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

PotAuFeuElPaso.com
Facebook.com/potaufeu.elpaso

Pot Au Feu on Urbanspoon

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.
www.magicbistroelp.com
Facebook.com/magicbistro
Magic Bistro on Urbanspoon

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
facebook.com/starcitykitchenandbar
Star City Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

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 
Sam's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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

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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!

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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: