Chope’s–La Mesa, NM

Chopes Bar & Cafe
16165 S. Hwy 28
La Mesa, NM
(575) 233-3420
Chope's in La Mesa, NM

Chope’s in La Mesa, NM south of Las Cruces

When you approach La Mesa, about 15 miles south of Mesilla on State Highway 28, you get more of a feeling that you are approaching a religious shrine than a small farming village in southern New Mexico. The “holy ground” you are entering is for possibly the best chile relleno anywhere (for once the reality lives up to the hype). It is much like going to Mamou, Louisiana to experience the very best Cajun music, except in La Mesa pilgrims are given a gustatory reward (unless by some very bad karma or extremely unkind trick of fate they end up in La Mesa on a Sunday or Monday when Chope’s is closed).

Chope's kitchen

The kitchen is adjacent to the main dining room

At Chope’s you enter the realm of world-class roadfood (not the gourmet kind of Mexican food found at Rick Bayless’ restaurants in Chicago). It is no longer a question at Chope’s of whether certain items are good, it becomes a matter of whether they are the best. I get discouraged sometimes because the salsa at Chope’s may not be as good as at some restaurants in Las Cruces, the green chile may not be as fresh some times of the year as at harvest season, or some of the dishes may not live up to what I consider the signature dishes: the chile relleno and the enchiladas (both made with locally grown chiles). At other restaurants, however, I would hope to find just one outstanding dish, while Chope’s in my opinion the chile relleno is uncontested, the sopapilla is one of the best anywhere, and the enchiladas are certainly noteworthy examples of New Mexico cuisine.

Around 2007 the daughters of Lupe and Chope took over management of the restaurant, and I initially thought they had made changes to the food because I found red chile that was less spicy than before (and I did not have enough samples of the green chile to really tell about the spiciness). On a recent visit, though, I was served red enchiladas that were reminiscent of the old ones in their spiciness. When I asked the employees about it they said that was just the way that particular harvest turned out. Thus this is one case where a change in management of a long-running restaurant did not result in an appreciable change in the food (and the more visits I made the more I found this to be true).

Chile Relleno

Chile relleno

Chope’s chile relleno without sauce on top

If Chope’s is known for anything it is the Chile Relleno that somehow seems different from those served anywhere else. Of course the freshness comes from its local source in the Mesilla Valley. While the Hatch chiles, grown north of Las Cruces, have become famous worldwide, there is actually quite a large variety of chiles grown in both the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys that include the milder Anaheims that are largely exported and the more spicy varieties that are popular locally.

Chope’s serves a somewhat flat shaped chile that is quite spicy compared to many of the long skinny ones that are more common throughout the country. While being more spicy does not necessarily make a chile better quality, I do think this is an important criterion for a New Mexico style restaurant. It is also important for the chile to be roasted and prepared properly, as are the ones served at Chope’s. I have always been impressed that Chope’s does not put a sauce on top. The relleno really does not need to have any type of sauce, since the chile, the cheese inside, and the perfectly cooked batter stand by themselves and provide all the flavor needed for an excellent chile relleno.

Green Enchiladas

Green enchiladas

Chope’s green enchiladas made with fresh green chiles

The Green Enchiladas are some of the best found anywhere. While many restaurants use a puréed green chile to pour on top of the tortillas, Chope’s uses large chunks of fresh chiles that demonstrate the texture and flavor of the green chiles that are used. A white cheese is used that is perfectly melted (and it looks as if some yellow cheese is also mixed in). Chiles come locally from the Mesilla Valley (from the Provencio Farm near Anthony), and are at their freshest around harvest season.

Around the beginning of August postings appear on the Internet asking about the availability of freshly harvested Hatch chiles in various cities around the United States. Over the years I have noticed a fresher flavor to the green enchiladas around harvest time, and other sources have confirmed this as well. I asked the owner when the exact dates would be for this, and she stated that around September and October would be when they would have the freshly harvested green chile. Thus this is the time I would especially recommend for people to try the green enchiladas at Chope’s if they can (for me this has been a very special experience that I have not found at any other restaurant).

Many other places seem to either use too many additives, purée the chile too much, or use chiles of lesser quality that do not yield the same results as at Chope’s. This is why I think both the green and red enchiladas are better than at most other restaurants.

