Many restaurants in El Paso (particularly Mexican restaurants) offer Lent specials in the days leading up to Easter. These are usually served on Friday, but some restaurants have them for other holy days as well.
I found out a long time ago that this is some of the best Mexican food served, and rather than Lent being a “fast” I always found it to be a treat to enjoy the food served by these restaurants. Most Lent specials are served with fish or shrimp, but some vegetarian dishes are also available such as enchiladas (they frequently use some special sauce that is not normally served on enchiladas). The Lent specials at restaurants can really be anything as long as there is no meat.
My favorite Lent specials are ones that include a vegetarian lentil soup (lentejas) and the traditional bread pudding dessert (capirotada). The main plate on traditional meals usually includes mashed potatoes and either rice or bread. I usually like to get fish because the restaurants usually prepare it so well, but I think I see about two shrimp specials on the menu for every one that is fish.
The following list includes recent places I have visited, with two of them (El Jacalito and Carnitas Queretaro) being long time favorites:
1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX
This restaurant seems to be well known for its Lent special, although I just tried it for the first time in 2018.
Unlike other restaurants, though, San Isidro only has one Lent special. It is called Pescado Marinero, and is cooked in foil with a fish fillet, clams, squid, and shrimp all cooked together. Frankly, I went with a friend who shared this dish with me, and we both got full. We were both very happy with the food as well. The dinner came with lentil soup and capirotada (the only down side with sharing the meal is that you only get one of each of these side dishes).
The up side of this meal was that the fish was good and the seafood and vegetables mixed in were a nice added touch. The lentils were prepared in a different style than the others I tried (heavy on the cilantro) and were very good. The capirotada was moist to the point of being soggy (more like an actual pudding than the others). Although different, this was also a worthwhile experience.
Edit: I should mention that we got an extra order of lentils and that is the reason both of us were full.
7410 Remcon Circle
El Paso, TX
Carnitas Queretaro is the only restaurant I have found which serves Filete Veracruzano (fish with Veracruz sauce) on a regular basis, meaning every Friday during Lent. Thus, I got to try the one dish which is probably my favorite during Lent.
I loved the sauce here, but the fish fillet was probably the most disappointing out of the ones I tried during my Lent marathon in 2018. I also know that it was not up to the standard I experienced in previous years at Carnitas Queretaro. This was quite an expensive meal, and I just do not understand why this restaurant has changed so much (even so it was almost worth it to get such a good veracruzano sauce).
The lentil soup and capirotada were both excellent, and Carnitas Queretaro is excellent on items such as the chips and salsa. The main plate came with mashed potatoes, rice and bread. To me this is overkill on the starchy items, although I enjoyed the mashed potatoes very much.
Update 2021: I have not tried the Lent specials this year. In previous years they had fish filet on the regular menu (but the veracruzano style was only at Lent). Now the menu seems to have been very much streamlined, and there is no fish on the menu (thus I am expecting some changes on the Lent menu as well although I do not have the details).
865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX
Delicias Cafe has good fish and excellent sauces. Several shrimp items were on the menu, and the staff explained that the owner and chef decide the night before what items to put on the Lent menu (so it changes weekly).
I thought the poblana sauce was better than their version of Filete Veracruzano. However, I returned to Delicias in 2021 and found the food overall to be better than in 2018. The lentil soup was quite good (better than before) and I also thought the Filete Veracruzano had improved to the level that I have found at other restaurants. The Filete A La Diabla was also quite good, and was spicy without being overly so.The Capirotada dessert was excellent (as it had been previously).
I now do not have a favorite among the sauces, but I would say that all the fish filet choices are good.
One big change in 2021 is that they only serve the Lent Special at lunch, and they close their doors at 7:00 pm (so I suppose that technically you could still have the special for dinner although I think they are likely to run out of some items such as the capirotada or the lentejas). On one of my visits there was a waiting list to get a table with people waiting outside because of COVID restrictions that did not allow people to wait inside. I found out that the Lent Special was more popular here than I had imagined, but other factors may be that it is no longer available in the evening and that some other restaurants may not be offering the special which had done so in previous years.
2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX
El Jacalito is one of the restaurants that changes the menu weekly, and like most of them offers both fish and shrimp. This has traditionally been my favorite restaurant for the Veracruz style fish (which I did not have in 2018), but it is also my favorite for breaded fish (empanizado). In fact, this really seems to be the gold standard for Lent specials, and it has been my idea of what a Lent special should be.
