EP Food News, July 2014

A couple of years ago I used to post local news on this blog, but that all changed when I began freelancing for What’s Up Weekly. You can read my restaurant writeups and Dish food news column a couple of times each month by picking up a copy of the local magazine or visiting whatsuppub.com.

A few things happened this month, including the Best of the Best issue, which have pushed the publishing date on my submission. So, I thought I would share the news here before it becomes old news that doesn’t get published. Plus I get to add my commentary here! :)

If you have any local food news, feel free to email, facebook, or tweet me.

Here are a few new places that I visited recently in photos. Click on the photos for more info:

Let’s get the disappointing news out of the way first.

  • Last month, I wrote that Opus World Bistro had closed down. Does anybody know what happened and if Chef Ross has plans of reopening?
  • Red Mountain Bistro made a huge announcement on their Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. They thanked El Pasoans for their gracious hospitality for the past 22 months, but then went on to say that they have decided to seize a great opportunity by relocating to Austin, TX. The bistro has been closed as of July 1st. I wasn’t really a fan of RMB, but it’s still upsetting to hear that a local business is leaving town. Hopefully someone will snatch up this unique spot quickly.
  • Also upsetting, is that WB Liquors will open in the former Double Dave’s Pizza location on Redd. I really thought that a fast casual chain like Chipotle was going to take it over. What a waste of a cool space.
  • Craft House Pub & Grub is now open on the westside next to Texas Roadhouse at 5020 N. Desert. The new bar offers a variety of craft beers bottled and on draft, liquor and a food menu of appetizers, hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches. For more information, visit them on Facebook. I’m sorry, but this new place was a huge disappointment for me. I was expecting this place to be like Hoppy Monk and it is far from it. It’s dark and plain in there and not in an ambient way. It kind of looks like a rec center in there. They offer a good variety of beers, but nothing really makes this place stand out. The food menu is typical bar food and there’s nothing vegetarian.

Onto happy news!

  • The eastside has been buzzing about a new spot where you can grab a gourmet burger and get your car washed. Tutu’s Burger & Hand Wash is located at 1641 N. Zaragoza. Visit them on Facebook. Gabe from El Paso’s Wurst Food Truck told me that they added a veggie burger and it’s the best he’s ever had!
  • Speaking of El Paso’s Wurst, Helga the food truck needs your help! They have entered Flo’s Fabulous Food Truck Contest to win money to help fund serious repairs that Helga needs. Last year, The Sweet Addiction cupcake food truck entered, but didn’t get enough votes. C’mon guys, let’s make it happen this year! Visit this link to vote. You can vote every day up until July 31. You can also visit facebook.com/epwurst
  • Rita’s Jamaican Cuisine has been open for a couple of months at 5929 Dyer. You’ll find jerk chicken, curry goat, oxtail, fried plantains, and more.
  • The TripAdvisor website ranked Sparky’s in Hatch, NM as the third best burger in the nation. Their green chile cheeseburger is what earned them this esteemed place. If you drive further up to Roswell, you’ll find the eighth best burger at Big D’s Downtown Dive. Their Tomahawk burger is out of this world, with aged cheddar, red chili and avocado lime mayo.
  • Chubby’s Bronx Deli will be opening another location on the eastside at 1830 N. Zaragoza where the NY Bagel Cafe & Deli was formerly located.
  • The Pizza Joint is adding a second location downtown at 500 N. Stanton. The new location will open within a couple of months and feature a full restaurant with a pizza window that opens out to the street.
  • A new tea shop will open late summer in the UTEP area next to Cabo Joe’s at 3233 N. Mesa. The Tea Spout will sell loose leaf teas and baked goods, like blueberry green tea scones. Get updates at facebook.com/theteaspout
  • Oktoberfest will return this year, thanks to a Fort Bliss agency that has taken over planning and hosting the event to take place at Biggs Park, September 19-21. The first two nights will cost $30 to include a German meal and stein, while the third night will be a free family night. Tickets go on sale August first. Can you believe I’ve never been to Oktoberfest? Shame on me! Maybe this will be the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firecracker Potato Salad

You guys, Kickstarter is out of control. A man just raised $15,000 to make potato salad. He hasn’t even decided what kind yet. He’s just going to make potato salad. He was going try 2 different recipes if he reached the $100 goal. Dude reached $15,000, although it says over $70,000.

Zack Danger Brown, I didn’t back your Kickstarter and I didn’t create this recipe for you, but here ya go. A vegan potato salad recipe because you said you’d have a vegan option.