I would also make a personal note that I have observed a difference in the way they prepare onions in northern and southern New Mexico. The ones here (at least at Chope’s) are sharper than in the north, and thus I prefer for the enchiladas to be made without onions. Those who feel as I do, though, have to ask Chope’s to omit the onions because otherwise they will come in the enchiladas by default.

Red Enchiladas

Red enchiladas and chile relleno

Red enchiladas served flat with an egg on top, and chile relleno to the side

For about ten months out of the year (November to August) the Red Enchiladas are my preference at Chope’s, and only lose this status during harvest season because the green ones are exceptionally good here. Generally the red chile is the only one I eat in New Mexico and El Paso, so this is in no way a knock on Chope’s green chile.

Over the years I had noted that the red and green enchiladas were both very spicy, but the red ones were a little milder (my Previous Review on Steve’s Gastronomic Home Page reflects this fact). My current understanding, though, is that it all depends on the chile harvest, and the only way to know which type of chile is spicier is to ask the people working at the restaurant.

Regardless of the spiciness, the red chile at Chope’s always has a very good flavor. I am especially happy, though, when it also comes from one of the spicier harvests.

I would suggest having the enchiladas served flat (for both the red and the green). They come this way on the enchilada plates, but are rolled on the combination plates unless you request otherwise. The reason I like them flat is that they have more of a red chile flavor this way (I think they pour more chile on top, and it soaks into the tortilla better than when they are rolled).

I like the enchiladas without onions but if you want them this way you have to request it (onions are served in the enchiladas by default).

Stuffed Sopaipilla

Stuffed sopaipilla

Stuffed sopaipilla with a chile relleno on the side

Although my favorite dishes are the chile relleno and the enchilada, I discovered that I was missing out by not trying the Stuffed Sopaipilla until 2019. This is definitely one of the best ones I have tried, although in my opinion Nellie’s in Las Cruces remains as the champion in this category. One area where I think Chope’s excels, though, is in the quality of the chile con carne stuffed inside the sopaipilla. It was not so much the chile as it was the meat itself that made Chope’s stand out for me.

Customers choose between chile colorado con carne, chile verde con carne, ground beef, chicken, or bean as a stuffing choice for the sopaipilla. The one I tried was chile colorado, and I definitely thought this was a good choice.

For all the non-meat items (sopaipilla, lettuce, tomato, beans, etc.) I have always preferred Nellie’s over the other restaurants, and I believe this will remain my choice. When adding chile con carne into the mix, though, I believe Chope’s will be the first choice of many (and may become mine as well).

Combinations

Combination No. 3

Combination No. 3 with a taco, two enchiladas, and a chile relleno

Combinations come with rice and beans, and include three main items. In addition, they have a choice of adding a chile relleno for an extra price. Combinations are available for lunch or dinner, although they have a lower price Thursday for lunch (constituting the only true lunch special I have found at Chope’s).

Even at the regular price the combinations are a good value, and I definitely like being able to get enchiladas and a chile relleno in one meal. I would advise people, though, that enchiladas come rolled on the combination unless you ask for them to be flat (as they are in the above photo). On the enchilada plates, though, the enchiladas are served flat.

Rice and Beans
For some reason the New Mexican restaurants in the southern part of the state prefer Refried Beans, such as the ones served at Chope’s, to the whole beans that are normally found in the north. I do not usually pay much attention to beans that are not northern style, but the ones at Chope’s are cooked so perfectly that I think they are almost as good as the whole beans.

The Rice has not only been excellent on recent visits, but it has impressed me as being one of Chope’s signature items. I do not think it has been as consistent over the years as other items at the restaurant, but it now seems to be some of the best I have found anywhere in El Paso or southern New Mexico.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips are nondescript in the sense that they do not seem outwardly to be much different from any others. I just know that all the factors are there to always make them a part of the meal that I really enjoy.

The Salsa seems to have undergone a transformation since about 2007 when the daughters took over, and I think very much for the better. It used to be memorable for being so spicy it almost numbed the taste buds before you even got a chance to try any of the delicious main dishes. Now, though, I think it retains the freshness it had before, but with a heightened flavor that I enjoy a lot more. The spiciness is variable, and sometimes it almost gets to the point of numbing the mouth, but the excellent flavor is more noticeable than the heat. I do not know, though, if there was a conscious decision to tone the salsa down a little or if it is just my perception.

