Review: Saigon Taste

This review was originally published in the Tiempo Dining Out section of the El Paso Times on November 8, 2013 as part of a series of monthly reviews that feature vegetarian friendly restaurants in the El Paso region.

With only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants sprinkled throughout El Paso, Saigon Taste has been a godsend for the past six years in West El Paso. The restaurant is deceptively larger than the front would indicate. A fish tank, simple décor, ample seating, and two televisions at each end of the long restaurant welcome you in.

The menu is so overwhelmingly extensive, you may want to order from the vegetarian menu just to help narrow down choices. Even so, it’s difficult to choose from more than 10 options. It’s best to start off with an appetizer, No. 69 goi cuon chay, to buy time to peruse the menu. Two spring rolls wrapped in rice paper are stuffed with fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, rice vermicelli noodles and a large slice of fried tofu. Expertly rolled, the contents don’t spill out everywhere. The rolls come with a thick, house-made peanut sauce that adds much flavor to the fresh rolls.

spring rolls saigon taste

Like most Vietnamese restaurants, pho (usually pronounced fu, like fun) is their signature and most popular dish. With so many pho options, it’s almost a blessing for vegetarians to be restricted to No. 60 pho chay, the veggie pho. Your server will ask if you want steamed or fried tofu and beef or veggie broth. The large bowl of steaming, fragrant soup is both daunting and comforting. Generous portions of rice noodles, blocks of tofu and fresh vegetables swim in the flavorful broth that has hints of star anise and chile heat. In the soup are carrot, broccoli, Napa cabbage, red bell pepper and scallions. The fun thing about pho is that you get to dress it with various fresh garnishes, chile paste, Sriracha or hoisin sauce. Garnishes consist of bean sprouts, cilantro, fresh jalapeño slices and onions. Sadly, Thai basil and other fresh herbs typically served at pho restaurants in other cities are missing here.

Saigon Taste Veggie Pho

#60. Pho Chay (veggie Pho) This is a cell phone pic because I of course forgot to check the battery on my camera.

Many of the vegetarian dishes have similar ingredients but different sauces, which aren’t described on the menu. Two clay pot dishes differ in name and price, but not in size. The waitress convinced me that No. 66 was much more flavorful, with its spicy, teriyaki-like sauce. Steamed rice accompanied by lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro and, I think, shredded daikon arrived first. Shortly, a small pot arrived with sizzling cubes of tofu and caramelized white onions topped with green onions and fresh jalapeño slices. The dark, garlicky sweet soy sauce created a caramelized coating on the tofu that was really flavorful and not cloying. My only nitpick was that I thought I detected a slight taste of fish sauce or shrimp paste, but the waitress assured me there was none in the dish.

clay pot tofu saigon taste

clay pot tofu saigon taste 2

#66

 

Other notable, recommended dishes: No. 61 stir fried rice vermicelli with tofu and vegetables, No. 65 coconut curry, and No. 68 Vietnamese crepe filled with tofu and vegetables, with house soy sauce. No. 67 is an especially intriguing dish with lemon grass vegetarian “chicken,” which is actually dried bean curd sheets, often referred to as tofu skin, rehydrated, cut up and stir-fried.

Vietnamese dessert options and boba teas are available, but I skipped them since service, while courteous, was somewhat slow and absent at times. Beer and wine are also available.

While pho in El Paso isn’t as cheap as other cities, Saigon Taste is a great getaway from the food norm and busyness of life. Don’t be surprised if you’re craving it on a daily or weekly basis.

Saigon Taste on Urbanspoon

Sunday Bloody Sunday

One of the best places to get a Bloody Mary in El Paso on a Sunday afternoon is Hope and Anchor. They also have one of the best patios. On Sunday Bloody Sundays, you get to create your perfect bloody by filling out a card with your specifications and indicating if you would like a complimentary grilled cheese sandwich. Yup. $5 gets you a bloody and a grilled cheese. It’s real cheese, too. None of that processed cheese—not that there’s anything wrong with that (there’s a time and a place for everything).

 

I like that you can choose tomato juice, because most places in El Paso use Clamato by default, which apparently is actually called a Bloody Caesar. A recent visit to H&A left me empty handed. Well, not too empty handed—I ordered Uinta’s Wyld Pale Ale, which is excellent, by the way. Do you know how annoying it is to make one Bloody Mary, much less twenty? There’s like a million ingredients in there. So, H&A has cleverly pre-made their own Bloody Mary/Caesar mixes. The only problem is that it now has Worcestershire sauce already in it, which means it’s now unsuitable for vegetarians due to the anchovies. Don’t go boycotting them or anything, I think it was an off day and they just ran out of extra tomato juice to make a separate drink.