I made this potato salad on the Fourth of July and decided to get a little Chopped-style and make up a recipe with ingredients on hand. Supposedly the trick to perfect potato salad is boiling your potatoes whole and unpeeled for about 30-45 minutes. I of course found this out after I peeled, cubed, and chucked my potatoes into the boiling water; I had decided to save time by boiling the potatoes while searching for recipe ideas. I’m glad I accidentally didn’t follow the tip because the potatoes’ flavor and texture worked out fine with less time and hassle.

I should totally create a Kickstarter to pay my bills or at least an EP Veg Snob cookbook. ;) Or I should create a Kickstarter to fund giving to other Kickstarter projects like in Portlandia! Remember the Kickstarter Film Awards? Watch the skit at the end of this post.

Firecracker Potato Salad. Because I made it on 4th of July & it has chili paste?

Firecracker Potato Salad. Because I made it on 4th of July & it has chili paste? I didn’t know what else to call it.

Firecracker Potato Salad

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used about 5-6 small potatoes)
Mustard greens, about 1 cup, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces (just use mustard if you don’t want to bother with the greens. Albertsons has a great horseradish Dijon mustard that’s cheap.)
1-2 teaspoons Sambal Oelek chili paste, or any chili paste you like
1 teaspoon Champagne wine vinegar (white wine or apple cider vinegar will work, too)
½ cup veganaise
Smoked Paprika (optional)
Salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and toss with mustard greens. Set aside to cool or rinse in cold water if you’re short on time. In a small bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing. Toss the dressing with the potatoes, sprinkle a bit of the smoked paprika if you like, and season with salt and pepper.

EP Ballpark Food & Beverage Review & Guide

Behold! A handy food and beverage guide to view on your phone or print out. Scroll to the bottom to get the guide.

 

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The Ballpark has to be one of the most controversial things that’s ever happened to El Paso. It’s mostly the way everything was handled, which we won’t get into here. I will say that at first, I was on no one’s side, especially since I’m a public librarian and our library system is a City department. Library patrons would come in and rant about it daily, and all I could do was smile and nod. But when fines and fees would come up, we now had a deflector. All problems could be blamed on that damn ballpark!

Well, I am in love with that damn ballpark. It’s a beautiful facility that’s like a scaled-down MLB park. Tickets are reasonably priced, but food, beverages, and souvenirs are where it gets expensive. Expect to pay $4 for a bottled water or soda. Twelve ounce draft beers begin at $5, but Thrifty Thursdays offers $2 select beers, popcorn, and Chihuarrrines. Chihuarrrines are those fried puffed wheat snacks, also known as chilindrinas. Don’t forget, they stop selling alcohol at end of the 7th inning.

As overpriced as the food may be, it’s creative and reflective of our city. There are condiment stations that have the typical fixings like onions, relish, ketchup, and mustard, but they also have jalapenos, two kinds of salsa, Valentina hot sauce, and Heinz hot sauce. Meateaters have all the fun and get the best value. At $10 each, they can opt for the nachos topped with pieces of beef and served in a souvenir dog bowl, huevos rancheros burger, or green chile bacon cheeseburger (burger baskets come with fries). Vegetarian options are limited to a $6 slice of cheese pizza from Peter Piper Pizza and a hummus sampler. For $9, you get black bean hummus, edamame hummus, and classic garlic hummus with pita chips. Sounds great, but I didn’t try it. Something about eating nine dollar hummus at a ball game didn’t sit right in my stomach.

Baseball stadiums across the nation, both professional and AAA, have better vegetarian and vegan options like veggie dogs, burgers, sausage, and more. Maybe we can convince Ovations Food Service to do the same by filling out this survey: www.ovations-survey.com

If you have a ticket valued at $10 or more, be sure to visit The City Hall Grill and Sun Kings Saloon (staff actually checks tickets at the door). Draft beer, wine, a full liquor bar, and a food menu that differs slightly from the other concession stands are available at these air-conditioned open seating areas. However, there are outside ticketed seats facing the field that cost about $17.

Not available at the concession stands, is the fried salsa appetizer, which they had run out of the two times I had gone. The third time’s a charm, because I finally got to try them, and after all the self-induced hype, they were a mild disappointment. For some reason I was expecting something like a cheese stick or cheese curd with a salsa center. Instead, they were salsa-speckled hush puppies that were overcooked and hard. At least the avocado crema drizzle was delicious. I’m a sucker for avocados and lime.