Sopaipillas

Sopapillas

A basket of freshly cooked sopaipillas going to a table of anxiously awaiting customers

Sopaipillas are light and fluffy, and are a recommended enhancement to the food, either during or after the meal (I prefer them with the meal). The red and green chiles are not always spicy enough that I think eating a sopaipilla with them would have much of an effect in ameliorating the heat, but it still would taste very good (you have to pay extra for the sopaipillas). Of course they are also good for dessert. In the past the sopaipillas have been rather greasy, but recently they have been perfect, and worth ordering even if you think your stomach cannot handle any more food. One item of note is that they give you a jar of honey with a squirt cap that does not make a mess all over your hands as would be the case at restaurants that provide the little packets that you have to open with your fingers.

The Bar

Chope's Bar

Chope’s Bar, located next door to Chope’s Cafe, serves the same food as the restaurant

What is now Chope’s Bar was the original restaurant, and is located next door to Chope’s Cafe (which was originally the Benavides family home). The bar serves the same food as the restaurant, and this can be a great help during the times that the restaurant is full and you have to get on a waiting list for a table. In fact, I think one of the major drawbacks of this place is having to drive for miles deep into the heart of the Mesilla Valley farm country and not knowing if you will face a long wait once you arrive (Chope’s does not take reservations, but at times the bar has had seating space when the restaurant did not).

The Restaurant

Part of the main dining room

Part of the main dining room

The restaurant itself is in an old house, and has what I would describe as a somewhat crowded dining arrangement. The main dining room is adjacent to the kitchen and is small, noisy, and busy, but also tends to be very friendly where it is easy to talk to the staff and other patrons. The larger dining room is quieter and provides slightly more space between tables, but they are still rather crowded.

A view inside to the waiting room

Patrons at Chope’s frequently spend time in the waiting room before a table opens up

The restaurant is open only until 1:30 p.m. for lunch, but the 8:30 p.m. closing time at dinner should give most diners enough time to reach La Mesa and wait for a table if necessary. I have discovered that they are pretty liberal on the closing time and lock the door about 1:35 to 1:40 at lunch time. They also keep the kitchen open past this time so that you can order items such as sopaipillas. I noticed that on Saturday they are open all day, but this seems to be the only day for which this is the case.

The combination plates are becoming my preference here because I can get the enchiladas and chile relleno together at a good price. The enchiladas on these plates, though, are rolled instead of flat. They will serve the enchiladas flat on request, though.

A great tip that I found by accident is to go Thursdays during lunch hours when all of the combination plates are on special (at what I thought was a very good price).

Coming from El Paso, La Mesa can be reached from IH-10 by taking the Vado exit (NM 227) and going west to Vado. You then turn left on NM 478 and go south less than a quarter mile, where NM 227 again goes to the west (the direction signs can sometimes be easy to miss). From Vado you should follow NM 227, and keep going straight after it turns into NM 28. Once you are on Hwy 28 La Mesa is the next town.

From Las Cruces or Mesilla it is easy to reach Chope’s– just take NM 28 south.

Chope's photo

A photo of “Chope,” for whom the restaurant was named

Lupe

Lupe managed the restaurant until her daughters took over

Lent Specials
Chope’s, like many other Mexican restaurants in the area, offers specials on Fridays during Lent that are appropriate for the season. Chope’s not only offers food that is not normally on the menu, but it comes at a very good price (and the special with a chile relleno offers the item I would most like to order anyway).

Lent special

Lent special with quesadillas, chile relleno, and lentils

The plate pictured includes Quesadillas that were made the traditional way I have experienced them in home style restaurants in the borderland. The Chile Relleno was as good as ever, but I do not know why it had a large amount of cheese sprinkled on top when this is normally not the case. The Lentils were excellent, with less salt and garlic than I usually find in the ones served in El Paso (and to me the ones at Chope’s are better).

Capirotada is also served with the Lent special but they were out when I went. Still, this was an excellent deal.