 

FYI, you can get a Bloody Mary at Eloise with vegan Worcestershire sauce! If they’re out, just order it sans the Worcestershire. Naima, who commented below, reminded me about Bloody Marias, where use tequila instead of vodka. This in turn reminded me that Eloise has some great vodka and tequila infusions like tomato basil, peppers, pineapple serrano, and more.

 

…and if you’re still searching for that perfect Bloody or are too hungover to leave the house, try this recipe! It is the holy grail of Bloodies and you can go to town with the garnishes. Sprouts carries two brands of vegan Worcestershire sauce that are less than $4: Wan Ja Shan and Annie’s.
bloody mary top
It’s a lot of ingredients, but once you get them all set up, you dump them in the shaker and it’s done and totally worth it. Smoky, sweet, and perfectly balanced. I think you can get away with leaving out the horseradish and chipotle, but to me, the barbecue sauce and lemon juice are essential.
It takes a village to make a great Bloody Mary.

It takes a village to make a great Bloody Mary. I couldn’t find my cool glass olive picks, so I used a child’s chopstick.

Smoky BBQ Bloody Mary

This recipe was perfect, I didn’t alter anything. The first time I made it, I was out of horseradish, so I used horseradish mustard, and it came out great! I found the recipe here at CHOW.
2 ounces vodka
4 ounces tomato juice (I used 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 4 oz. water)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh or prepared horseradish
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes or more hot sauce, such as Tabasco
Pinch of kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper or a ton
1 teaspoon barbecue sauce
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
Pinch of celery seeds
Ice

 

Combine all of the ingredients except garnishes in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Shake to combine, and then strain over fresh ice into a highball glass.
Garnish options: celery stalks, cucumber and carrot spears, olives, pickles, cilantro, pepperoncini, cheese cubes, bacon, and my favorite, Primal vegan jerky strips. Pictured is the hickory smoke flavor.
bloody mary tall
bloody mary celery

Tofu Scramble Hits EPTX

It’s here you guys! The tofu scramble is starting to trend in El Paso! Let me know if I missed any places and if you know of any Las Cruces spots.

As of March 2014, you can find tofu scramble (or something similar) at the following El Paso establishments:

Opus World Bistro
Tofu scramble is available by request during their Sunday Brunch Buffet from 10:30 am-2 pm.

It’s pricey, but worth it. Visit their site for a 10% off coupon. Endless mimosas or sangria (they have vegan wines), cold dishes including salads, hot sides, a pasta station, cheese and fruit table, and a ridiculous amount of desserts were the veg offerings when I went for my birthday. I asked about other vegan options and they told me that they have a tofu scramble with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. It was really simple and good! Later on during my visit, I overheard them telling a customer they had other vegan options in the back like squash blossom something and a chocolate cake. Either I asked the wrong waiter or I’m just not in the cool kids club!  *sigh*

Eloise
Puebla Poblano available every day during food service hours.

I thought I disliked poblanos until I had this fantastic brunch dish at Eloise. It’s not really a scramble, but more of a tofu and mushroom saute, stuffed inside a roasted poblano with avocado. It’s now on the breakfast menu which is available all day and comes with white beans (used to be on the weekend brunch menu).

The Green Ingredient
Tofu scramble is served Monday-Friday from 7-10:30 am.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure it’s as delicious as all their other menu items. You get organic tofu, asparagus, carrots, green onions, tomatoes, and their house-blend of spices. FYI: I was shocked when I was charged $3.50 for a coffee to go. I understand that it’s from Picacho Roasters, French press, and very good, but you can get Picacho coffee from Hello Day, Kinley’s, and Eloise for almost half that price!

The Hoppy Monk
Veggie Monk Hash served during brunch on Saturdays from 11 am-3 pm and Sundays from 11 am-4 pm.

Pumpkin, black beans, corn, and spices make up one of the best house-made veggie burgers in town. Now serving brunch on Sundays, The Hoppy Monk has incorporated their Veggie Monk veggie patty into a delicious hash. The patty is broken up and mixed with potatoes atop their River Ale Apricot Habanero wing sauce. It’s a little spicy and sweet, hitting all the right flavor notes. Tofu scramble is served alongside the hash with your choice of a side. They just might get my vote for best vegan brunch this year.

