El Paso, TX
Update Apr. 2023: This location closed on Easter Sunday 2023 but the business at 1188 Hawkins Blvd. in east El Paso is still open. For those who are wondering–no, it did not close because of lack of customers but because the landlord forced them out.
Luby’s Cafeteria has been a staple in my life throughout my times in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, and Albuquerque, and with minor variations the food has always been the same everywhere I went. For the past few years they have had a major program of closing various locations, though, and each one has had an impact on the community to an extent that I have not seen with any other chain restaurant having similar closures (with the clarification, of course, that this is a cafeteria and not a restaurant).
As of 2023 Luby’s is still located in every major city in Texas and quite a few smaller ones, and it seems that this will continue to be the case at least for now. The only bad omen for El Paso (and perhaps for other cities) is that when the west El Paso location closed they did not move to another site but are relying on the single cafeteria which is still open on the east side of town.
My first visit to the Mesa Street location in the past few years was done with hope that some of my favorites would still be as good as in the past, but it came after some hesitancy because of some very mixed experiences I have had on previous visits. Dishes I counted on the most, such as the fried fish, were generally very good but this was not the case if they had been sitting for too long before they were served. My sense is that Luby’s has now corrected many of the factors that led to inconsistencies in the food, but I was aware of some of the factors that led to the mass closures of Luby’s restaurants and I think it was largely because of the food.
One of the good things about Luby’s is the experience. Years ago I did not look forward to the long queue that always awaited me as I took my place in the serving line, but now I think those days are gone. Now people have the advantage of viewing their food before they order it without the hassle of having to wait in line. Of course I wish for Luby’s to have a large enough customer base that there will be people waiting in line to go through, but I do not think it will ever be to the extent it was in the old days.
This particular location has a good view of the Franklin Mountains, and the dining room is quite comfortable. They have a little different setup than in the past where you pay before taking your tray to the table, and this includes any tip you wish to leave to the server (it is more convenient, though, because you can pay with a credit card and they give you the cash you want to leave as a tip).
The servers were pretty insistent that they would get anything I needed and it does work much like a restaurant where anything you need will be brought to your table. It does seem that this is mostly like a restaurant experience except for the fact that you can see the food before they serve it to you.
Many of my favorite dishes at Luby’s are rotating, and I try to grab them whenever they are served. The Chicken Pot Pie is one that I did not know was available until I saw it in 2021, and it turned out to be one of my favorites. I think its best attribute was its freshness (something that I do not frequently find in pot pies). The chicken and gravy were very good, and these were the two most important elements of it. It had a large amount of carrots which I liked, but not a noticeable amount of peas or other vegetables. The weakest part was the crust which had an aftertaste that was noticeable (this is not a deal breaker, though).
The Green Beans shown in the above photo tasted canned and were OK, but I expect better at most restaurants. Barely visible are mashed potatoes which I later realized were not a good choice to go with pot pie (but usually I think they are a good thing to order).
Behind the plate with the green color is the item I most look forward to having any time I go to Luby’s– the Seafoam Salad (it is actually called “Lime Congeal”). It is in the salad section but for me it is a very enjoyable dessert. In fact, this alone makes me very glad that Luby’s is still in business (because I do not know of anyone else who makes a salad like this).
The Carved Ham is one of the many main items here that I think is good but not great–in other words it is what of when someone says “cafeteria food.” In this instance, though, the side dishes made it better–particularly the yams.
The Vegetable Soup is a somewhat unusual side item because of the fact that it is actually very flavorful and is seasoned well.
The Cup of Mixed Fruit is one of my sentimental favorites because of my memories of it being very good at times when I was sick and did not have much of an appetite for anything. The servers would always make sure you got at least one of every type of fruit that was included in the mix (and it always has strawberries).
Luby’s is not as inexpensive as it used to be but they still have the LuAnn plates where you get a meat and two sides (the sides can be vegetables or soup but desserts and salads do not count).
I recently found out that was you see on the serving line is not necessarily everything that is available. One example is the Chicken Fried Steak which I had remembered being very good in Austin and for some reason I decided to take a longshot and see if they had it here. It turned out that they did have it, but I had to wait while they cooked it (being freshly cooked made it even better). The flavor of this CFS was legit, and was one of the best ones I can remember having in a long time. The only thing was that the steak was extremely thin (not a problem for me since the breading and gravy were so good, and the meat itself was good as well).
Luby’s is also known for its special meals on holidays such as Thanksgiving, where you feel that you are getting a home cooked meal (although I would not go so far as saying it tastes like the home cooked meals I got with my family). These are largely packaged meals that include all the side dishes, although you do get some choices of meats and side dishes. Short of eating at home, I think these are the best traditional style meals I can find anywhere. I was disappointed, though, that they did not have any whipped cream to put on top of my pumpkin pie.
Beginning on Thanksgiving 2023, though, I do not know what it is going to be like when the whole city of El Paso can only be served by one Luby’s (I know what the lines were like when I went for this meal at the west side Luby’s).
In general I think the meats are higher quality and better tasting than the vegetables, but with the LuAnn plate the vegetables are practically free so it is worth experimenting if you are not sure what to order. The fried fish is the meat item that is always available that seems to always be good. When I did not see chicken fried steak and asked for it, they cooked it on order and it was excellent. My other favorites are mostly rotated items and I never know if they will be available (except for turkey on holidays where I hope I get there before they run out).
I have never tried a dessert here I did not like, but usually the lime congeal is my dessert of choice (although it is technically a salad). There is also a jello salad with carrots that I like quite a bit. Strawberry rhubarb pie is also excellent, but I cannot remember the last time I saw it in the serving line.
Hours: Open Daily 11 am to 8 pm
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Apr. 4, 2023
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Fish, Chicken Pot Pie, Turkey, Vegetable Soup, Lime Congeal, Carrot Salad
|Chicken Fried Steak|
|Chicken Pot Pie|