When you go to a game, make sure you fully explore the stadium. There is public artwork everywhere. Every time I go, I see something I missed the last time. Now if only I could explore the VIP areas. Hint, hint ;)

 

 

Click on the images to enlarge. Please note that menu items & prices are subject to change.

EP Ballpark Food Guide 1

EP Ballpark Food Guide 2

The Burger List Updated

I compiled a “Burger List” on this blog four years ago, and it’s been begging me to update it for at least two years. In these past few years, El Paso’s restaurant scene has not only grown, but menus have also transformed. In this updated list, I have deleted only two restaurants— Jaxon’s, because it is now closed and Ruby Tuesday (Las Cruces), because they no longer carry a veggie burger. I added 10 restaurants, of which 8 are locally owned! I am also happy to add that the majority make their own patties. Isn’t that great? Kudos to these local businesses for putting thought and creativity into their product. And kudos to a steakhouse for offering a veggie burger! Great American at Yarborough may not make their own veggie burger, but they understand that steak-lovers have vegetarian friends and family members, too.

Some places serve vegan patties, but the toppings and/or bun are not vegan. Cielo Vista Natural Market, The Green Ingredient, and Hello Day are the only ones I know of that are completely vegan. The Mustard Seed Cafe has served a great vegan burger in the past, but they are not on my list because they change their menu weekly. It’s uncertain if and when they would repeat that menu.

My list only includes burgers that use a patty; portabella burgers are excluded from the list.

Please note that I compiled this list from my experiences and menu and social media listings. Items, prices, and specials are subject to change. My favorites have been Hoppy Monk, Ripe, and The Green Ingredient.

Feel free to let me know if I missed anyone, corrections, and/or your favorite veggie burger (doesn’t matter if it’s not in El Paso).

Locally Owned:

Cielo Vista Natural Market (eastside) Veggie Burger (I can’t remember, but it is not made there & I don’t think it comes with a side) $5.99

CocoMiel/Coco.Bar (eastside) Green Chili Burger. Veggie patty served with pepper jack, tomatoes, mixed greens, avocado, green chile, sautéed onions, and mushrooms. I haven’t tried it yet. $12

Crave Kitchen & Bar (west & eastside) They used to make a falafel-like patty in-house. Now I think they use the 3 Grain Veggie Burger from US Foods, which is vegan. You can sub it in any burger. Prices start at $11.50. Bonus: $5 burger night on Tuesdays after 8 pm.

Great American Steakburger @ Yarborough (eastside) There are several Great American restaurants across town, and it gets really confusing because they have different owners, which means different menus. The Yarborough location is the only one that I know of that offers a veggie burger. I think it’s also the 3 Grain patty from US Foods. $7.99

The Greenery (westside inside Sunland Park Mall) Veggie Burger (used to be Gardenburger. Unsure what it is now). Starts at $9

The Green Ingredient Eatery (downtown inside Chase building) The GI Veggie Burger is made in-house & contains black beans, brown rice, & southwestern seasonings (vegan). It’s a whopping $13, but worth it! It comes with your choice of a side and mango ketchup. Bonus: $8 burgers Mon-Fri from 11 am-12 pm.

Hello Day Café (downtown) Black Bean Burger (vegan). Housemade patty made of Indian-spiced black beans, with roasted broccoli & peppers. $10

The Hoppy Monk (central/UTEP area) Veggie Monk (patty is vegan) housemade black bean-pumpkin patty served with provolone, arugula, red onion, tomatoes, & balsamic aioli. $10 Bonus: $5 slider night on Wednesdays after 5 pm (specify veggie monk sliders).

Hudson’s Grill (eastside) $1 extra charge to sub a Gardenburger patty in any burger. Shame on them for upcharging!

High Desert Brewing Co. (Las Cruces) Veggie Burger (haven’t tried it) $6.99

Independent Burger (westside) Quinoa Black Bean Burger $10 (sides sold separately) Bonus: $10 featured burger, fries, and beer or shake night on Thursdays after 8 pm.

The Magic Bistro (westside) Veggie burger on a brioche bun (haven’t tried it)

Ripe Eatery (westside) Southwest Black Bean Burger served with marinated onions, chipotle mayo, L & T. Housemade patty has vegetables, oats, quinoa, nuts, & cheese. $12 Bonus: $8 burgers on Tuesdays from 5-9 pm

The Riviera Cocina & Cantina (westside) Veggie burger (servers didn’t know which brand, but I think it’s an Amy’s brand black bean patty) served with white cheddar and a side salad or fries. $8.49  Bonus: Burgers are on special on Tuesdays. I think they’re $6 or $7.