Tacoholics
Okay, this isn’t necessarily tofu scramble and it doesn’t really count as breakfast or brunch, but they do open at 11 am, Tuesday-Saturday.

I always have to plug Tacoholics, because their tofu tacos are amazing! They’re the closest thing we’ve got to a vegetarian breakfast taco sans the egg, besides Taco Cabana. I just need them to get on the vegetarian bean wagon- refried or whole, I ain’t picky.

Top left: Tacoholics. Middle: Brunch Buffet @ Opus. Top right: Breakfast taco @ home. Lower lieft: Veggie Monk Hash @ Hoppy Monk. Loer right: Puebla Poblano @ Eloise.

Top left: Tacoholics. Middle: Brunch Buffet @ Opus. Top right: Breakfast taco @ home. Lower left: Veggie Monk Hash @ Hoppy Monk. Lower right: Puebla Poblano @ Eloise.

Year in Review: 2013

2013yearinreview.jpg

El Paso’s food scene has been picking up momentum for the last few years, and 2013 showed no sign of slowing down. El Pasoans witnessed downtown’s restaurant scene balloon; more chains dotted the landscape, while local and sustainable food came to the fore. El Paso’s biggest trends weren’t foods, but rather expansion and downtown. Sadly, we also said goodbye to landmark establishments like Smitty’s BBQ and some newcomers that didn’t even last the year.

Downtown booms

2013’s biggest buzzword was downtown revitalization, so it’s no surprise that many businesses opened new or second locations in Central El Paso. Hello Day Café, Sparrow’s, Café Italia, Valentine’s Kitchen, Grocery Gallery, Anson 11, Starbucks, La Feria, Hong Kong Express and Pint & Peanut Public House were newcomers to the downtown scene. Last Thursdays Downtown was so successful that the Last Saturdays Downtown Melt event was created during the summer. A coalition of local establishments and restaurants, partner for a monthly walk featuring specials, live music and after-parties. It’s going to be exciting to see what new businesses and events 2014 will bring with the baseball stadium opening soon.

Hummus takeover

This humble Mediterranean staple is now practically a requirement in American restaurants and households. While most El Paso restaurants serve the traditional chickpea-based dip as an appetizer, some took creative liberties. Eloise used roasted red beets, Basico Bistro added artichokes and sundried tomato pesto, Tom’s subbed lima beans for southern flair, and Block Table & Tap threw in spiced eggplant, creating a baba ganoush-hummus hybrid.

Burgers go gourmet

Burgers are always in style, but 2013 saw the opening of two new burger joints and a slew of creative toppings. Crave and Hoppy Monk continued to wow diners with their weekly burger features and specials. Palomino Tavern began serving burgers and celebrated December with the 12 days of $2 decadent burgers. Crave Kitchen & Bar’s ownership trio opened Independent Burger at the Montecillo development. Their burgers are made with grass-fed beef, local produce and buns from a Belle Sucre. Create Food Truck, known for its gourmet burgers, set roots with their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Steveo’s Eat & Drink, located on N. Lee Trevino. In 2012, the trendiest burger topper was a fried egg. This year, chorizo was prevalent.

Pizza spreads

Pizza is yet another staple that’s always in style, but 2013 seemed to be the year of pizza in El Paso. Cafe Italia and Sparrow’s Spirits and Pies opened second locations downtown. The former specializes in Italian pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, while the latter is the only place in town serving up Chicago deep-dish pies. Little Luna joined the fleet of local food trucks. Chef Ruli opened his second restaurant called Unruli’s Pizza and Pints. Regional craft beers from Texas and New Mexico accompany quirky items like beer can chicken and the Asian-inspired green curry pizza. The Geske group took over Rita’s Bar and Grill to create Nona’s Pizza Bar, where you can buy the whole pie or just the slice. Cicala Italian Pizza opened up at the end of the year at Fort Boulevard.

