My annual list of “Best Food Experiences” is very subjective, but at the same time it is meant to give readers a quick list of meals that really stood out in my mind as being particularly good experiences. Please note that the list is in alphabetical order, and is not meant to list the restaurants in order starting with my favorite. Other than a trip to Austin, most of my experience this year has been in the El Paso area (thus most of the restaurants listed are in El Paso).
Ardovino’s Desert Crossing
1 Ardovino’s Dr.
Sunland Park, NM
Ardovino’s Desert Crossing is located in Sunland Park, New Mexico, and is considered to be one of El Paso’s upscale Italian restaurants (although the Sunday brunch diverges from the traditional Italian menu). My first visit here was in 2022, and one item that was quite impressive was the bucatini and meatballs dinner. The pizza here is widely acclaimed as some of the best in the El Paso area (perhaps I will be able to try it on a future visit).
Note: One of my best meals this year was at Forghedaboudit in Las Cruces, but it is now closed due to the tragic death of its owner Kim Yacone. I think the food at Ardovino’s is much like what they served at Forghedaboudit, although I thought Forghedaboudit had world class meatballs that no other restaurant in the area will likely be able to match.
2000 Texas Ave.
El Paso, TX
I enjoyed several Lent specials served during 2022 but probably none more than the pescado a la veracruzana served at Cafe Mayapan. This special restaurant, run by a non-profit organization, makes it a point to serve Mexican food that is not only traditional but also healthy with high quality ingredients. Several items were available on the Lent menu, with another one being tacos de pescado where the taco was made with jicama. Cafe Mayapan has several special menus during the year, including one featuring Oaxacan food during the week of the Day of the Dead (Nov. 1).
Chase the Taste
10771 Gateway Blvd. S.
El Paso, TX
After having several green chile cheeseburgers in El Paso that I thought were lacking in the flavor they should have, I finally found one that I think I would be worthy of being on New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (except for the fact that it is located just a few miles past the New Mexico state line in far north El Paso). This burger had high quality meat that was cooked on a charcoal broiled grill, very good melted cheese, sauce with a spicy kick, and very flavorful green chile to make this just about the perfect burger. The restaurant serves several styles of burgers and sandwiches.
9135 Gateway Blvd. West
El Paso, TX
Chih’ua is a restaurant that is based in the state of Chihuahua but with one location in El Paso, which I tried for the first time in 2022. Everything served here can be ordered from the menu, but I think the real attraction here is the buffet. From the sample I tried my assessment was that some of the tacos were the best in El Paso (particularly the tacos de alambre). Others were certainly among the best (such as the one labeled “carne en su jugo”). The beauty of it was that you can try a variety of items. Not every item on the menu is available on the buffet all the time, but there is a good choice available. The “bonus” is the salsa bar which seems to make everything taste better. Really, though, the dozen or so salsas which they serve are an integral part of the experience. Salsas vary in their heat level so you can go for the most heat, best flavor, or both.
16165 S. Hwy 28
La Mesa, NM
Over the years the big attractions for me at Chope’s have been the enchiladas and the chile relleno. The restaurant reopened in 2022 after the Covid pandemic (or at least the bar is open–the restaurant opened for a short time but at this time I think it is closed). The food is still cooked in Chope’s kitchen in the restaurant and in my opinion is back to its former greatness (after not only going through the pandemic but also a change in ownership and in the kitchen personnel). The same family still runs the restaurant, and in my opinion they know how to make the best chile relleno anywhere. I am also a huge fan of the red enchiladas, which is short of New Mexico enchilada greatness only because it does not come on blue corn tortillas. In harvest season (roughly August through October) I think the green enchilada here beats any I have had in the north–blue corn tortillas or not. Due to a personnel shortage it is only open Thursday through Sunday, but you can go for either lunch or dinner.
312 E. Main St..
Fredericksburg, Texas seems to have a reputation as a tourist trap–particularly for its German food. I was caught in the trap at Del Lindenbaum of having to order a “one size fits all” meal at a time that I did not want to eat this much. The food was quite good, though, with the bratwurst being notable for its flavor and freshness. The sauerkraut was possibly the best I have ever had–some very good flavored caraway seeds and bay leaves accented the already very fresh kraut.
El Layali Lebanese Cuisine
5222 Doniphan Dr.
El Paso, TX
Ensconced in the building which housed the original Mi Piaci Restaurant is a Lebanese restaurant which recently moved here from Shadow Mountain Drive. It is probably fitting that Mi Piaci used to be here, because I thought El Layali Lebanese Cuisine had equally good quality. They have also taken some tips from Mi Piaci about charging high prices, but El Layali has very high quality Lebanese food (and I know this cuisine pretty well from the multitude of restaurants I have tried in Oklahoma City). The appetizer sampler plate is probably the best I have tried out of the Middle Eastern Restaurants in El Paso, and it would rate very high in Oklahoma as well. The lamb skewers were very good as well. The drinks are befitting a high quality Middle Eastern restaurant, with choices such as Arabic tea and Lebanese coffee.
