Some of My Favorite El Paso Lent Specials

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 (although even this rule is sometimes broken–mainly with lentil soup where the cooks think it cannot taste good without ham or other pieces of meat)..

Lentil soup from El Jacalaito is one of the appetizer choices on the Lent Special

Lentil soup

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 there are frequently an equal number of shrimp plates.

Capirotada is a traditional dessert with Lent meals (this one is from Delicias Cafe)

Capirotada

I have yet to find these same kinds of Lent specials in any other cities except for some in New Mexico, and even in El Paso they are served in a limited number of restaurants. I have not polled any restaurant owners as to whether they are trying to follow Catholic traditions during Lent, whether they know there are a number of customers who do so, or both. I have yet to discover the origin of the particular style of meal served in El Paso, and especially why there is a theme found at many restaurants with lentil soup for the appetizer, Veracruz style sauce on the fish or shrimp, and this particular form of bread pudding for dessert (the capirotada bread pudding in particular has spiritual significance in telling the story of Easter). The main point of this article, though, is just to say how good many of these meals have been, and how it is so much of a local tradition.

Capirotada seems to be the least popular part of the meal with locals–so much so that many restaurants either make it optional or serve a very small portion (I am fine with small portions as long as they know how to prepare it correctly). I think some restaurants have a hard time with this, though, since they do not normally have capirotada on the menu.

The following list includes places I have visited and my notes about each one. El Jacalito is my sentimental favorite because it is where I was introduced to this type of meal (and I still think their lentil soup and probably the Veracruz sauce are the best anywhere). Many other restaurants, though, excel in the fish they serve, other items, choice of sauces, or overall quality so that I cannot say that there is any one restaurant that is my absolute favorite.

 

San Isidro Mission Cafe

1071 Country Club Rd.
El Paso, TX

Last visited in 2018

Pescado marinero from San Isidro Mission Cafe

Pescado marinero

Each Friday it only has one Lent special, and the one I tried was Pescado Marinero. This 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 (doing it this way you only get one of each of these side dishes but you can order them a la carte).

I thought 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 have had (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.

 

Carnitas Queretaro

7410 Remcon Circle
El Paso, TX

Last visited in 2022

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. In fact,the entire special menu stays constant throughout the Lent season, and there are more choices than I have found at any other restaurant. If you like a fish fillet, as I do, the choices during 2022 were Suizo, Chipotle, Veracruzano, and Diabla. I think the menu also stays constant from year to year but I am not sure if everything on the menu holds over each year. There are a number of shrimp choices as well.

Filete veracruzano from Carnitas Queretaro

Filete veracruzano

The sauce here was the spiciest I have found that is served as veracruzano style, and in fact the heat level seemed to be equal to the diabla sauce. It is not actually the devilish version, though, and still has the olives, vegetables, and flavor being true to the Veracruz style. One waiter told me that they use güerito chiles in the sauce, and even the olives tasted as if they had been doctored to be high on the heat scale. All of this is fine with me, but I am just letting people know that this this veracruzano fillet is spicier than others I have tried.

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 and bread very much.

Note: In the past they had fish fillet on the regular menu, but with not as many toppings as were available during Lent. Post-pandemic the only seafood I can find are shrimp fajitas and shrimp cocktail. Also you have to go at Lent to get the lentil soup and bread pudding dessert.

 

Delicias Cafe

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2022

Delicias Cafe has a rotating menu of items for Lent specials ( the staff explained that the owner and chef decide the night before what items to put on the Lent menu). Like most restaurants it includes at least one fish and one shrimp choice.

Filete poblana from Delicias Cafe

Filete poblana

Going on random Fridays during different years, I have tried three items from the Lent menu. One that I liked quite a bit was the fish fillet with a flavorful poblana sauce, and the fish was good. The Filete A La Diabla was spicy without being overly so, and I would recommend this if you want something with a good flavor but that won’t clear all your sinuses in the process.

The Filete Veracruzano has been somewhat uneven on the times I have been able to try it, but the most recent one in 2022 was really equal to the best of the ones I have had at other restaurants. This was a “regular” (not particularly spicy) version of the sauce.

They serve mashed potatoes with the skin included. The lentil soup and capirotada are good. The price is good. The only problem is that this restaurant has become so popular it is now very hard to find an empty table during normal lunch hours (I think they told me that you can still get the Lent special after lunch time but they are likely to be out of certain items such as the lentil soup or dessert).

 

El Jacalito

2130 Myrtle Ave.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2022

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, 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.

Filete empanizado from El Jacalito

Breaded fish fillet

This has traditionally been one of the hardest places to score a table for Lent meals, and now it seems that they put more space between the tables because of the pandemic and the waiting line is even longer. It is worth it, though, to either wait or go early or late to try it at least once. If you want a certain item, though, it is best to call before you go. They rotate the menu and usually have certain choices (such as the pescado ala veracruzana) only two or three times during the Lent period.