Tacos get funky

In the sea of Mexican restaurants, tacos aren’t as big in El Paso as they are in Austin, land of the breakfast taco. But this year, more funky taco creations popped up. Tacoholics continued to revel in success and popularity, scoring three “best of” awards from What’s Up, The City and the Vegetarian Society of El Paso. Takorexico broke into the food truck scene with its blend of Korean and Mexican tacos, burritos and bowls. The most unique project had to be the Kosher Tacos Food Truck. Funded by an MCAD grant, the Jewish Federation of El Paso and the B’nai Zion Congregation, the truck combined art, history and food. Diners were able to learn about Crypto-Judaism while enjoying a delicious fusion of Jewish and Mexican cuisines. El Luchador Taqueria & Bar joined the Eastside dining scene, serving up more than 10 varieties of tacos, from classics to duck and rattlesnake. Luchador also has plans of opening a second location downtown.

Honorable mentions: pork belly, kale, quinoa, falafel and craft beer (see: beer dinners at restaurants and “keep the glass” nights)

Cocktail Ingredient of the Year: Cucumber Everything

Cucumber shots, martinis and margaritas were ubiquitous at both restaurants and bars. Some incorporated fresh cucumbers while others used infused liquors. You could find vodka or tequila spiced up with a chile rim, lime and sometimes jalapeños.

2014 Forecast

  • An even bigger emphasis on local, including hyper-local. Two places are already demonstrating what hyper-local is all about. New nonprofit The Mustard Seed Cafe grows its own vegetables, and Hope and Anchor makes some of its cocktails with herbs from the bar’s garden.
  • A focus on creating healthy menu options for kids. The City’s Health Department launched the Eat Healthy El Paso campaign and has already worked with several local restaurants to revamp their children’s menus.
  • Sandwich upgrades. Maybe 2014 will focus less on over-the-top burgers and place some creative twists on classic sandwiches. Eloise breaks all rules with their vegan Reuben sandwich, ditching the corned beef and Swiss for avocado.
  • Dessert hybrids. Cronuts, NYC’s donut-croissant hybrid that became the nation’s biggest 2013 trend, came to El Paso in the form of the Cronot courtesy of Belle Sucre Bakery. Will 2014 bring more decadent hybrids guaranteed to wreck your resolutions?

This article originally appeared in the January 8, 2014 issue of What’s Up Weekly.

Thanksgiving Repackaged

Thanksgiving came late this year, yet it still seems to have snuck up on us. In an effort to keep Christmas at bay and tackle the leftovers, let’s look to the handheld Thanksgiving feast for strength. We’re talking about sandwiches that are inspired by Thanksgiving leftovers, loaded with all the fixins. In some cases, the portable feast’s vessel is a tortilla, hot dog, egg roll, or pizza. Some restaurants serve them year-round, while others only offer them seasonally…

…continue reading on the Urbanspoon Blog.

No leftover turk'y? No problem! Make sides into #tacos! Mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, & French onions. Squash casserole. Side of lentils. No frijoles  #mexicanproblems #vegetarian

No leftover turk’y? No problem! Make sides into tacos! Left: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, & French onions. Right: Squash casserole. No frijoles, so I had to settle for lentils. #mexicanproblems

As usual, I’m jealous of Austin because their co-op has a vegan Thanksgiving hot bar and Counter Culture has a Thanksgiving sandwich. And now my envy turns to Columbus, OH. Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace offers Tofurky hot dogs as an option in any hot dog!

While there weren’t any vegetarian options in El Paso, I was happy to see that a couple of local restaurants got in the spirit and made some fun repackaged creations. The Hoppy Monk featured a Turducken Burger with brie cheese and cranberry aioli. The burger had ground turkey stuffed with seared chicken breast and topped with duck bacon. The Pizza Joint featured The Feast, which had turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, fried onions, and cranberries.

While El Paso waits for vegetarian Thanksgiving menu items, you can draw inspiration from the nationwide restaurants mentioned in my post for the Urbanspoon blog. I plan on creating some awesome tacos soon with leftover Gardein Turk’y cutlets (El Pasoans, you can find them at Target) I have in the freezer. In the meantime, I threw some of my side dish leftovers into a corn tortilla last week. They were delicious.

Review: Carlos & Mickey’s

This review was originally published in the Tiempo Dining Out section of the El Paso Times on September 27, 2013 as part of a series of monthly reviews that feature vegetarian friendly restaurants in the El Paso region.

Both lauded and disparaged, Carlos & Mickey’s is still usually one of the first places El Pasoans will recommend to visitors. The restaurant and cantina is legendary for its history, decor, mariachis and, of course, the Texas-sized margaritas, which are now limited to one per person. It’s also one of the few local Mexican establishments that’s very vegetarian friendly.