8650 Spicewood Springs Rd.
Fat Dragon is one of the few restaurants in Texas that serves soup dumplings (xiao long bao), along with other items that I would describe as Shanghai, Taiwanese, and Sichuanese style. The food was very similar to Jeng Chi in Richardson (in the Dallas area). Of these two restaurants I thought Fat Dragon had better dumplings, but Jeng Chi had an excellent sauce and the other food I ordered was more flavorful. Fat Dragon is very casual, the prices are good, and I really liked the fact that the hot tea is free. I also really liked the food.
2701 N. Stanton St.
El Paso, TX
G2 Geogeske is a popular local restaurant, and I don’t know why it took me until 2022 to try it. It serves all types of food that are on the upscale side, but it is not “fine dining” by focusing on steaks or other very expensive items. One example of the upscale dining they have here is seafood enchiladas. I think the flavors and ingredients used here could be found in quite a few restaurants in Mexico, but they would be the ones that would give you upscale home cooked style meals. I was really impressed by what I ordered, and would look forward to trying other items.
750 Sunland Park Dr.
El Paso, TX
Greenery Restaurant, located in Sunland Park Mall, has been around for a number of years and continues to be popular even while the mall is seeing declining patronage. It has a number of American dishes (actually more like “New American” since these are not always the traditional recipes). I used to like the Mexican menu even more but lately they have pared it down quite a bit. They do offer a little more variety, though, on their seasonal menus such as the chile en nogada on the fall special menu. In my opinion this is the best item I have had at Greenery, as well as the best chile en nogada I have had. I really enjoyed the creamy and fruity flavors as well as the traditional chile relleno that makes up the heart of the dish.
7470 Cimarron Market
El Paso, TX
Julio’s has several menu items I really like, but I think the weekend buffet is especially notable as a must try. It really does not cost much more than ordering from the menu, but its hours are limited (I think they cut it off at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday–the two days it is served). Not everything I tried was great, but the items I did like made it memorable. The variety also made it memorable–most of the items are ones I usually do not see on the menu and would be even less likely to order as a whole meal. For me the sopes and rajas de queso (both shown in the photo) were the best items. I think they change things up, though, so that you can always try something “different.” In addition to the Mexican food they also offer eggs, pancakes, etc.
800 W. Pecan St.
While I was in Austin I ordered a single mole enchilada (enmolada) for my “light” meal of the day, never thinking that this would be the best mole I can ever remember having. Reviews that I read later stated that some customers come here from rather great distances just to have the mole. Other things I tried here were good as well (I had come here earlier to eat breakfast). The menu indicated that the food here was from San Luis Potosí and some things tasted like most of the food I get in El Paso. The mole, though, was very impressive because of the flavor and the fact that it had a better balance between the sweetness and other flavors than in most mole that I have eaten.
7520 Remcon Cir.
El Paso, TX
Leo’s has been a place where I have enjoyed Mexican comfort food for a number of years. The dish I crave most seems to be the Tri-Color Enchiladas with red and green chile (with sour cream on top of one of the green ones to give the third color of the “Mexican flag”). I will have to admit that I like the red chile here more than the green, but having both together (especially with the sour cream) creates a flavor combination that is very satisfying. Some bonuses to this dish are that both the red and green chile are noticeably spicy and that the enchiladas here are baked (which I think ensures that the cheese is melted just right and that the food comes at the proper temperature). They also give you a free sopaipilla with all dinners.
3622 E. Missouri Ave.
El Paso, TX
I sometimes try to describe the local El Paso style of Mexican food, and mostly I would say it largely originates in Ciudad Juarez and areas to the south with quite a bit of local influence, particularly with the chiles and salsas. For a sampling of the El Paso Mexican food style, I think L&J is probably the best. Some individual items are better at other restaurants, but so many things are good here that the combination plate here is the one I would most recommend. Ordering individual menu items is also a good choice–everything I have tried here has been good.
Louie Mueller Barbecue
206 W. 2nd St.
When I lived in Austin I pretty much took the barbecue for granted, but when I go back I know that nowhere else really matches the barbecue in Central Texas and I should take advantage of it while I can. This does not mean everything is perfect–cooking the Q is as much of an art as it is a science. Louis Mueller did not disappoint in the way its brisket matched my memory of the way it should be. They serve both lean and fatty brisket (with the fatty one being one of the restaurant’s hallmarks). The sauce was excellent as well, and they seemed to have the science of barbecue production nailed. I thought that perhaps some of the artistry was lacking in some of the side dishes, but the banana pudding was possibly the best I have ever eaten (not that I really had room for it after the barbecue, but I made room for it the best I could).
