El Paso, TX
JJ’s first came to my attention as a small neighborhood Mexican restaurant with cheap prices and very hot salsa. The casual atmosphere meant that customers could spend as little or as much time as they wanted on the meal, and since food is paid for at the counter when ordering, patrons can leave as soon as they are finished or order the food as take-out. In addition to getting good Mexican food, it was sometimes very convenient to go out to eat and not have to make a “production” out of it.
JJ’s is probably best known for its gorditas. These are made with a deep fried corn masa, and while this is supposed to be a traditional Mexican recipe, it is surprisingly difficult to find any that are even close to the ones at JJ’s. Some web sites have published lists of restaurants that have them, and it looks as if there are about five or ten restaurants in El Paso that make them the traditional way (an alternate traditional way is to make them with a flour tortilla, but this is not the local style that I have experienced in El Paso).
After many visits to JJ’s I would definitely say that the gordita is their best item. Moreover, while I have not tried all the ones in El Paso, the one at JJ’s must either be the one by which all others are judged or else it is very close. There are several fillings available, and I prefer some over others, but the shell here is what I think makes them a standout (everyone has their own taste when it comes to the filling).
JJ’s opened in 1982, I have seen information on the Internet that it has changed owners since then. This may be completely unrelated, but I think the rest of the menu besides the gorditas has been getting better recently. The gorditas are usually the reason to come, but I like to get other items beside this on a combination plate, and I have enjoyed all of them. This was not true previously, and this is why I think the new owners have made some changes for the better (or else my tastes have changed more drastically than I thought).
In any case, I always feel positive about restaurants that are improving or at least seem to be doing a better job of satisfying my taste buds.
Chips and Salsa
To me one of the main attractions of JJ’s is the chips and salsa. I made note previously that the salsa was red, and now it is green. It is always on the spicy side, and to me it is obvious that it is made from fresh, locally grown chiles. Sometimes it borders on being too hot to eat with the chips, but even if this is the case a small amount sprinkled inside the gordita gives it an excellent flavor boost.
The Chips are always good and go well with the meal even if the salsa is too hot.
Gorditas are by far the best item I have found at JJ’s. I think the restaurant recognizes it as their signature dish to the point that their east side branches are known either formally or informally as JJ’s Gorditas.
The gorditas at JJ’s are known for their light, thin crust that I think you inhale more than swallow (the flavor is very substantial, though). Inside will be a choice of several fillings: ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, beans, or avocado (I am not sure of the one with beans is still on the menu but if not, I am sure they can make it this way).
Avocado Gorditas have been one of my favorites, more for health reasons than because of flavor. It is interesting that the avocado turns the crust a green color as it soaks through, making this type of gordita easy to spot. The lettuce and tomato served in the gordita make the avocado taste somewhat like a guacamole salad. The yellow cheese is probably more to complement the flavor of the crust than the filling. All in all I like this better than the gordita at Little Diner, one of the few other restaurants that even serve an avocado gordita. The main difference between the two restaurants is that Little Diner’s crust is thicker as opposed to a somewhat light and fluffy texture which I think is JJ’s signature. Somehow, though, I think JJ’s also does a better job with the avocado filling.
JJ’s serves two types of beef gorditas, a shredded beef style and the ground beef gordita that is comparable to the one served at Little Diner. It is a matter of taste as to which one is better, but lately I have enjoyed the shredded beef more. Of course it is a bonus that customers can spoon on some of JJ’s fresh salsa.
The gordita that has become my absolute favorite, though, is the one with a chicken filling. Somehow this does not sound traditional, but I thought it was very good.
The problem I had with JJ’s gorditas at the “old” restaurant was that they left a “corn oil” aftertaste that I thought was stronger than I found in other restaurants. Recently, though, I have found JJ’s to have improved, while the much heralded ones at Little Diner have had such a thick and dense texture that I think there is now no comparison with the ones at JJ’s (even though I think the fillings in Little Diner’s gorditas are good).
Little Diner is known nationally for its gorditas, but recent ownership changes at both restaurants have caused some changes so that I would encourage those who have the chance to try both restaurants and compare the gorditas. Do not rely exclusively on reviews which are several years old (I would say that my experiences may not totally reflect how the food is normally prepared at both restaurants, but I still go back to the advice to do your own taste test).
JJ’s has a number of combination plates, many of which contain a gordita with other items. For all of these you can choose your own filling for the gordita, and the choice of plates only involves the other items that will go with it.
I think probably my favorite item to go along with the gordita on a combination plate is the Chile Relleno. In the El Paso Upper Valley and adjacent Dona Ana County, New Mexico, it seems that it is impossible to find a bad chile relleno (the chiles are grown locally). The ones at JJ’s are a little bit greasy, but are definitely within my tolerance level. I have had some with no sauce on top and some with a red tomato flavored sauce (both are very good). The chile itself and the breading are also very good, along with the cheese.
Another good choice is the Red Enchilada which has a good red sauce, although I do not think JJ’s has one of the city’s premier sauces. I have seen good reviews for the green enchilada, but I have not tried it.
The Pregnant Burrito is so large it usually qualifies as a meal in itself (I am not sure if it comes on any combination plates. This is a very large tortilla enveloping a large helping of chicken and the condiments that provide the vegetables and spices. The pregnant burrito did not include the best grade of chicken when I tried it, but was otherwise delicious with large amounts of cheese, lettuce, avocado, and red chile.
The Refried Beans at JJ’s have not been noticeably greasy (I do not know if they are made with lard or corn oil but I do think that they taste much like the ones at other restaurants). They are very good for cooling the mouth if I order something spicy or use overly generous portions of salsa with the meal.
I have found the Rice to be genuinely good and flavorful (previously it was sometimes overcooked but I have not found that to be the case recently).
JJ’s serves aguas frescas drinks including Horchata that is one of the best I have tasted with generous amounts of cinnamon.
“JJ’s Gorditas” restaurants are located at 1188 N. Yarbrough Drive and 10750 North Loop Drive (both are in east El Paso). I believe the one on Doniphan is the original restaurant.
I think JJ’s does one thing really well, and that is the gordita. Other items are also very good, and I think certainly better than they used to be. I think the gorditas here are certainly worth trying, and for most people they will be quite different than ones they have had at other restaurants.
This is a very casual restaurant. You pay when you order and they bring the food to the table, but after that you are mostly on your own (although you can get drink refills, etc.). Because of this the prices are cheap, and this makes it even better to enjoy what I consider to be one of El Paso’s treats.
Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Has a food truck
Most Recent Visit: Mar. 17, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Gorditas, Salsa, Horchata