The customary salsa is brought to your table, but instead of chips, they serve a basket of whole tostadas. It’s awkward having to break them up yourself. And worse, you now know exactly how many whole fried tortillas you’ve eaten. The salsa is lackluster and overpowered by too much cumin, but the heat from the jalapeños and hunger save it from being a total miss.

Vegetarian appetizer options include cheese quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, guacamole and nachos (the refried beans are cooked in vegetable oil). In case you’re wondering, the tostadas in the nachos are cut into triangles.

If you’re of legal drinking age, it’s pretty much a requirement to have one of their famous margaritas. C&M has won local publication What’s Up Weekly’s Best Margarita award for three consecutive years. They can be ordered frozen or on the rocks and come in three sizes — regular, El Paso and Texas. A classic margarita on the rocks from C&M is refreshing and has a good balance of sweet and sour, with a hint of saltiness. There are also 10 flavored margaritas to choose from, including prickly pear and pomegranate, but those two are syrup-based. If you go the flavor route, I recommend ordering strawberry or mango, which use fresh fruit. The frozen strawberry margarita masks the liquor pretty well and is sweet, but not cloying.

The large menu has a section dedicated to vegetarian items, which also happen to be the most affordable section. The cucumber cocktail, a vegan version of their shrimp cocktail, makes a fresh and creative precursory course. Diced cucumbers, pineapple and shredded lettuce swim in a peppery, spicy tomato-based cocktail sauce made in house. The large goblet, easily shareable between two, is topped with avocado slices, a celery stalk, and carrot stick with a side of saltine crackers. It’s a unique combination of sweet, tangy, spicy flavors and tender, crunchy textures.

Each time I’ve dined there, they were sold out of the caldo de verduras. The vegetable soup is accompanied by rice and Charlie Brown beans (whole pinto beans). This visit was no different, so I ordered the veggie chimichanga with rice, beans, sour cream, and guacamole.

C&M is the only place I know of in El Paso that has a vegetarian chimichanga on the menu. It comes with your choice of beans or veggies wrapped in a flour tortilla, deep-fried and smothered in red chile sauce, which can be topped with melted cheese at an additional cost. Creamy green sauce is another option but is not vegetarian (contains chicken product).

The vegetable medley inside the chimichanga is sautéed bell peppers, green chile, green onions, white onions, tomatoes, carrots and celery. I appreciate the variety of vegetables, but would have preferred squash and corn rather than carrots and celery. The sauce is a deep red color and thick, similar to mole, and had a good kick, but needed more flavor like garlic or oregano. The same sauce is on the red cheese enchiladas, another veg option even though it’s not listed under vegetarian items.

Tender white rice studded with cilantro is a welcome change from the standard mushy tomato rice served at most local Mexican restaurants. Refried beans are topped with cheese, and are some of the best I’ve had in El Paso. The creamy beans’ flavor shines through and has a perfectly thick consistency.

Classic Mexican American dessert fare is available such as sopaipillas, fried ice cream, homemade flan and cheesecake. Carlos & Mickey’s provides a lively, historic atmosphere where vegetarians can join the party with more than just a margarita, chips and salsa.

Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey's on Urbanspoon

Introducing the El Paso BV Awards!

bv logo

El Paso’s Vegetarian and Vegan Food Scene has grown so much, it’s time to host our own Best Vegetarian Food of El Paso awards! I was inspired by What’s Up’s Best of the Best Awards and the Vegan Best of Austin Poll by the Vegans Rock Austin group. The Vegetarian Society of El Paso and I have come up with over 20 categories for you to vote on or write in your own nominations. The deadline to vote is Monday, November 4, 2013. Winners will be announced at the Compassionate Thanksgiving Dinner on November 9. Reservation deadline for the dinner is Tuesday, November 5.

Vote at www.surveymonkey.com/s/BestofVeg2013

For those who won’t be attending the dinner like myself, I’d like to organize a little meetup/announcement party. I just need to pick a place, date, and time. Would anyone be interested in attending or participating? What day/time would be best? I was thinking maybe Sunday, November 10 or Monday November 11 at around 6 or 7 pm at Bowie Feathers  since it’s downtown and we would be able to order food from Hello Day Cafe, which has vegan & vegetarian options. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook (El Paso Veg Snob) or Twitter (@epvegsnob).

Here’s the ballot for you to preview or print out:

Review: Tosca Pizzeria

This review was originally published in the Tiempo Dining Out section of the El Paso Times on August 23, 2013 as part of a series of monthly reviews that feature vegetarian friendly restaurants in the El Paso region.

