El Paso, TX
Some of my favorite types of food are Thai and Vietnamese, and I am very glad that these are almost ubiquitous throughout the United States (although the quality does vary somewhat from place to place).
What I have largely missed, though, is any experience with the “other” Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, etc.). Lao cuisine is becoming more common but can only be found in certain cities. Malaysian food is one of my favorites when I can find it. Singapore is a Thai restaurant, but has some dishes that can loosely be called Malaysian (I think the food here is mostly fusion). What I do know is that it has been a very good addition to the El Paso dining scene..
One thing I have really wanted to find is food from Burma (now called Myanmar) and its famous tea leaf salad. I did not make the connection until recently, but Singapore Restaurant has a dish that seems to be at least loosely based on this, called Green Tea Chicken.
I ordered the Green Tea Chicken several times at the old restaurant but did not know that there might be a connection to Burmese food. Becky, Singapore’s owner, first offered it as a special, and later put it on the menu. It is still on the menu, and even though I liked it before, it had a flavor that I appreciated even more from some recent visits. The quality of ingredients was also very good, and stood in contrast to some other restaurants that may be good but not up to the standards I find at Singapore.
All of this has given me a renewed interest in seeing what Singapore has to offer (there are quite a few items I have not tried and others that might be worth another shot). The fusion concept has led to some disappointments for me, but I do know that other items are very worthwhile.
Singapore has been in its new location at 3233 N. Mesa since 2018 (the restaurant fronts on Kern Drive just north of the UTEP campus). To me it looks smaller than the old restaurant but I like the modern look and the comfortable seating. Lunch specials last until 2:00 p.m. and the restaurant closes at 5:00 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday (it serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday).
Dishes from the “Old” Restaurant (4120 N. Mesa)
Note: these are items I have not tried at the new restaurant but I am including the information from my previous reviews.
Over the years one of the entrées I have enjoyed very much at Singapore Café has been Veggie Ginger Tofu, although I would not rate it the same as many of the ginger dishes served in the Seattle area and other cities. The one here includes tofu, ginger, mushrooms, peanuts, and snow peas as the primary ingredients, set on a bed of lettuce that I only consume if the rest of the plate is not sufficiently filling. I find the dish to be “sickly sweet” and off balance in flavor, but still the vegetables and tofu are of good quality and this is something I do not mind ordering. The dish is much better balanced when it has fish sauce, which does not come in the vegetarian version, but can be requested.
Yu Sang Broccoli is generally good in its vegetarian version, but can also be ordered with meat. Becky describes this as a “Chinese ex-patriot” dish. To me this is one of the dishes at Singapore Café that most fits the description of not tasting too sweet or “Americanized;” rather it has a good balance of flavors. It is one of the spicier dishes I have tried here.
Curry dishes have largely been disappointing to me, although the Singapore curry (which I think is relatively new to the menu) was very good.
Several soups are served as entrées, but many of them are not as satisfying to me as at other Thai restaurants. The Tom Kha Gai (with coconut), however, has frequently been better than at many other places.
Tom Yum is a spicy soup with pineapple and tomato, flavored with lemongrass. This is similar to Vietnamese style sweet and sour soup (canh chua), but is rather different from the versions of tom yum I have found at other Thai restaurants. I liked the chicken version better than the one with shrimp, even though the opposite is true with some other dishes.
Some of the best dishes at Singapore have been specials that were not always available including Mango Tofu. This may not be great when compared to Thai food available in other cities, but is one of the more delicious and healthy dishes available in El Paso. Note: in my multiple visits to the new location I have not seen any daily specials as they used to have, although the regular menu now seems to have more choices than before (and does include mango chicken).
Dishes from the “New” Restaurant (3233 N. Mesa)
The Spicy Green Tea Stir Fry started out as a special but was added to the menu in 2005. This is a spicy dish served in a bowl on top of rice with chicken, broccoli, and other vegetables. When Becky served it as a special I liked it so much I made it a point to tell her, and perhaps this was one of the reasons it was added to the menu (OK, maybe this wasn’t the reason, but I’m glad it was added).
I have only seen tea leaf dishes mentioned in reviews of Burmese restaurants, and to date this dish is the only one I have experienced that has the tea leaf flavor (and it is one of my favorite dishes in El Paso). This is not the Burmese version that has popped lentils and other toppings, but I really enjoyed the one here (that is admittedly a chicken dish instead of the traditional “salad” that is served in Myanmar, so I can only make very limited comparisons to the way the Burmese version is described).
Becky isn’t kidding around when she calls it spicy. You get a double dose of red chiles with some puréed into the dish and more that is still in the pod.
Singapore Chicken Curry is the best curry I have had here, and the only one I would rate as five stars. This was spicy (although not as spicy as many) and had a fruity flavor that I really liked.
A very good vegetarian choice is the Veggie Mi Goreng, consisting of noodles with tofu and vegetables. I think this is usually considered to be a Malaysian dish, and over the years has been one of my favorites at Singapore Café. It is not one of the dishes that taste “sweet,” although it seems to have a sweet and sour contrast done in a traditional Asian way.
Over the years I have been a big fan of the delicious, slightly tomato flavored noodle soup that is complementary with the lunch specials (or you can order it with regular dishes for an extra charge). The crispy noodles that come with it are excellent, and even if the choices for luncheon specials is limited the soup has been a good bonus. After 2020 it has turned into a soup that has fewer noodles and it seemed to have a less robust flavor, but it is still a major reason to order one of the lunch specials.
Pad Thai has been my favorite dish from the lunch menu, but I have not tried many of the others (now the choices are even more limited, and are down to about five items). The one pictured is the vegetarian version, made with tofu, and is the same as the version I used to order at the original location. I consider this to be one of El Paso’s best vegetarian dishes. The sauce has a vinegar and soy base, and I like to get chile oil for some extra spice. You can also ask for fish sauce (nam pla) if you do not mind the fact that it would not be strictly vegetarian. I personally think both this and the meat version are better with the fish sauce.
The regular version comes with chicken and shrimp, as well as some of the same tofu that is served in the vegetarian dish. Both versions lack the tamarind sauce that some restaurants use to turn the noodles into a red color, but I think the fish sauce gives it all the flavor it needs. Bean sprouts provide additional substance, and are traditional for this dish. Crushed peanuts are spread on top, and fresh limes and chile paste are provided on the side for extra flavor. While many dishes at Singapore Café seem to be too sweet, the pad thai is not.
I also enjoy the lumpia that comes with the lunch specials. This is a small fried spring roll that comes with a tangy sauce.
My memory is that I sometimes have to ask for the fish sauce, peanuts, limes, and/or the lumpia sauce. The good news is that you will not be charged for any of these items, and I think it is not the restaurant’s policy to withhold these items (but sometimes they make a mistake).
Some Other Tips
One of Singapore’s main claims to fame (and to my heart) is that it is one of the few vegetarian friendly restaurants in El Paso, and offers dishes that actually have some flavor at times when I do not want to eat meat. However, adding fish sauce is really the critical factor in getting a Thai flavor for some items.
There are now so many items on the menu that there are bound to be more great dishes that I have yet to try. It seems that the food here has gotten better over the years, and I am hoping to find some more to add to my favorites.
Hours: Closed Sun., Closed Mon and Tue. evenings
Smoking: No smoking
Most Recent Visit: Sep. 29, 2022
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Green Tea Chicken, Mi Goreng, Pad Thai, Singapore Chicken Curry, Mango Tofu (now on the menu as mango chicken)