Steve-O’s  (eastside) 3 grain veggie patty, mozzarella, roasted red bell pepper aioli, avocado, L.T.O. $9

Toro Burger (Airport area) They used to make their own, but I think they switched to Morningstar. I haven’t been there in years, so I’m not sure what they use now. $7 (sides sold separately)

Chains:

BJ’s Brewhouse (eastside) Substitute a Gardenburger veggie patty for any half pound burger. $8.95 and up.

Buffalo Wild Wings (eastside, westside, Freedom Crossing @ Fort Bliss, & Las Cruces) Build your own black bean burger (Morningstar Black Bean Patty). I think prices start at $8.95 Do not eat anything deep-fried here. Their frying oil contains beef tallow! : (

Burger King (citywide) Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Burger. $2.89 for just the burger, no cheese.

Chili’s (citywide) Black Bean Patty (Morningstar). You can sub it in anything, even wraps and the new bowls. The Guacamole Burger is the best one. Burger prices start at around $8

Denny’s (citywide) Build your own burger (Amy’s Veggie Burger, vegan). Prices start at around $7.99, but I think you can get the $6 classic burger and sub the veggie patty, only difference is it doesn’t have cheese and you can’t really modify the toppings.

Fuddrucker’s (citywide) Gardenburger (closed for now with plans of reopening)

Smashburger (Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss) Avocado Ranch Black Bean Burger served with pepper jack, or you can build your own. This chain actually makes their own patties. Please note that cooking areas are shared. $6.39 (sides sold separately)

Spec’s (west/Sunland Park area) May not be El Paso-owned, but it is Texas-owned! Fantastic selection of wine, beer, and liquor. Did you know you can eat at the deli? Veggie Burger (Boca patty) $5.99 (sides sold separately) Side-note: If you’re really craving a burger, order it, but you must try the Veggie Delite sandwich. It’s jam-packed with veggies and goat cheese.

Sandwich shops that use a veggie patty:

Subway (citywide, but varies by location) Some locations carry an oblong veggie patty that fits the sub. I think it’s Morningstar brand.

Which Wich? (eastside) Black bean patty. I think it’s Morningstar brand, too. Various sizes, including a bowl option. Starts at $5.25

Corn & Black Bean PattySandwich @ Which Wich?

Corn & Black Bean Patty Sandwich @ Which Which. Can you believe this is the small?!

DOFL 2014, Part 3: Dinner Edition

Dining Out For Life, a national annual fundraising event, will take place on Thursday, April 24. Twelve local restaurants will donate 25% of their proceeds to El Paso’s International AIDS Empowerment organization. This nonprofit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce the incidence of new infections through education, outreach and testing. For more info and how you can help, visit internationalaids.org.

I’ll be posting a three part series of mini reviews of the participating restaurants here on the blog. These reviews originally appeared in What’s Up Weekly.

Visit diningoutforlife.com to find out if your city is participating.

Rulis’ International Kitchen, Unrulis’, and El Parque will be donating dinner proceeds.

Rulis’ International Kitchen

Touting itself as a little great gourmet dive, Rulis’ International Kitchen started out in downtown El Paso before making its way to the UTEP area, across from the Don Haskins Center. Chef Raul “Rulis’’ Gonzalez has created a diverse menu with a variety of familiar dishes with mostly Mediterranean and Mexican influences. It’s also probably the only place in town where bangers and mash (bratwurst cooked in beer served with cheesy mashed potatoes) and shrimp tacos coexist.

A cup of potato poblano or seasonal squash soup and some tapas will buy you some time deciding between ninerulis patatas bravas salads, an assortment of sliders and panino sandwiches, pastas and other entrees. The tapas menu has grilled lamb lollipops with mango sauce and rice, edamame hummus, fries tossed in basil-cilantro-almond pesto with parmesan, crab wonton nachos and more. There are also cheese shareables, like baked brie with balsamic cranberries and pistachios and goat cheese with roasted peppers and cashews, both served with crostini.