Things to Know

  • In chile harvest season the green enchiladas are especially good, and would be what I recommend (Chope’s serves freshly harvested chile from about the beginning of September to the end of October).
  • The chile relleno is the best I have found anywhere, and would always be a good choice here. The combination dinners have a choice of adding a chile relleno for two dollars extra, and I think it is well worth it to do so.
  • The bar is next door to the restaurant and serves the same food. It gives you faster service if the restaurant is full and there is a waiting line, but I am usually willing to wait for a table in the restaurant if necessary because it is quieter and I like the setting better.

 

Update May 2019:

I would like to point out a very interesting article on eater.com about Chope’s Restaurant. The article gives a detailed history of Chope’s, including the fact that it has been added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. It is one of the few restaurants in the United States to be so designated, largely because the qualifications for placement on the list are so rigorous. Chope’s has been run by the same family for over 100 years, and this is significant. One large factor for its designation, though, was Chope’s connection with the Braceros who worked on the nearby farms until the program ended in 1964. There are many reasons I recommend this article including the story of the Benavides family who owns Chope’s and insights about the food that they serve. Now the daughters of Jose (Chope) and Guadalupe (Lupe) Benavides operate the restaurant, and they have been faced with what is at times an onslaught of customers because of the publicity the restaurant has received on web sites and media. They also talk about the possible future direction of the restaurant.

Update Oct. 2019:

After visiting several New Mexican restaurants in 2018 and 2019 I just want to make a few comments about Chope’s. I consider this to be one of the best in the state, and definitely the best for the chile relleno as well as a very good choice for a relleno/ enchilada/ sopaipilla combination. There are very few cases where I think the green chile would be my first choice, but I make it a point to order it at Chope’s during harvest season (Sep. & Oct.).

Nellie’s in Las Cruces is my other Southern NM favorite, but here I usually order the stuffed sopapilla. People I know are divided about whether they like the red enchiladas better at Nellie’s or at Chope’s, but I think these are generally considered to be the two best places for them in the Las Cruces area.

The food in northern NM is very different in several ways. There my favorite item is usually the blue corn red enchiladas, which I think are better than the enchiladas I have had in the southern part of the state. Although I personally do not generally like the green enchiladas as much as the red, this is where I think the south is more competitive with the northern versions (even though southern NM serves regular corn tortillas instead of the blue one). During harvest season (September and October) I think Chope’s green enchiladas may even be better than the red ones, but the truth is that any time of the year the green enchiladas here are some of the best in the state.

I have tried several restaurants in the north recently, and these are the ones where I have found the best blue corn red enchiladas:

  • Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque has one that is excellent, but I particularly like the one with meat (not a style of enchilada sauce that is generally found in the south).
  • El Bruno’s in Cuba, NM so far is tied for the best non-meat sauce I have found in the north, and I would say also in the state. I tried the meat sauce at El Bruno’s also, but I thought that for this Mary & Tito’s was superior.
  • Tomasita’s in Santa Fe was tied with El Bruno’s for my favorite red enchiladas (I was not able to try The Shed, La Choza, or restaurants in other cities such as Taos or Chimayo which are highly recommended, so this is not yet a scientific sample that will allow me to claim that I have found “the best”).

RATING: 26

Cuisine: Mexican New Mexican
Cost: $$
Hours: Lunch 11:30 to 1:30; Dinner 5:30 to 8:30; Closed Sun. & Mon. (Open all day on Sat.)
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine, Mixed Drinks

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 14, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chiles Rellenos, Red Enchiladas, Green Enchiladas, Stuffed Sopaipilla, Salsa, Sopaipillas

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Special Ratings
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Green Enchiladas
star 5 Red Enchiladas
star 5 Stuffed Sopaipilla
star 5 Beans
star 4 Rice
star 4 Chips
star 5 Salsa
star 5 Sopaipillas

 

Menu (Jul. 2019):

Charcoaler–El Paso, TX

Charcoaler Drive-In
5837 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 581-0660
Charcoaler's new indoor dining room

Charcoaler’s new indoor dining room


Charcoaler Drive-In has a long history in El Paso, and originally had locations on Montana as well as the present location on Mesa. It was definitely one of my favorite places for hamburgers in town, and was modeled after the Charcoal Oven in Oklahoma City which was one of my frequent haunts during high school and afterwards. The original owners of Charcoaler were friends of the people who operated the OKC Charcoal Oven, and apparently there was a sharing of the methodology used to cook the burgers and to make the barbecue sauce which is popular at the Charcoaler.

