Harvest Chowder

So far, El Paso has been treated to some unusually great spring weather. We are used to windy-dusty-allergy-infested springs, but instead it’s been warm, then cool with a bit of rain, and now it’s warming up again. In March, the El Paso Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatrightelpaso.org) held its first annual Delicious and Nutritious Recipe Contest. I thought it would be a fun challenge and the $5 entry covered a detailed nutrition analysis of your recipe with tips to make it healthier. Entering a soup recipe with harvest in the title was risky since it’s warm and springtime, but I was thinking more about the ease of transporting and keeping a dish warm if I was to be selected as one of the finalists. Also, soups are easy to make and a great way to sneak in a bunch of veggies.

Well, I was selected as a finalist and ended up winning 2nd place! I was really surprised that I won because a couple of other entries were desserts and I started doubting my entry. 1st place went to shrimp tacos that used a paper thin slice of jicama as the taco shell. I tried the taco shell with the salsas she made, and one was really good because it had vegenaise in it. FYI, Cafe Mayapan sometimes serves tacos with jicama shells and they can probably do a vegetarian version if you ask. 2nd place went to my soup which had sweet potatoes, navy beans, arugula, corn, chipotle. 3rd place went to a nopal salad that had feta cheese and fresh oregano in it. It was really refreshing and the nopales (cactus) had a good texture. I only got to try one of the desserts, which was raw fudge, and it was so good! She will soon be posting her recipes on her sister’s blog Tried and True, but in the meantime you can follow her on Instagram: triedandtruefood. I was waiting until they sent me the nutritional analysis before I posted the recipe, but they never sent it or posted it, so here it is!

harvest chowder aerial

Harvest Chowder

I must admit that this recipe draws inspiration from The Hoppy Monk’s veggie monk burger, except it doesn’t have black beans and isn’t nearly as delicious. I used navy beans instead, because they have a perfectly creamy texture that blend well.

Yields about 4-6 servings
Ingredients:
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced & 1-2 tablespoons of the adobo sauce (La Costena brand)*
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups vegetable broth (I used 1 Rapunzel brand vegetable bouillon no salt added cube diluted in 2 cups boiling water)
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups cooked navy beans or 1 15-oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup or more arugula or your favorite greens or frozen spinach
1/2 tablespoon oil (I used canola)
*if you don’t like chipotle or want to reduce sodium, try using about 1 teaspoon of a mild chile powder or smoked paprika
Optional garnish:
1 poblano pepper
Lime juice from half a lime
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
Preparation Instructions:
  • If using the garnish, roast the poblano on a grill or open flame on stovetop until charred on all sides. Set aside in a covered container to steam and cool.
  • Saute shallots for about 2-3 minutes or until softened. Add sweet potato, cumin, oregano, and chipotle (or paprika or chile powder), and stir and saute for a few more minutes.
  • Add broth, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through and soft.
  • While the soup is cooking prepare the garnish. Peel and rinse the poblano, and dice. Toss poblano with lime juice and cilantro and season with salt and pepper if desired.
  • Add 1 cup of the navy beans to the soup and puree until desired thickness is reached (use an immersion hand blender or transfer soup to a blender).
  • After blending, add frozen corn, greens, and the rest of the beans. Simmer for about 4-6 more minutes, or until greens are wilted and corn is cooked through.
  • Season with salt and pepper if necessary.
  • Serve in bowls topped with garnish.
If you want a richer soup, you can also add a bit of milk or half & half, or top with sour cream and cheese. Other good garnish toppings would be pepitas and tortilla strips or crumbled tostadas.
harvest chowder side

La Semilla Edible Institute

This blog has been neglected for about 3 months, but I promise you I have good excuses. One excuse I am most excited to tell you about is that I submitted a grant proposal to implement seed libraries at all of our El Paso Public Library locations. During the process of writing the grant I came across a workshop offered during EPISD’s spring break. The Edible Education Spring Break Institute was a four day workshop organized by La Semilla Food Center. It was targeted towards teachers on how to incorporate gardening and cooking in the classroom, but they allowed me to register since we offer youth programs at the library. Plus, it totally aligned with the grant I was writing.