Heartier options include the ribeye dinner, moules frites (New Zealand steamed mussels with fries), burgers and pasta dishes. Chihuahua linguine has a chunky tomato sauce simmered with chorizo, peppers and Mexican spices tossed with grilled steak and chipotle sausage with a sprinkling of queso fresco. If there’s room, the house call chocolate dessert is not to be missed; Sous Chef Haydee (aka Mom) will surprise you with a chocolate treat. Other dessert options are panna cotta and a caramel apple crepe.

New to Rulis’ is the Sunday Supper, featuring a different dish each week, Past Sundays have featured shepherd’s pie, gumbo and taco salad. Also rulis edamame hummusnew are six additional beer taps bringing the count up to twelve. Visit the restaurant for Ribeye Mondays, Tapas Tuesdays and Wino Wednesdays.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Yet another place that I think is overrated, but I have only tried a sandwich and tapas. I don’t like it when places sell sides separately from sandwiches/burgers. When I went for my birthday a couple of years ago, my panini was good, but small. We paid extra for fries and were given a scanty few. The edamame hummus and patatas bravas were pretty good and seasoned well. 

Price range: $4-24

 Facebook.com/rulisik 

Rulis' International Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Unrulis Pizza+Pints

It’s a relief to know that Sunset Pizzeria’s brick oven won’t go to waste with the opening of Unrulis. Chef Raul (Rulis) Gonzalez of Rulis’ green curry pizzaInternational Kitchen has applied his signature fusion cooking to salads, pizzas and sandwiches at his new, additional venture. The “Pints” part of the name showcases our region’s breweries with a combination of bottled and canned drinks, as well as 18 taps solely consisting of Texas and New Mexico beers.

The combo called Woodfired Goodness refers to “beercan chicken” (half-chicken roasted with Lone Star beer), which comes with avocado and tortillas. Sandwiches served on bolillo rolls come with roasted veggies, coleslaw or chips. The Chuco cheesesteak salutes El Paso with sliced sirloin tossed with onions and torreado sauce, smothered in jalapeño queso.

10-inch pizzas (gluten-free crust available) are inspired by the southwest, NOLA, Asia and of course, Italy. Don’t confuse the Mexican pizza with Taco Bell; this pizza is topped with refried beans, cheese, steak, jalapeños and avocados. The quirkiest has to be the Green Curry, which gets topped with white sauce and purple-and-yellow cauliflower, broccoli and paneer cheese, tossed in green coconut curry.

Don’t worry if these pizzas are too crazy for you; a make-your-own option is available. Follow them on Facebook to find out about occasional secret menu items.

molletesBonus Veg Snob Notes: The craft beer concept was a bold move since Unrulis is very close to The Hoppy Monk and Block Table & Tap. This said, I think it’s a genius idea to stand apart by serving a niche selection of beers that are regional. This is a really cool place, so I hate to rag on Chef Rulis twice in one post, but I gotta do it. I’ll need to revisit; maybe these kinks have been resolved. The Green Curry pizza is so creative, but it fell short for me. First off, the server looked at me like I was an alien when I asked if there was fish sauce in the green curry. When my pizza arrived, it was beautiful, but missing something flavorwise, and I didn’t like the texture of the paneer cheese. I think a pan-searing of the paneer or use of tofu instead would have helped immensely. I thought molletes on the menu was a fun concept, but the refried beans tasted canned; a huge offense for a chef and a restaurant in El Paso.  

 Price Range: $6-16

facebook.com/unrulispizzapints

UnRulis Pizza and Pints on Urbanspoon

El Parque Flautas y Antojitos

Beyond the row of chain restaurants in Las Palmas Marketplace lies a small Mexican restaurant. El Parque (Theparque flautas Park) brings the outdoors inside with an abundance of fake foliage and street lamps. The atmosphere is conducive to relaxing over a beer and an appetizer like wings, nachos or Mexican egg rolls (cheese and green chile strips enveloped in an eggroll wrapper).

Typical Mexican fare like enchiladas, tacos and gorditas populate the menu, but you’ll want to skip to their namesake items. Flautas Nortenas comes with six thin and crispy flautas (choice of filling: shredded or ground beef, chicken or potato), sour cream and avocado sauce alongside beans and rice. Flautas Ahogada comes with six ground beef flautas “drowned” in a tomato sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and a side of fries.

A bowl of soup makes the perfect accompaniment to flautas. Sopa Azteca is a hearty bowl of vegetables and hominy in a chicken broth topped with cheese and tortilla strips. Other soup options are caldo de res (beef soup served with rice and corn tortillas) and a creamy Oaxaca potato soup with green chile, cheese and tortilla strips.