2700 W. Anderson Ln.
Madam Mam’s was one of the pioneer restaurants in the state serving authentic Thai food, and this year I was able to make my second visit to it (the first was to the original restaurant near the UT campus shortly after the year 2000). My anticipation was rewarded by a very complex flavored curry that was said to have originated in northern Thailand, with it also checking other boxes such as not having the all too common Americanized sweetness found in many Thai restaurants. I guess my biggest disappointment was going to a restaurant of this quality on a weekend and not seeing it anywhere close to being full, but it did seem that they had a good number of takeout and delivery orders. As much as I enjoyed this curry, I hope to make a return trip and try other types of dishes (I had curry on my first visit as well). My guess is that anything on the menu will be as expertly prepared as the curry.
1226 W. Hadley Ave.
Las Cruces, NM
I have been coming to Nellie’s since the 1970’s, and I was very relieved when the family found a way to keep the restaurant open past the time when rumors said they were planning to retire. The sopapilla compuesta is what usually draws me here, although I know the other food is good as well. The compuesta is a meal in itself, and the mixture of meat, chile, beans, cheese, and sopapilla provide the essential elements of a New Mexican meal. For me one of the most important factors, though, is that both the red and green chile served here are some of the best in New Mexico.
Peppe’s Restaurant & Cantina
6761 Doniphan Dr.
Just about every Mexican restaurant in the El Paso area has a good combination plate (even if not every item is my favorite there is always something I like). Peppe’s adds something to the picture because this is New Mexican style food which differs in subtle to more pronounced ways from the usual El Paso style of Mexican food. I usually get one of the lunch combinations at Peppe’s, but the dinner plates (including the Combo No. 3 shown in the photo) give you more–at least in terms of quantity. I would also argue that it is best to get as many items as you can on one plate provided you have the appetite for it. The food here is the same that used to be served at the old Griggs Restaurant (the Griggs family recipes are also the inspiration for La Posta in Mesilla, NM and El Pinto in Albuquerque, but out of the three I think Peppe’s has the best food).
4172 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
Piedmont Cafe is a restaurant that made me a fan with its pad thai, and I was further impressed with the Chihuamelet from the breakfast menu. This tasted like upscale Mexican food, although I think it is the owner’s original creation. One of its best features was that it had a good spice level. Looking at the colors in the photo gives a very good indication of the multiple flavors of this dish, making it one of the best in El Paso. Piedmont’s food is somewhat upscale, but the beauty of it is what they can do with relatively common ingredients to make meals that are quite memorable.
6940 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
The Vietnamese pork chop has become one of the dishes by which I measure the various restaurants I try, and I am usually somewhat surprised that I get such a good meal at such a bargain price (as was the case here). This year Saigon Taste was my pick for this dish out of the top three restaurants (the others are Pho Tre Bien and Viet). I thought the meat was particularly good here, and everything else contributed to giving the flavors I like. This now joins the banh xeo as one of my favorite dishes at Saigon Taste.
Sutton County Steak House
1312 N. Service Rd.
On my trip to Austin I was looking for food as I remembered it from when I lived there. One of the items that met my expectations was the chicken fried steak at the Sutton County Steak House–still a long way from Austin but with the classic Texas flavor. The breading was made with buttermilk–just the right pizazz so that I felt as if I had the real deal.
Bonus: The chicken fried steak at Billy Crews in Sunland Park, New Mexico was just as good but not as much in the traditional Texas style (thus Sutton County Steak House gets the official place on my list but I also recommend Billy Crews if you are in the El Paso area).
6600 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
Last year I had Tasty Kabob on my list with lamb chops as the featured item, but the ghormeh sabzi is also one of my favorites. The owner said she was from northern Iran near the Caspian Sea, so this was the first time I realized there might be regional differences in Persian food. The ghormeh sabzi here has had more meat and a less pronounced parsley flavor than I have found elsewhere, so perhaps this is a regional difference. Most likely, though, it is indicative of the quality of the food served which has impressed me with everything I have ordered.
Great, great list, Steve. One of these days, I’ll make like Brandon and visit El Paso.
Yes, I hope you can make it. I am excited about some of the new places, and there are still a large number of old standbys that are quite good.
El Paso has been quite popular lately, and has attracted a number of international visitors. I think they have recently added a number of nonstop flights to destinations in the United States such as New York, Washington DC and Martha’s Vineyard. There may be more upcoming. Despite the recent activity, though, it is still easy to get into the popular restaurants compared to many other cities, and I think you can have some very good dining experiences.