One reason it is good is because of the price, but where the food is concerned I really like everything I have tried. The breaded fish had a very good sauce which was not quite like the Veracruz sauce I had hoped to try, but what I had was very enjoyable. The fish itself was very fresh, and was among the best I tried at any restaurant (although San Isidro was also very good). The lentils and capirotada are always my favorites here, and this year (2018) was no exception.
El Jacalito is only open for lunch (as is San Isidro) but it is a great place for Lent specials if you can make it. Sometimes they do not have either the breaded or the Veracruz style fish, but others may be happier with the shrimp options than I am, and there are other items on the menu you can also choose (enchiladas, etc., or even a meat item if you are not following a Lenten diet). In any case, I think it is worth coming here just for the lentil soup and capirotada.
In past years I always included their horchata as part of the Lent tradition. Now my choice is usually iced tea, but the horchata really is one of the best I have found anywhere.
Update 2021: The food at El Jacalito is the same as it was before, except for the fact that the salsa is served in small containers instead of a bowl. The number of tables is the same as before, but they have always been spaced farther apart than at some other restaurants. The restaurant was full when I arrived and people were waiting outside.. However the wait was not long and I would have thought the wait would be worse based on how popular the restaurant has always been for the Lent specials (and for lunch in general).
4709 Crossroads Dr.
El Paso, TX
I first tried the Lent Special at Sofi’s in 2021, and it proved to be equal to El Jacalito if not better. I am cautious making a statement like this after one visit, but it was certainly among the best Lent specials I have had.
The fish here was particularly good, and by this I mean its freshness and flavor. I thought the Veracruz style sauce was as good as the one at El Jacalito, and frankly may actually be better. As far as I can tell Veracruz sauce has somewhat of a tomato flavor, is not spicy, and usually has green olives. The only thing missing at Sofi’s was mashed potatoes (it came with rice and a salad). I was surprised, though, that Sofi’s had Lent specials this good but the restaurant was less than half full (its maximum capacity would have been half full because they are blocking off every other table). I do not know if they change the specials every week or if they always have veracruzano.
A friend of mine got the torta de camaron and was disappointed in this. He did, however, very much like the fish soup (which I also sampled). I would definitely say the fish soup is as good if not better than the lentil soup, and the lentil soup itself was as good as I have had at other restaurants.
Del Paso Mexican Restaurant
3143 Lee Trevino Dr.
El Paso, TX
Del Paso Mexican Restaurant opened in 2020, and I believe 2021 has been their first opportunity to serve dine-in Lent specials. They are doing it in a big way, with a menu that includes all of their specials (most restaurants rotate them on different weeks). For instance, for the fish fillet they have a la plancha (plain), empanizado (breaded), al mojo de ajo (garlic), mexicana, a la diabla (spicy), veracruzana (tomato sauce), and possibly others that I failed to note. There are also non seafood items such as enchiladas. The specials come with tea and soup for no extra charge (there is likewise a large choice of soups while many other restaurants either have limited choices or they rotate them).
I ordered the Filete Veracruzano as shown in the photo, and this was definitely one of my favorites. In terms of flavor of the fish I am not sure you can beat it anywhere (my dining companion’s fish soup had the same excellent fish). The sauce was tomato based with an excellent flavor. It was lacking the olives that I enjoy at some of the other restaurants, but overall it was excellent and I am not sure I even missed the olives. The portion is also smaller than in many restaurants, but it is offset by the excellent fish.
The lentil soup had a generous amount of ham in it, and was very good as well although there are several vegetarian versions at other restaurants that I enjoy more. I did not sample the fish soup but visually it looked like a good choice if you do not want non-vegetarian lentejas.
I did not mention capirotada as part of the Lent special because it costs extra ($1.25 in 2021). I am really easy to please when it comes to capirotada but the one here was especially impressive. I think the price makes it a real bargain as well.
Mac’s Downtown-315 E. Mills Ave. Mac’s is a seafood restaurant that has Cajun, American, and Mexican style dishes. It does not serve Lent specials and does not have the Mexican style lentejas, capirotada, etc. However, I thought the blackened cod and clam chowder made a very good meal, and in terms of the quality of fish this is probably the best I have found in El Paso.
Chope’s-La Mesa, NM. In the past they have had Lent specials (I don’t think they have fish but I got quesadillas, a chile relleno, and lentils). They were closed in 2021 but their Facebook page is still operational and I believe they intend to reopen once the pandemic has died down to the point where they would feel safe doing so.