Fish Bites. I was not much impressed with the batter but the fish is what I would call “OK for El Paso.” That is, I do not expect to find what would be available in a coastal city but the fish was good quality. It is just that the “beer batter” did not seem to have much flavor.

I have been told that the barbecue platters are very good, and there is a good selection of items.

Desserts

Key lime

Key lime

Great American has a good dessert selection including their “Mission Pies” (the entire purchase price is given to support both local and worldwide missions to spread the Word of Jesus Christ and to bring food and medical support for those in need). Key Lime Pie is one of the flavors which is always available (other types of pie are done as a flavor of the week). I was going to recommend the key lime anyway, but knowing about the cause it supports makes me more likely to order it whether I am really hungry for it or not (and when are we really so full that we cannot enjoy a good dessert?).

The Sides
One of the highlights of all the Great American restaurants is the side dishes that come with the steaks and other main dishes. The pineapple flavored Cole Slaw is probably the one generally considered to be the best side dish, and I will have to say that it has always been outstanding even when I have been somewhat disappointed with the main course. The cole slaw has a creamy sauce that the pineapple accents perfectly. The cabbage was fresh and tender as always, and everything came together so naturally it made me wonder why other restaurants do not produce their versions with as good a result as the one here. The Great American in Vinton seems to include more pineapple in the slaw and that is the one I prefer, but the one here is very good as well.

Another side dish has the nondescript name Great American Beans that are actually similar to ranch beans served at other restaurants. Actually I think just about any barbecue joint would be quite proud serving beans that tasted like the ones at Great American. For the beans I think this restaurant does a better job than the Great American in Vinton because the Tabasco sauce is not as pronounced (and the beans here have more of a traditional barbecue flavor).

The Baked Potato was excellent, but probably not a standout item like the other side dishes. Although I enjoyed the baked potato, I thought the steak fries (served with the steakburgers and optional with the steaks) were just about as good.

The Dinner Roll that came with the meal was as fresh and flavorful as the other items. All of these side dishes together probably equaled the steak as the most enjoyable part of the meal. This is good news since Great American has quite a few menu choices other than the steaks, so there is plenty of reason to try it on multiple occasions.

The Steak Fries that came with the burger were quite good, with Great American’s style of seasoning used for enhanced flavor.

A Summary
Although the steakburger would seem to be the restaurant’s best item based on it name “Great American Steakburger,” I believe the standouts are actually the steaks and the chicken sandwiches. Having green chile with the chicken sandwiches (either with the tampiqueña or the green chile sandwich) is even more of a treat because the chile here is local and prepared in such a way that not many places around the country know how to do it.

Overall this is my favorite of the Great American locations because they are more subtle on the seasoning (giving the steak a better flavor in my opinion) and with less Tabasco sauce in the beans. The one thing I like better at the other restaurants is the cole slaw, although it is good at this restaurant as well.


RATING: 24

Cuisine: Steaks
Cost: $$$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine

Most Recent Visit: Oct. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Tampiqueña Sandwich, New York Strip, Beans, Cole Slaw

 

Special Ratings
star 5 New York Strip
star 5 Chicken Tampiqueña Sandwich
star 5 Green Chile Chicken Sandwich
star 4 Steakburger
star 5 Kobe Steakburger
star 3 Fish Bites
star 5 Cole Slaw
star 5 Beans
star 5 Baked Potato

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