I love when franchises I’m not fond of close down to make way for local businesses that have great food with a variety of vegetarian options. This was the case when San Francisco Oven on the westside closed down and Tosca opened in its place. The owners of Tosca worked closely with the owner and kitchen staff of Sunset Pizzeria (unfortunately now closed) to replicate and reinvent the recipes. The result was a different, much larger menu that combines flavors that reflect our city’s diverse culture.

The setup and atmosphere at Tosca is somewhere between a fast casual chain and a nice Italian restaurant. As you walk in, you’re greeted by both the ordering and payment counter. It can be overwhelming to have to look at menus posted on the front and left walls, as well as a whiteboard with specials. I suggest you grab one of the menus on the counter and sit down to look everything over. Then, you can revisit the counter to order without pressure, pay and seat yourself while you wait for your food to be brought out to you.

Small Plate: Bruschetta Pizzette

Small Plate: Bruschetta Pizzette

Everything at Tosca is made in house—from the sandwich breads and pizza crust (also available in whole wheat), to the sauces and salad dressings. Appetizers include small plates of mini pizettes, mini paninis, spinach dip, and hummus and roasted vegetables served with pita. The bruschetta pizzette is a roasted garlic and cheese encrusted mini pizza topped with fresh diced tomatoes, basil and a balsamic reduction drizzled on top. Everything tasted great save for the balsamic, which was overpowering and had a burnt taste.

The unique sandwich selection overshadows the pizza offerings, and each comes with red cabbage salad or roasted red potatoes that are perfectly cooked and seasoned with rosemary and spices. Tosca excels at creating zippy, flavorful condiments and sauces that make each sandwich notable.

The Vegan Pita has romesco, red pepper hummus, cucumbers, greens

Pita

Vegan Pita

and vegan tzatziki on pita bread. The tzatziki is a refreshing combination of cucumbers, mint, dill, garlic, and Tofutti brand sour cream in place of traditional yogurt. The other veg pita options are the Mediterranean Pita (baba ganoush (eggplant dip), greens, tomatoes, pesto, swiss, feta, almonds, and tzatziki) and the Portabella (portabella, shiitake, greens, sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic, balsamic).

If you’d rather have a sandwich with heartier bread, try the Hum Vee. A generous amount of wilted spinach, hummus, and roasted zucchini is sandwiched between warm, grilled panini bread that’s crisp on the outside and soft inside.

The Hum Vee

The Hum Vee

The Calzone De La Nona is not to be missed and is large enough to split with someone. Beautifully puffed up pizza dough is stuffed with a flavorful combination of mozzarella, ricotta, pesto, artichoke hearts, zucchini, and a three olive medley.

While the pizza doesn’t quite taste the same as Sunset (the difference in ovens could be to blame), the kinks at their initial opening have been worked out and the flavor is more comparable. Pizzas are individual-sized, but can easily be shared between two people. Four vegetarian pizzas are offered with a white roasted garlic base and mozzarella, or you can create your own pizza with a red marinara base with mozzarella. My favorite is the Spinach Sun dried tomato with ricotta and basil.

Don’t forget to check on the daily specials on the whiteboard, which includes combos and featured items like the Mean Green Lasagna. A quirky combination of green chile, serrano peppers, pesto, pine nuts, zucchini and cheeses manages to work well together creating a pleasing flavor that’s not too spicy. Other oven-baked pastas are available as well.

A large variety of elegant homemade desserts like Mango Mousse Cake, Tiramisu, cheesecakes, and more are on display at the counter, or you can keep it simpler with brownies, cookies, and peach empanadas.

In the course of a year, Tosca continues to serve tasty, affordable food, and now has wine and domestic and craft bottled beers. With a variety of vegan and vegetarian options, a kid’s menu and a casual atmosphere, Tosca is the perfect gathering place.

Tosca Stone Oven Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Happy National Taco Day 2013!

It pisses me off that Austin has a way better taco scene than El Paso. They’ve already got so much going for them foodwise, why couldn’t we have it? We should be a triple threat with our unique border location. We’re next to old and New Mexico. Anyways, enough rant. Let’s get to National Taco Day 2013!