Both of these restaurants were drive-through only, and they provided awnings where you could eat in the car. The Charcoal Oven in Oklahoma City is now closed, and at about the same time the Charcoaler in El Paso closed as well. The current Charcoaler reopened with a new owner, and has adopted what I think is a better restaurant model where there is now an indoor dining room in addition to the original awnings. There is also an outdoor patio which I think was there all along. The dining room and patio have picnic tables which I find very hard to negotiate, but at least it is a step in the right direction (and the continued success of some of the Charcoal Oven’s competitors in Oklahoma City demonstrates that many find the indoor dining room concept more comfortable than having to eat in the car).

The flavor of charcoal broiled burgers, though, is the main attraction of Charcoaler and similar restaurants. At Charcoaler you get the flavor of hamburgers cooked over charcoal (although I do not know the exact process they use). In Oklahoma City they use natural gas to augment the cooking process, and I assume the same is done here. The bottom line is that you do not get the same flavor as with hamburgers that are cooked on the normal type of flat grill.

The drive-through menu

The drive-through menu

There is still a drive-through entrance at the restaurant where you can order from the car, and the food is the same whether it get it the traditional way or from the new sit-down dining room which you can access through what used to be the exit only driveway to Mesa Street. I much prefer the sit-down arrangement, mainly because you place your order directly with a person rather than through a speaker. Charcoaler has a second location on Airway Boulevard which I have not tried, but which I assume has a dining room as well.

When the original Charcoaler closed I thought it was gone forever, but the new owner who revived the restaurant has fortunately kept the same food, and seems to have expanded the menu a little bit while keeping all the old classics. The main difference I find now is in the size of the hamburgers. Although a burger and fries would technically put this restaurant in the $ cost category, I need two sandwiches (two burgers, a burger and another sandwich, etc.) to feel full. This puts it in the $$ category, which I think is realistic for what most customers will spend.

The double burger is also very popular, and I think even with a drink and fries would keep it in the $ category. The double burger still has a small bun, though, and I prefer to have two of the small sandwiches which would not only have more bun but also more of the barbecue sauce or other toppings which are one of the big reasons I come here. In any case, the difference in price is not that great.

The Burgers

Regular burger

Burger with cole slaw

The Hamburger is the main attraction here. I find both the charcoal broiled style of cooking and the barbecue sauce to make it a special treat. The one shown in the photo is the “Junior Hamburger” (with a single patty). Its diameter is not much larger than the container of cole slaw I ordered, but it does have a good flavor.

The restaurant tries to encourage people to order a double patty because this will be more filling, but it is still on the same sized bun. Whether I get a single or a double, though, I have always ordered them with the barbecue sauce. This sauce is much like the sauce used in many Oklahoma City hamburger restaurants, but I believe its actual origin was the (now closed) Charcoal Oven.

There is always the traditional mustard, mayonnaise, etc. available for those who prefer it this way.

For a side dish I recommend the French Fries. I did not order this on my recent visits but I had a sample courtesy of my dining companion, and I was impressed by the flavor and lack of greasiness.

The Cole Slaw I ordered was a little lackluster in the flavor department and of course it will not fill you up the way the french fries will do. I suppose it is more healthy, but the issue for me is that there are many restaurants in El Paso that have better cole slaw than here, but only a small number that have better fries.

Other Sandwiches

Hot dog

Hot dog

A single patty burger does not seem to be enough food, and for me a hot dog is just enough extra to make this a full meal. Because of the charcoal broiling I think this is a better tasting hot dog than most. It is good with either the barbecue sauce or the chili (this is Texas style chili rather than the “chile” they have in New Mexico).

Black bean burger

Black bean veggie burger

I tried the Black Bean Veggie Burger, but to me there were so many things wrong with it that it is likely off of my list of possible choices in the future. On the flavor I think there was something wrong with the way it was composed–probably all the ingredients were good but the way they were combined was not quite right. I like black beans as a filler in a veggie burger but perhaps there was a little too much of it here. The consistency was really the worst part, though, because it fell apart and did not hold together as a patty should. The patty had a very sharp taste which I found to be improved by the barbecue sauce which I ordered as a topping.