Be sure to check out their happy hour Monday through Friday and weekend breakfast buffet with omelet and fruit stations.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Typical Mexican restaurant with a Juarez feel. Not very veg friendly; they have potato flautas, but staff says they use lard in beans. Cool place to have a beer and appetizers though. 

Price range: $5-11

Children’s menu available.

 http://www.elparquerestaurant.com/

Facebook.com/elparqueresetaurant

El Parque Flautas & Antojitos on Urbanspoon

DOFL 2014, Part 2: Lunch/Dinner Edition

 

Dining Out For Life, a national annual fundraising event, will take place on Thursday, April 24. Once again, Houston and El Paso are the only Texas cities participating this year, although restaurant participation is down for EP. Twelve local restaurants will donate 25% of their proceeds to El Paso’s International AIDS Empowerment organization.

This nonprofit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce the incidence of new infections through education, outreach and testing. For more info and how you can help, visit internationalaids.org.

I’ll be posting a three part series of mini reviews of the participating restaurants here on the blog. These reviews originally appeared in What’s Up Weekly.

Visit diningoutforlife.com to find out if your city is participating.

Tabla, Red Mountain Bistro, Pot Au Feu, and Sam’s Chinese will be donating lunch AND dinner proceeds. Kudos to them! I accidentally included Sam’s in the lunch only category yesterday. Sorry!

Tabla

Three years ago, a gastropub was replaced by a restaurant that quickly became the go-to spot for dates and visitors. Situated in beautiful Union Plaza, Tabla offers patio and bar seating in addition to their casual yet elegant dining area. White subway tile and an open kitchen brighten the very darkly lit restaurant.

True to tapas-style dining, a variety of Spanish-influenced small plates and snacks are offered. Chef Norbert Portillo masters simplicity and packstabla on global flavor in every dish. He’ll make you a fan of any vegetable, including celery. Thinly sliced celery hearts are combined with kalamata olives, feta and heirloom tomatoes dressed in grilled tomato infused oil. Other cold plates include beets and oranges with goat cheese and crackers, and curried garbanzos and carrots in preserved lemon dressing. The chef recommends mussels in a chorizo fennel broth, but the most popular items are papas bravas, bacon dates and pinchos, a grilled pork skewer with piquillo pepper aioli. The Benedicts gives a nod to brunch with fried oyster and apple pancetta slaw atop a waffle with hollandaise sauce.

Those wary of tapas can order more complete plates like a burger with manchego cheese, paella, arrachera steak, smoked duck with cheddar polenta and plum walnut sauce or pecan salmon with a honey orange glaze.

Six dulces, or dessert options, are classics that get some serious makeovers. Crème brulee has candied pistachios, lavender, rosemary and beet syrup, while capirotada has arroz con leche, hazelnuts, dried grapes and pancetta syrup. Tabla and tapas are best shared with a group of people over wine, craft beer or one of Tabla’s signature cocktails. If dining alone, visit during happy hour for the best value.

Chef Portillo has future plans of continuing to rotate new menu items, a lunchbox special and a campfire cinema series. Also expect the return of evening cooking classes and Sunday brunch.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: I’m not a tapas person and I didn’t think Tabla was all that great a year ago. Fast forward to this month, I’m still not a tapas fan, but I am now Team Tabla. They’ve added more vegetarian items that are amazing! The chickpea fries are not to be missed.

 Price range: $6-22

tabla-ep.com
Tabla on Urbanspoon

Red Mountain Bistro

El Paso was abuzz last year when its newest restaurant addition hit the westside. The former location of La Jolla Kitchen was renovated into a completely different restaurant with hip decor salvaged from local wrecking yards. Native El Pasoans may recognize the sign in the patio area asrmb grilled cheese part of the now defunct Herald Post. Red Mountain serves up familiar and creative dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

A complimentary basket of freshly made breads with a dipping oil of roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar arrive at your table along with a glass bottle of chilled water. Don’t eat all of the bread, because you’ll want to save room for the variety of seafood, figs, cheese, bruschetta, quail or filet tips that make up the appetizer menu.

Lunchtime offers soups, salads, pastas, risottos and sandwiches. It’s difficult to choose between the 12 sandwiches available during lunch. Classic sandwiches like turkey and brisket reside next to fun items like a lobster club, prime rib reuben and portobello mushroom lasagna. Risotto is popular and choices include green chile, mushroom, seafood or fall vegetables.