Taco Cleanse
Did you guys follow this year’s Vegan MoFo (Month of Food) posts? Or have you been hearing about the latest, revolutionary cleanse diet? Lazy Smurf and Lone Star Plate of Austin have taken taco eating to the ultimate level. They created the taco cleanse and ate tacos for an entire month. There’s levels and taco scientists and a book! The book has information, games, and recipes! You can order a digital or print copy online at Rabbit Food Grocery.

Tacoholics
The good news is that our taco scene is slowly being revived, and I think you can pretty much thank Tacoholics for that. They not only brought their interpretation of Korean BBQ tacos to El Paso, but they’re also making some outstanding classics. I might be a little biased since they’ve always offered tofu versions of the meat versions, but they really are that tasty, especially the salsas! Hit em up today and don’t forget about $1 tacos every Tuesday. They started out as a food truck and still bring the truck out once in awhile, but you’ll find them in a quirky location these days inside the Exxon gas station at 7450 Gateway East at Hunter.

I celebrated Record Store Day 2013 with records & tacos!

The best tacos & salsas in town!

Takorexico
This year brought a new solar-powered food truck in town that does fusion food to the max. Their menu is creative and a little over the top. They’ve got takos, burritos, tostadas, bowls and flautas. The vegetarian filling for their creations is Mexilafel, a combination of chickpeas, avocado, jalapeno, cucumber and cilantro.  I tied a Mexilafel bowl a couple of months ago at the Downtown Artist and Farmers Market. Everything was really tasty, but I felt a little overwhelmed by so many flavors. I had a stomachache after eating it, and I have no idea if it was from fusion overload or slightly undercooked rice. Also, the bowl came with kimchi, and I don’t think it’s vegetarian because it tasted really fishy. Next time I’ll stick with tacos and pass on the kimchi. You can catch them downtown at Foodville today from 11 am-2 pm.

Veggie Mexilafel Bowl at Takorexico

Veggie Mexilafel Bowl at Takorexico

El Luchador Taqueria and Bar *not veg friendly*
El Luchador 915 is the newest taco kid in town serving up more than 10 varieties, from classics to duck and rattlesnake. They opened last month on the eastside at 1613 N. Zaragoza. I’ve heard really good and really bad things about them. Their menu sounds interesting and fun, but there are no vegetarian options. What is this, El Paso in the 90′s? They’ve got rattlesnake, but they can’t even throw in some sort of veg taco?

Other places to get a veg taco fix in El Paso:

  • The Riviera. Get three tacos; one bean, one avocado & one potato (everyone’s favorite). I order them steamed.
  • Leo’s. Guacamole tacos. I also order them steamed here, or I think their term is unfried.
  • Star City Kitchen. Guacamole tacos. They also recently started a Taco Tuesday special where you can try them for a dollar. Haven’t tried them yet.
  • Steveo’s. Tempura battered nopal and hongos (cactus & mushrooms) with jicama slaw and roasted red pepper aioli. This is a cool new place on the eastside and Create food truck’s brick and mortar restaurant. Haven’t tried the tacos yet, but their guacamole is delicious. It’s really citrusy.
  • Taco Cabana. I know it’s a chain, but I LOVE good ol’ TC. They have black bean tacos, but I like getting a bowl because I hate that the tacos have more rice than beans and no guacamole. BTW, they already celebrated National Taco Day on Tuesday.
  • Chipotle. Another chain, but they’ve got great vegan/vegetarian options, and don’t charge vegetarians extra for guacamole. I heard their pinto beans will no longer contain bacon. Also, sofritas have hit Colorado! I hope Texas is next.

Let me know what your favorite tacos are and if I missed any other places in town. Or you can just make your own tacos at home. Links to my previous taco posts:

Taco Tuesday: Tacos de Camote y Salsa Aguacate

For some reason I thought that the stars had aligned, making today National Taco Day. I’m not sure how I got this in my head, but it turns out it’s actually this Friday, October 4. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Taco Tuesday post. To make up for it, I’ve got an extra special one for you. This is my new favorite salsa and taco filling. Recipes follow.

Tacodeli Fiasco
Last month when I was in Austin I ate at Tacodeli. I went to the one on Lamar, which looked like a fast casual chain, but it’s actually local with three locations. What’s cool is that everything is organic, right down to their coffee and soda fountain. The first location opened in 1999 and has received multiple best tacos in Austin awards. They also placed first in the Austin Hot Sauce Festival, and I found out why. The Salsa Dona was out of this world. It reminded me of Taco Tote’s salsa aguacate (avocado), but way hotter and tastier.