The other choices from the menu are limited but they do have chicken and fish sandwiches, as well as caldillo and burritos.

My only holdover recommendation from the old restaurant that I have not tried at the new one is the milk shake, but the iced tea is very good as well (and it is easy to get refills when you eat in the dining room or the patio). Theoretically those using the drive-through get free refills on tea or soft drinks as well, but I found the logistics of it to be a little difficult.

Additional Comments
I believe the food is the same as it was at the “old” Charcoaler, except for the fact that the sandwiches are smaller. Many like the double burger, but an alternative would be to get two small sandwiches if you want to get what I consider to me a normal sized meal.

Although the drive-through lane has been the way people have been placing their orders since the restaurant opened, I believe the new indoor dining room which opened in summer 2019 makes Charcoaler much more attractive and much more customer friendly. For me the best choice here is the hamburger (and this is what most people order), but there are still many variables with the toppings, side orders, and choices of other sandwiches that make the dining room an easier way to order as well as likely a more comfortable dining experience.

I grew up with the type of charcoal broiled burgers they serve here. The more I travel, though, the more I find this style of burger to still be one of the best, and I am happy that it is available in El Paso.


Charcoaler Web Site


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Hamburgers
Cost: $$
Hours: Ope Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking (in the dining room and patio areas)
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 12, 2019
Number of Visits: 2
Best Items: Hamburger, French Fries

Special Ratings
star 5 Hamburger
star 4 Hot Dog
star 3 Veggie Burger
star 5 French Fries
star 4 Cole Slaw

Avila’s–El Paso, TX

Avila’s Mexican Food
6232 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-3621
Avila's

Avila’s


Having been in operation for over 65 years, according to Avila’s web site, this certainly qualifies as a classic restaurant. This restaurant actually started out as Avila’s No. 2, with Avila’s No. 1 being located on Montana Avenue just east of Yarbrough. When both restaurants were open I always liked the one on Montana better, and I thought it had a truer “border flavor.” In fact I saw an interview with the owner of the Mesa Street restaurant (Avila’s No. 2) where he said the food was not very spicy because he had a lot of Anglo customers (this is a paraphrase). I understand that the owners of the two restaurants were brothers, and apparently the owner of the No. 1 location did not share this philosophy because the food was spicier, and in my opinion better tasting.

This is all history, though, because now there is only one Avila’s. To me the food has improved since it became the sole Avila’s, and I can only speculate about the reason (but I have to include the disclaimers that I may not have a totally correct memory about the food or that my tastes may have changed). What I think, though, is that it is actually better and closer to the food that was served at Avila’s No. 1. It is still not so spicy that I think it would create a problem for most Anglos, who have been one of the restaurant’s main target groups. In my opinion, though, it does have a flavor and spiciness that are in line with other El Paso restaurants (this is probably not something I would have said until after the two Avila’s merged).

In my former review of Avila’s one of my specific complaints was that it was lacking in bold flavors. This is in fact the main aspect of it that I think has been corrected. I would still call the green enchiladas bland, but other items such as the red enchiladas and chile rellenos are certainly very flavorful. Even the rice and beans seem to be better than I remember them in the past.

One feature for which Avila’s is well known is that they bake the enchiladas. I am not sure exactly how this is done, but it seems to result in food that is less oily. One feature I like is that they stick some tostadas in the beans and these come out extra crispy, yet not overcooked. It also means the food is served on a hot plate (so customers are warned not to touch the plate).

Avila’s lacks some authenticity by not serving aguas frescas, and it does not have the type of food found in some local taco joints. It does, however, serve the type of combination plates and dinners that I associate with El Paso style border food.

Chips and Salas

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

The Chips at Avila’s are solid, and live up to the standards found at most restaurants in the city. I think the best ones are always the ones they stick in the beans and bake along with the dinner, but the ones served on the table are also good.

The Salsa is the one item here that I think does not live up to the El Paso norm when it comes to spiciness. However, I can also attest to the fact that it is not gringo style (a style that you will find very often in places like Oklahoma and points north). This is the real deal when it comes to flavor and the freshness of the ingredients.