La Semilla is a nonprofit group in Anthony, New Mexico that is doing great things for our community, while growing delicious food. They are dedicated to fostering a healthy, self-reliant, fair, and sustainable food system in the Paso del Norte region of Southern New Mexico and El Paso, TX. They teach cooking and garden skills in classrooms, afterschool clubs, and have cooking nights for families. They are currently accepting applications for their really cool summer day camps for K-6. So, if you’ve got $45 and a bored kiddo, sign them up! Visit www.lasemillafoodcenter.org for more details. They operate on a 14 acre demonstration farm, which produces some delicious fruits and vegetables. You can buy their produce on Saturdays at the Downtown Artist & Farmers Market from 9 am-1 pm.

Gemstone Greens. Best & most beautiful salad mix I’ve ever had! They don’t even need dressing.

The institute took place at Bowie High School, which was the perfect setting since they have a student garden that is about a year old. Activities at Bowie Jardines are incorporated into the science, business, and culinary school programs. Throughout the institute, we visited the garden to learn about concepts and apply activities. If this institute is ever offered again and you’re an educator, you NEED to sign up. I know that our Texas school system lives and breathes STAAR testing, but I think it is possible to incorporate some of these activities and concepts into the classroom with little effort. I’m going to implement it into our library youth programs, as we have much more flexibility. Our challenge is that we sometimes lack an audience. Here’s a quick little recap of what we learned and did in photos: Day 1, March 9:

Composting area

For lunch on this day, we broke up into teams and made different massaged kale salads that were all yummy.

    Day 2, March 10:

For lunch on this day, we had a cooking demonstration from Eduardo Bouche, who teaches cooking classes at Creative Kids and at Proper Printshop. He made vegan ceviche where the seafood was replaced with boiled cauliflower. It was refreshing and delicious! You can attend his free vegan cooking classes on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month at 5 pm at Proper Printshop on 800 Montana. Visit epvegan.com for more info.

Day 3, March 11:   

For lunch on this day, we had a super flavorful dish taught by Jacqueline Cordova of The Green Ingredient. We used a spiralizer to make raw zucchini noodles that were tossed in a marinara sauce made from tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and other ingredients. Even though the dish was raw, the “noodles” had a nice toothsome texture that went great with the marinara sauce that could rival a slow-simmered sauce.

The day ended with a field trip to Academy West where Travis Duckworth is doing some really interesting and amazing things to teach and encourage sustainability in our region. El Paso Academy is a 9-12th grade charter school located in both east and west El Paso, but the west location has a huge community garden project going on in their own 1.25-acre backyard. A maze of trenches, composting, an amphitheater, chicken coop, and more all being built by students and the community. Anyone can volunteer to help out during their garden work days that occur every month. To learn more, read this article that appeared in the El Paso Times.

academy west

Academy West

Day 4, March 12:   So, on this day I happened to have an interview for a promotion scheduled following the workshop. I was a ball of nerves the whole morning, but this was my favorite day. We got to plant our own herb gardens and keep them, which totally relaxed me. I even hauled my herb garden with me to the interview at the Main Library. We also learned about traditional foods of the southwest, like nopal, chia, and amaranth. For lunch, Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla demonstrated how to make a salad. As a food blogger and fan of Chef Norbert’s work, you know this was super exciting for me. I learned some new techniques and then ate a salad made with greens that had been harvested from their farm that morning. Talk about fresh!

Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla

Chef Norbert Portillo of Tabla

Year in Review: 2014

A shorter version of this article was first published in the December 31, 2014 issue of What’s Up Weekly.

2014 el paso food collage

1st row, left to right: Cicala’s, Sun Garden Chinese Bistro & Joe, Vinny & Bronson’s. 2nd row: The Mustard Seed Cafe, Southwest University Park & Thai Chef Cafe. 3rd row: Dragonfly, Papa Pita & Tutu’s Burgers

A friend once asked me if there were enough new restaurants in El Paso to write about on a weekly basis. The answer to that question is a quizzical look followed by an emphatic YES. There are almost too many to keep track of. Every single week this past year, there has been at least one new business permit application filed, restaurant opening and food truck debut. It’s an exciting time to live in El Paso, and the 2014 restaurant scene is proof of El Paso’s renaissance.