When we arrived, it was packed and I understood we would have to wait a bit, but they were cranking out orders fast and people that arrived after us were getting their food. After 30 minutes it turned out that they had misplaced our order, so they gave us complimentary chips and queso. About ten minutes later they called my name, but didn’t actually hand us our food. I inquired again, and now they accidentally made it to go, were going to fix it, and ended up setting it aside AGAIN! They finally gave us our food and guess what? A couple of the tacos were missing ingredients. Good grief. We didn’t say anything since we were starving from not having eaten in 24 hours (I’ll have to blog about that another time).

Papadulce (left), The Heather (right)

Papadulce (left), The Heather (right). To go for here.

So, how were the tacos?
Tacodeli has 6 vegetarian tacos to choose from that range in cost from $2.95-3.50. I chose The Heather on whole wheat and Papadulce on corn. The Heather has grilled Mexican queso fresco, refried black beans, with guacamole, lettuce and tomato.  It was okay. There were hardly any beans and I could hardly taste them. The grilled queso fresco grossed me out because it had an eggy texture. Papadulce has oven roasted sweet potatoes (camote), grilled corn, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, toasted pepitas & a chipotle camote sauce. This one was pretty tasty and is the inspiration behind the following recipe.

Score! Sort of.
So we scored some free breakfast taco coupons and a $5 gift card even though we told them we didn’t live there. And of course we never got the chance to use them during our visit. Fortunately, we stayed with some friends on our last day and gave them our freebies.

Fresh Tortillas from Canutillo. What do little yellow apples have to do with corn tortillas? Who knows, who cares, it's so cute!

Fresh Tortillas from Canutillo. What do little yellow apples have to do with corn tortillas? Who knows, who cares, it’s cute!

Finally, the recipes.
If you live in El Paso, you can find all of the ingredients in this recipe at Mando’s Produce on Doniphan, and it’ll cost you less than $10. Don’t forget to grab some fresh, warm tortillas from the coolers on the left side of the store as you walk in. Every time I visit Mando’s, I look through all the Goya products and debate purchasing one of the jarred Peruvian pepper pastes. Well, Lazy Smurf blogged about the aji amarillo paste during the Taco Cleanse, and that finally pushed me to go through with it. It’s an interesting flavor with some good heat. It pretty much tastes like pickled peppers pureed into an ultra smooth paste.

Thanks Javier and Texas Monthly!

Thanks Javier and Texas Monthly!

Javier’s Salsa de Aguacate (Creamy Avocado Sauce)
This recipe was adapted from Texas Monthly. I quartered the recipe and added water to make it smoother, which made about a cup.

½-1 clove garlic
3-4 tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and quartered
1-2 serranos, stemmed and coarsely chopped (I didn’t seed it)
salt to taste
1 thin slice of an onion, chopped
1 ripe avocado, peeled and coarsely chopped
Juice of ½ a lime
¼ cup water
About a handful of cilantro, chopped

Mince or grate the garlic. Place the garlic in a blender or processor, along with the tomatillos, serranos, a couple of pinches of salt, and onion. Blend, using short pulses. Set aside in a bowl. Add avocado to processor, along with small batches of the tomatillo salsa, the lime juice and water. Do not overprocess. Add more water if you want a thinner consistency. Place in a bowl, stir in cilantro and season with more salt if necessary.

camote collage

Tacos de Camote (sweet potato)
Makes enough filling for about 6 tacos, depending how much you stuff them. If you can’t find aji amarillo paste, just omit it or use canned chipotle in adobo sauce, chili powder, or chile powder.

3 small sweet potatoes or yams, peeled & cut into ½ inch cubes (you should have about 3-4 cups)
¼-½ an onion, halved and thinly sliced (or just omit if you hate onion, but it does get caramelized)
1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cumin (I like the ground cumin seed powder from World Market)
a few pinches of smoked paprika
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in sauté pan (I used a nonstick wok). Add the onions and cook them for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes or yams and the remaining ingredients. Stir until evenly coated, and cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat or add a little water if the potatoes are drying out too much or getting burnt. If the potatoes still aren’t soft, cover and cook an additional 5-10 minutes. You want the potatoes to be very soft and caramelized. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. I thought the paste added enough seasoning, so I didn’t add any salt.

Coarsely mash the potatoes and serve them in corn tortillas. Top with salsa and pepitas. I used roasted and salted pepitas. It’s up to you if you want to use raw or roasted.

Taco de Camote open

Taco de Camote folded