Combination Plates

Combination No. 2

Combo No. 2 containing beans with toasted chips, red enchilada, green sour cream enchilada, chile relleno, and rice

The Combination Dinner Number 2 comes with an enchilada, taco, and a chile relleno. Other combinations are also available, but they are all on the dinner menu (there is no lunch menu and they do not have lunch specials). One good thing about the combinations, though, is that you can make substitutions (in my case I got an extra enchilada instead of the taco). I usually try to get more than one enchilada when they are especially good (as they are here).

The Red Enchilada may be the “go to” item at Avila’s, and these are typical of the El Paso style. The red sauce has a good flavor and I think is probably made with New Mexico chiles (or at least they have just about the same flavor). What I do know is that it is made with “red chile pods.” The sauce here is not as spicy as is typical in New Mexico, but this is not a wimpy sauce by any means. I have in my notes that they use a white cheddar–I do not know if the staff told me this or if it is something I surmised (but I believe I got this information from the restaurant).

For my taco substitute I got a Sour Cream Enchilada with the green sauce (you have to let the kitchen know whether you want red or green). I would not order a whole dinner of this type of enchilada, but I like it as a contrast with the regular enchilada.

While the red enchilada has good cheese and a really good sauce, the Chile Relleno is the other way around (the cheese was the best part for me). I should clarify a little by saying the cheese was really good compared to other restaurants, while all the parts of the chile relleno (chile, cheese, batter, and sauce) stood up with no weak links in it.

The beans and rice are both five-star quality, but I particularly like the beans with the baked tostadas inserted into them (and the beans become a dip to put on them).

Tri-Color Enchiladas

Tri-color or "Mexican flag" enchiladas

No. 16 TriColor Enchilada Plate

Most of the enchilada plates do not come with rice and beans, but in the case of the TriColor Enchilada Plate you get a choice (it is more expensive with the rice and beans). I think it is mainly a matter of what your appetite and expense account can handle, because it is good both ways. Visually this dinner really looks small compared to the Combo No. 2, although I thought it was filling.

The TriColor plate represents the Mexican flag, with red, white and green colors. At one time this seemed to be a very popular item in El Paso and now I find it only at a few of the places that I call “classic” restaurants (thus it is becoming more of a special treat when I can order it). I am not ready to say Avila’s has the best version because I really like the one at Su Casa, but the one here is very close.

The green and sour cream enchiladas were both made with green chile. I was told that the green chile is actually made with jalapeños (not New Mexico green chile). The surprising thing, though, is that the green sauce is actually almost devoid of any spiciness and I would describe the flavor as somewhat bland as well. I think it is very good with sour cream on top, but alone as a green enchilada it is the one item I have tried recently that really does confirm my previous conceptions of this restaurant as serving uninteresting Mexican food.

Dessert

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas

Sopaipillas come free with dinners (I believe each person gets two of them). These are definitely some of the better ones in town, and I like the fact that they do not have a lot of grease.

An Overview
There is a large menu here, but I mainly come back for the enchiladas or the combination plate. In the past (meaning over ten years ago) I also thought the tortilla soup was very good but I was less impressed with the mole or chile con queso.

While I think this restaurant is much improved from the past, some things still seem to be a problem. On one of my most recent visits the waiter made a mistake and told the kitchen to put onions in my enchiladas when I specifically asked for the opposite. At first I thought it had a good taste but after a while I began to regret having the strong onions they use here (as opposed to the more caramelized ones I found in northern New Mexico).

They do not have lunch specials, but on some plates you can save money by not getting them with rice and beans. The dilemma, though, is that the rice and beans are so good I think most people will want to get them (and this is definitely not the case at a large number of El Paso restaurants).

Sopaipillas are already included in the price of the meal, and I recommend them for anyone who can afford the calories.


Avila’s Web Site


RATING: 23

Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily except Sun. evening
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Alcohol: N/A

Most Recent Visit: Sep. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Chile Relleno, Red Enchiladas, Tri-Color Enchiladas, Tortilla Soup, Salsa

 

Mexican Food Details

Chile Index: chile 4
Cooking Oil: Vegetable

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Chile Relleno
star 5 Red Enchilada
star 5 Sour Cream Enchilada
star 4 Green Enchilada
star 4 Chicken Mole
star 4 Chile con Queso
star 5 Rice
star 5 Beans
star 5 Chips
star 5 Salsa