During dinner, the sandwich section gets replaced with six sensational entrees. Seafood rules the menu, but there are also various cuts of beef, lamb and chicken. For brevity’s sake, we’ll only list one description: “Barramundi is grilled with apple-corn fritters, asparagus, swiss chard, beurre blanc and apple-jalapeno salsa.”

Prices are on the steep side, but quality ingredients are used and expertly prepared. Seasonal desserts, fresh coffee and espresso and a full bar are also available.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Chef Hunt is always changing the menu, so the items listed in this review may not reflect the current offerings. I came here for lunch during last year’s Dining Out for Life fundraiser. It was good, but I wasn’t as blown away as other reviewers on Urbanspoon and Yelp have been. When I went last year, there were about 3 vegetarian options. Their website is no longer valid, so I’m not sure what their current menu contains. 

Price range: $8-27
facebook.com/redmountainbistro
Red Mountain | bistro on Urbanspoon

Pot Au Feu

Situated next to the historic Gardner Hotel, Pot Au Feu embodies a 1920s French bistro with modern flair. Chefs Robert Espinoza and Richard Mendez trained at Le Cordon Bleu and in turn have created brunch, lunch and dinner menus that are a mix of world cuisines coupled with classic naan wichFrench cooking techniques. Flags are pictured next to each menu item, denoting each dish’s country of origin.

It’s rare to find bourekas (Israeli savory cheese pastries) on an appetizer menu, but you’ll also find more familiar items like sesame ginger wings, hummus or fried calamari. The chefs’ take on France’s quintessential beef stew dish, pot-au-feu combines pork shanks, short rib and oxtails with vegetables, whole grain mustard, cornichon and pickled onion. Other popular menu items are the tea smoked duck served with soba noodles and lamb burger served with a choice of side.

Check in frequently to try seasonal menu items, the soup of the day and desserts like hot chocolate cheesecake. The chefs also create a special menu that celebrates a different country each month. April (2013) paid tribute to Thailand with Thai peanut chicken, grilled bok choy and basmati rice served over romaine lettuce and drizzled with a ginger lime vinaigrette.

Brunch is served during the weekend. Happy hour specials run throughout the week.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: This is another place that everyone raves about that I feel meh about. In their defense, I’ve only eaten lunch there, so maybe their entrees are better. I’d like to hit them up for happy hour; the appetizers and beer selection sound good.  

Price range: $9-28

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DOFL 2014, Part 1: Lunch Edition

Dining Out For Life, a national annual fundraising event, will take place on Thursday, April 24. Twelve local restaurants will donate 25% of their proceeds to El Paso’s International AIDS Empowerment organization. This nonprofit’s mission is to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS and to reduce the incidence of new infections through education, outreach and testing. For more info and how you can help, visit internationalaids.org.

I’ll be posting a three part series of mini reviews of the participating restaurants here on the blog. These reviews originally appeared in What’s Up Weekly.

Visit diningoutforlife.com to find out if your city is participating.

The Magic Bistro, Star City Kitchen, and Sam’s Chinese will only be donating lunch proceeds. Sorry for the quality of these cellphone pics! I must’ve forgotten my camera on all three occasions. Correction: Sam’s Chinese is donating lunch AND dinner proceeds.

The Magic Bistro

For 20 years, The Magic Pan Restaurant was the heart of Doniphan’s Placita Santa Fe shopping center. In February of 2013, owners retired the

The Magic Bistro @ Placita Santa Fe on Doniphan

The Magic Bistro @ Placita Santa Fe on Doniphan

business, keeping the rights to the name but selling the space and equipment to brothers and staff members Michael and John Becker and businessman Sony Patel. A month later, The Magic Pan was reborn as The Magic Bistro, serving up a slightly altered menu that won’t disappoint former regulars.

Salads, burgers, wraps, sandwiches, pasta bread bowls and daily rotating soups and quiches encompass the menu. Ordering a salad as an entree is tempting when it comes with a choice of homemade breads like pecan cornbread or zucchini bread, and dressing options like mango black pepper, jalapeno ginger or creamy cilantro lime. Apricot Turkey, a customer favorite, comes with chipotle, jack cheese and avocado on ciabatta bread with a choice of seven different sides. Indecision will likely lead to choosing the Bistro Combo: a half sandwich with a bistro house salad and a cup of soup.

