El Paso, TX
The genre of “New American” restaurants has become very popular in El Paso, but Ripe was one of the original ones in the city and I think helped to create the market which many other restaurants are now filling. I have had a hard time defining exactly what “New American” means other than that it is different from restaurants which serve traditional American food. Having the “New” in the name allows the chefs to experiment and combine American food with other cuisine in some cases (in the case of Ripe I think there is a very large Italian influence). When Ripe first opened I read articles about the brother and sister team who opened the restaurant, and the one theme which dominated was their passion about good food and their desire to share it with the city.
One of the core principles at Ripe’s founding was to provide a la carte orders cooked in small batches made from the freshest ingredients. The “a la carte” portion of this directive has some flexibility, because there is a wide range of choices including full dinners, sandwiches, and small plates. The “freshest ingredients” aspect of the restaurant of course is a very good concept but it does create some difficulty in the sense that the menu changes all the time. They have seasonal menus, there are daily specials, and the regular items seem to change from time to time. When the restaurant first opened there was a large choice of panini sandwiches, but now there is only one that is offered. A waiter told me that if I wanted a certain type of panini I could request it (and if they could make it they would). It seems that in most instances, though, it is best to go with whatever is on the menu at the moment because these make use of their fresh and seasonal ingredients.
Some of the items I liked are listed as “Best Items,” although they may or may not ever again be listed on the menu. The menu is constantly changing, but the quality of food does not. Everything here has a high quality which I really appreciate, and so far they have flavored the food in a way that I appreciate as well. Combined with the top notch service, I generally feel that it is worth the money even though it is sometimes in the upper range of the $$ price level or higher if you consider drinks, desserts, etc.
The international aspect of the menu is also a good feature. In the past some of my favorite items were the panini and the Moroccan vegetable tagine. The only caveat is that they do not consistently serve any particular item, and I would say this particularly applies to the international dishes.
It is not unusual for restaurants in El Paso to offer beer, but it is unusual for them to offer anything that would entice me to order it–especially ones that come in a can. This generally happens when they have craft beer, local brews, or some unusual labels I cannot find anywhere else. On a visit to Wisconsin I found a local brand that was good enough to make this my drink of choice at restaurants, but for me this is definitely not normally the case.
In El Paso, Ripe and Ardovino’s are the two restaurants that come to mind when I think I might want beer with the meal instead of my normal iced tea or other type of tea. This is because of the variety they serve and the quality of them. I want to emphasize, though, that this is not saying that Ripe and Ardovino’s are better than anyplace else, just that they had things that sounded interesting enough to make me want to try them.
There are at least three advantages of ordering a sandwich at Ripe: (1) they are always on the menu, (2) it keeps you in the $$ price range, and (3) the ones I have tried have been better than at other restaurants. In the case of the Black Bean Burger I am not sure that this is the best I have had anywhere, but I do think it is one of the best in the city. The one I ordered here was a Tuesday special, but I think this meant it was at a lower price rather than that they only serve it on Tuesday. I liked the fact that it was slightly spicy but they were not using the spice to try to bump up the flavor (there was flavor enough from the fresh ingredients). The Simple Salad that came with it was fresh and had a good flavor.
I ordered a BLTA from the Summer Seasonal Menu, and it turned out to be one of my favorite sandwiches. I will have to say that even adding the “A” (avocado) to the traditional BLT does not fully describe it–the menu lists toasted ciabatta, bacon, pepper jack, avocado, chipotle mayo, lettuce, and fried green tomatoes. In terms of flavor I think what I appreciated the most over the traditional BLT was the cheese. The chipotle mayo was something about which I was wary, but it turned out to be very good with just the right amount of kick. The avocado was fresh but not so soft that it oozed out of the sides to make a messy meal as well as a tasty one. On the bacon they did a good job of making it just a little bit crispy so that it still had most of its flavor but I did not feel as if I were eating something greasy and soggy (usually I prefer bacon that is crispy rather than soft).
Ripe is known for its burgers, which account for the majority of sandwiches they serve. Burgers are not usually high on my wish list, but what I have heard about the ones here must mean that they are very high quality.
In the past one of my favorite items here was the Panini. There is currently only one type of panini on the menu, but a waiter indicated that you might be able to make a special request if there was a certain type of sandwich you wanted. I think that at some point this will be worth a try.
Large plates do not really seem to be Ripe’s specialty, but they do offer some such as the Swedish Meatballs on the Fall Seasonal Menu. It is apparently served every year and thus could be considered one of Ripe’s regular items. I had been looking forward to trying it since I heard about it, although perhaps I built it up too much in my mind because it turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. The sauce was good, and although it was similar to stroganoff dinners I thought this was better than most stroganoff dishes I have tried. The meatballs seemed somewhat dry, though, and it did not have much flavor contrast to the overwhelming amount of sauce that it contained. I certainly cannot say that this was a bad dish at all, but it was just a little less than I expected from something this expensive and which I had anticipated for so long.
Remembering the Past
Over the years the menu seems to have undergone a fairly extensive transformation, and I would say the major change is that there are now fewer choices offered. The specials now served make up for this somewhat, but it used to be that I could order my favorite items any time I went, and this is much less the case now.
Some of the highlights from the past include a delicious Stuffed Chicken and a Moroccan style Vegetable Tagine. Panini is still available, and I was told that some additional types of sandwich may be available by special order. However it was the vegetable panini (which is no longer on the menu) that I particularly enjoyed. I was very impressed in the past by the Asparagus and I think this is likely still available on some of the seasonal or special menus.
It is my understanding that Ripe has a different owner than it did when the brother and sister team were running it, and this would certainly explain why the menu seems to now be focused on different things. I still like many of the items here, but all of my favorites are still from the old menu.
I think many aspects of Ripe that were true in the “old days” are still true now, and this is a reason Ripe is still one of the city’s most popular restaurants. One thing I believe is still true is that there are many menu items that are good for takeout and that can be successfully reheated later for an excellent dinner. They used to have a full-fledged deli, and although this is no longer the case I still would think this is a good place for take-out items.
When Ripe first opened it was very big on Italian food. I thought the cheese was especially good, and I liked dishes such as the pizza, lasagna, and panini. The veggie pizza, for instance, was piled high with vegetables instead of the typical sprinkling you get at many pizza restaurants–the one here was not very traditional but it was very good. I still think that anything Italian at Ripe would be very good.
I used to consider Ripe to be the best place in town for vegetarian dishes after Kern Place Market closed. Now the vegetarian choices seem to be much more limited, although the quality here is still excellent and the black bean burger I had recently was good.
Ripe has a breakfast restaurant next door called Ripe Sunrise Cafe, and between the two you can eat from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 pm (it closes at 3:00 pm on Sunday). I do not know if the breakfast menu was added recently or whether it has been here for some time, but I think it would be worth checking out.
After several recent visits my main takeaways here are (1) the service is always excellent and notably good compared to most El Paso restaurants, and (2) it is almost always best to get whatever is on special (i.e. at a price that is lower than the regular menu price)–here a lower price does not mean lower quality, it just means that you do not pay as much.