Pescado ala veracruzana from El Jacalito

Pescado ala veracruzana

El Jacalito closes at 4:00 pm, and I have not known them to run out of the Lent specials before that time. I really like the lentil soup and capirotada here as well. They do have other choices for the appetizer (such as fish soup) and I like many of the choices for the main dish, but it is just that Veracruz sauce is my favorite.

The horchata is especially good here, and I think it is “traditional” with a Lent meal, but the iced tea is good as well.

Other restaurants also have very good Lent specials, especially when it comes to the varieties of fish that I think might be more flavorful than the one served at El Jacalito. However, I still make this restaurant my number one choice to try at least once to experience a traditional Lent meal as it is served on the border.

 

Sofi’s

4709 Crossroads Dr.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2021

Sofi’s is one of the places that I would say is probably as good as El Jacalito, and for the flavor and freshness of the fish might be better (although I am not sure about this). The only caution I would give is that while I thought the filete veracruzano was excellent, a friend of mine had the tortas de camaron and did not give them the same high rating. Nevertheless, I will report what I personally experienced.

Pescado ala veracruzana from Sofi's

Pescado ala veracruzana

The fish here was particularly good, and by this I mean its freshness and flavor. I thought the Veracruz style sauce was excellent with a tomato flavor. This was a non-spicy version with an ample amount of green olives. The only thing missing at Sofi’s was mashed potatoes (it came with rice and a salad).

Although my friend was disappointed with the torta de camaron, I did get a report that the fish soup was one of the best anywhere (I was able to sample it and find out that this was true).

 

Del Paso Mexican Restaurant

3143 Lee Trevino Dr.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2021

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).

Pescado ala veracruzana from Del Paso

Pescado ala veracruzana

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.

 

Las Palmas

1605 George Dieter Dr.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2022

Las Palmas has always proved to have better than average food, and the Lent special was no exception. The setup here was a little different than at most restaurants in that there was only one Lent special although they have an extensive list of seafood items on the menu, and you can supplement any of these with lentil soup and/or capirotada if you wish.

Pacific cod from Las Palmas' regular menu also makes a good Lent special dish

Pacific cod with chile con queso sauce and flame roasted corn

For my “Lent special” I chose Pacific cod, an item that is on the regular menu but which can be combined with lentil soup and capirotada for a traditional Lent meal. There were two elements of the meal, though, about which I am not sure whether they are regular features or only come when they have the Lent menu. One is the chile con queso topping (in the top left of the photo) which was very good, and made this different from any other fish plate I had experienced (certainly during the Lent season and possibly ever in any restaurant that I can remember). I would certainly rate it as being on the level of any fish I had with Veracruz sauce, and the fact of the fish being cod might even make it the best one of the year (although the tilapia served at most restaurants was good as well). The second unique feature here was the roasted corn which allows the diner to have an experience with texture as well as flavor.

I would not say necessarily that this was my best Lent experience of 2022 but the food was very upscale–I enjoyed their unique take on a seafood meal as well as the flavors that were not served anywhere else.

The biggest down side here was the price. Although this is not an alta cocina restaurant with corresponding prices, it does serve some relatively upscale items such as the cod and some other seafood dishes. It was worth it to me to try some very good quality fish topped with chile con queso, and there are less expensive choices on the menu, but there are “splurge worthy” items as well such as this one.

 

Cafe Mayapan

2000 Texas Ave.
El Paso, TX

Last visit in 2022

Cafe Mayapan is a non-profit organization that employs amateur cooks who bring their family recipes to the restaurant, and because of this I think it is one of the best places to eat in El Paso. Many women who work here come from the Mexican interior, and the food served is from various parts of Mexico (at times they even have specials that feature the cuisine from a specific Mexican state).

The pescado a la veracruzana is one of the most impressive I have had

Pescado a la veracruzana

The Lent specials here are quite upscale and not the usual food served in El Paso. Everything on my plate was fresh and tasted as if it had come from a Mexican market. The fish for my veracruzana special was tilapia, and was covered with a fresh tomato sauce which is customary for this dish. What was not customary was that it would have so many olives (something that I love). Other than the rice the side dishes also departed from the ordinary, and were not characterized by the normal starchy items (potatoes, bread, etc.).

Some of the other menu choices were getting even more into a Rick Bayless type world of alta cocina with items like fish tacos where the “tacos” were made of jicama instead of the traditional tortilla (or at least the tortilla would be the traditional choice in border cuisine). The tacos came with a mango sauce (also something that can stretch one’s taste buds beyond the typical border cuisine).

Because the seafood used was tilapia or shrimp, prices for the food here were in the high middle range but not even close to the most expensive Lent specials I have found. It was one of the best, though, and I think the best choice if you want a departure from the normal border style food.

 

Other Notes

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 one of 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 have had a hard time being able to reopen after the pandemic, and I do not know if they are currently offering Lent specials. As far as I know only the bar (the small dining room) has reopened and I do not know if the main dining room is open to customers.

Los Aguachiles–7470 Cimarron Market Ave.  I did not have a Lent special here, and I do not know if they even offer them, but I was really impressed with the seafood they serve. Here you will find more upscale types of seafood or the more common ones that stand apart from the ones at many other restaurants because of their freshness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.