El Paso, TX
When I first started working in El Paso some of my co-workers introduced me to a relatively unknown restaurant with about five tables and a number of bar stools with very good food named L & J. Over the years L & J became more popular so that we developed strategies for getting a table at lunch time (such as showing up as soon as the restaurant opened). However busy it became, though, it was always worth the wait as long as we could manage being gone for longer than the allotted time for lunch hour.
It took me a while to realize that the restaurant was also open in the evenings and on weekends, and that this afforded an easier opportunity to get a coveted table. The bar has always been quite popular, but I do not think it is really designed for eating food (contrary to many bars in El Paso Mexican restaurants). Either way you are experiencing a piece of El Paso history, with L & J being in operation since 1927. The restaurant is also know for being located across the street from Concordia Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the city with grave sites for notable figures such as gunfighter John Wesley Hardin as well as numerous local residents such as my own great-great grandparents and other family members.
The overflow parking area outside L & J along Stevens Street sometimes serves more as parking for the cemetery when they have historical tours or other special events. In any case, L & J is like La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico–you can come for the food, for the history, or both.
Now that L & J has expanded with a couple of new dining rooms, its popularity with patrons continues to cause larger crowds than it can handle many times, and waits seem to be as big an issue as they were before. I think the food has experienced somewhat of a transformation along with the dining facilities, and like many of the restaurants I review I find it necessary to update my comments and recommendations.
Chips and Salsa
The salsa is different than at most restaurants because it is pureed. In my former review I called it a “liquid concentration of high chile potency,” and it remains this way at the “new” restaurant. What was missing was the green salsa they used to serve, as shown in this photo:
Perhaps the green salsa is still available if you ask for it, but I think the red is equally good and I am fine with only that one being served.
With the combination plate you get a good sample of the food at L & J. I also got more food than I wanted for a meal, but of course I did not complain too much!
While some web sites seem to rank L & J as the best Mexican restaurant in El Paso, but I find that there is too much inconsistency between some of the dishes to say that this is the case. Nevertheless, the combination plate includes some of L & J’s best dishes such as enchiladas and chile verde. This is my overall assessment:
- Red Enchilada. The red chile has a good spice and gives a good taste of El Paso style enchiladas.
- Chile Verde. The staff told me this was the same as the caldillo listed on the menu, and which I had previously designated as one of L & J’s signature dishes. It is made with beef instead of pork (caldillo is usually made with pork), and as before I think this is possibly the best chile verde I have had in El Paso.
- Rice. I enjoy the flavor of the spices and the tomato sauce, the generous mixture of peas, and the fact that over the years I have never found it to be overcooked.
- Chile Relleno. This was very tasty but a little greasy. The restaurant used to put a sauce on top, but this has little to do with my downgrading it from one of L & J’s best items to merely a good one (instead it has to do with the greasiness).
- Taquito. This was a little bland in flavor but otherwise good. I just could not find anything that made it stand out.
- Beans. These contributed to the overall theme of much of the food (namely being greasy).
- Ground Beef Taco. This was possibly the greasiest item on the plate.
Recommendations from Previous Visits
I do not generally like Green Enchiladas in El Paso as much as the red, but the one at L & J is very close (based on past visits). My description of it in a previous review was “very hot green chile strips in a soupy sauce poured over the tortillas.” I assure readers that this is a good thing when you experience it, at least if the enchiladas are still prepared the same way (and I am sure they are).
In general my reference to L & J being a “new” restaurant does not mean they have changed the recipes, but I think in some cases the execution is a little different. For instance, I find some items to be more greasy than before. I also think the chile used in the red enchiladas is not quite as spicy as before, but it has not yet morphed into “tourist food” (I think the chile now is just about right).
The prices seem to be noticeably higher than at comparable restaurants, although for many items it is worth it. The history of the building is quite notable, and I think L & J has rightly turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Although I enjoy the increased diversity in Mexican food that El Paso is experiencing, there is always a place in my heart and my stomach for the “old style” Mexican food that is unique to El Paso. I particular encourage people to try the red enchiladas at various restaurants, and I believe L & J should be on this list.
Hours: Open Daily
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer and Wine
Most Recent Visit: Apr. 19, 2018
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Red Enchiladas, Caldillo, Salsa, Rice, Green Enchiladas