Magic Bistro is the perfect setting for a leisurely lunch. Outdoor dining is a must in the serene, enclosed and expansive patio, which sometimes features live music. You can also browse the adjacent gift shop after enjoying one of nine dessert options like crepes, cajeta flan cake or the cake of the day.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Very vegetarian friendly! Tabouli salad, veggie burger, veggie pita, eggplant sandwich, and pasta bread bowls. Vegan options may be limited to salad; I’m not sure if any of their breads are vegan. Definitely at the top of my list of places to go for Dining Out for Life.

Price range: $8-13
Children’s menu available.
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Star City Kitchen & Bar

Summer of 2013 marked Star City Kitchen’s anniversary, as well as a remodel and menu revamp. Furnishings were shifted around, but the same

Fried Brussels Sprouts

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Pickled Peppers & Fried Goat Cheese

kitschy, hip art gallery decor remained. The menu is a collection of American comfort food and Mexican favorites with a twist. You can order breakfast anytime at this modern diner that opens late on weekdays and 24 hours on the weekend.

Appetizer choices offer deep-fried and cheesy goodness: mac and cheese with toreados and candied bacon, queso fundido or fried brussels sprouts with pickled bell peppers atop battered and fried goat cheese medallions. Breakfast includes fruit pancakes, peanut butter and jelly French toast, an omelette, picadillo and eggs and more. Menudo is served on weekends with an option of a refill or until you drop pricing.

Entrees, burgers, sandwiches and tacos are renditions of classic favorites. Ribeye is topped with bleu cheese and sauteed mushrooms and onions on top of a savory sweet potato waffle. Pork belly enchiladas are smothered in a creamy chipotle brandy sauce. The Star City BLT has pork belly, candied bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro aioli. Besides salads, lighter options include roasted hen, salmon, shrimp with zucchini ribbons and grilled tuna. Most offerings include your choice of side, and they don’t make it easy with eight options. The most popular are garlic fries, onion rings and the mash of the day. Every day, the kitchen comes up with an eclectic batch of mashed potatoes like Sriracha peanut butter or ham with buffalo sauce.

The creativity doesn’t stop at dessert; you can order a chile-spiked flourless chocolate torte with cream cheese ice cream and caramelized bananas, churro fries or caramel pot de crème with pretzels. Hit them up on Taco Tuesday for $1-2 taco choices of pork belly, guacamole, salpicon and Modelo-battered fish.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: The Brussels sprouts and fried goat cheese appetizer has been the only dish that I’ve tried that was good and worth the price. I want to love this place, but I’ve been let down 3 times. Service can be spotty and the menu, while creative, seems to fall flat when it comes to vegetarian items. Guacamole tacos and veggie sandwich are boring. They have Modelo-battered fish tacos; why not serve Modelo-battered avocado tacos instead of guacamole? I tried a bite of my friend’s veggie pot pie—delicious, but a little pricey at $11.47.

Price range: $8-27
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Sam’s Chinese Restaurant

The bright, can’t-miss-it yellow house that Sam’s Chinese has occupied for about nine years is now a pale green color that still stands out on

Shanghai Tofu

Shanghai Tofu

Yandell and Langtry Street. Throughout the years, not much has changed including the menu, which offers typical Hunan and Mandarin items divided by protein choices. Sam’s continues to be a lunch hotspot with 26 specials, all under $5, including soup and rice.

Appetizers include egg rolls, avocado rolls, crab rangoon and a scallion cake that’s more like an Asian quesadilla, with crispy round spring roll wrappers instead of tortillas sandwiching fried egg rather than cheese. Diners can choose from standards like kung pao chicken, beef with black bean sauce, mu shu pork, shrimp in spicy garlic sauce and rice and noodle dishes. Tofu lovers will enjoy the Shanghai Tofu smothered in a savory brown sauce with fresh jalapeno slices and steamed broccoli. Special dishes include walnut shrimp, mango beef or chicken, spicy eggplant with basil and more. Rice is sold separately from plates, but won’t break the bank at sixty-five cents per steamed and a dollar per fried serving.

Word of mouth, affordable prices, ample servings, and a central location have kept Sam’s open for almost a decade. Free delivery is offered within a 5-mile radius, surcharge and order minimum for over 5 miles.

Bonus Veg Snob Notes: Like most Asian restaurants, this one is vegan friendly. Five years ago, this was my favorite Chinese restaurant in El Paso. A recent visit found it rundown with slow service, but food was still fresh, good, and cheap.

Price range: $4-8.50
samschineseelpaso.com 
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