Many of 2013’s trends spilled over into 2014, namely craft beer and food trucks. The Sun City Craft beer festival was bigger and better in its second year, and the Sun City on Tap festival is set for this month. There seemed to be fewer beer dinners and more pub crawls and tap takeovers. Restaurants and bars are realizing that a haphazard assortment of craft bottled and canned beers isn’t enough anymore; El Pasoans are looking for a well-curated selection of both draught and bottle. Tosca added draught beer to their menu, while Unruli’s Pizza & Pints gained more taps after owners consolidated Rulis’ International Kitchen with Unruli’s (Peking Garden Express took over Ruli’s IK). Craft and Social brought even more life to downtown with a bit of turn of the century whimsy and a thoughtful selection of beers (they even managed to add a sandwich menu midyear). The region’s brewery scene is also set for growth, as Sun City Brewing Co opened in Canutillo, Spotted Dog Brewery in Mesilla and Dead Beach Brewery in downtown still in construction.

Top row: Santa Fe Brewery tap takeover @ Unruli's & Sun Brewing Co in Canutillo. Bottom row: Sun City Craft Beer Fest & Craft & Social

Top row: Santa Fe Brewery tap takeover @ Unruli’s & Sun Brewing Co in Canutillo. Bottom row: Sun City Craft Beer Fest & Craft & Social

The City of El Paso reported 384 vendor licenses this year, and they are thriving with the help of social media, local support and food truck parks. Gabe Padilla, owner of El Paso’s Wurst is at the helm of the weekly Food Truck Circus events, acting as coordinator and promoter. For a list of the food trucks of 2014, complete with links, visit What’s Up.

Pho [insert punny title here]

Pho Tre Bien and Saigon Taste are no longer your only sources for this cure-all soup. Pho So 1 opened two more locations – one on Gateway West near Hunter and most recently, downtown on Paisano. Another eastside provider is Mekong Thai, which specializes in sushi, Thai and Vietnamese food. Opening at the tail end of the year was Photastix, a fast casual Vietnamese restaurant, which replaced Mama Fu’s. Spork, a food truck making “urban drunk food for every palate,” created a fusion pho called Pho King Posole. Eloise’s current menu has a vegan version named Pho-geddaboudit. What the Pho has yet to open near UTEP.

Appy Eats

Businesses haven’t needed a website for the last few years thanks to social media, and this year marked the rise of app-based social media site, Instagram. Local restaurants, bars, food trucks, caterers and grocery stores could all be found on Instagram sharing pics of new dishes, drinks and daily specials. This year also saw the increasing disappearance of the traditional register. In its place, a tablet or smartphone using Square or other app as a point of sale system. Spectrum Solutions designed two free apps available in both iOS and Android marketplaces. Soupfly helps you find nearby health inspection scores of any business that has a kitchen, including daycares. The Food Chasers (the name has been changed to Food Cravers) app is a live food truck directory offering menus, schedules, deals and more. The El Paso Beer Club released the El Paso/Ale Paso app. The craft beer guide helps you find your favorite places, pubs and events ($0.99 in the iOS and Android marketplaces).

Expansion: Sequels & Threequels

The sprawling city has led to the success and expansion of several local entrepreneurs. Many headed east and downtown, while Wing Daddy’s and The Hoppy Monk took their formula to San Antonio. Cafe Italia, Chubby’s Bronx Deli, Tippi Teas, The Pizza Joint, Zino’s, Corralito Steakhouse and Mac’s Place all added locations. The original Cabo Joe’s at Sioux moved to Fuddrucker’s’ former location on Gateway East, making room for the new country bar and BBQ joint, The Tumbleweed Saloon. It was a huge year for the Pan y Agua group, as they unveiled three eateries at their TI:ME at Montecillo shopping center: Hillside Coffee & Donut Co, Malolam Cantina and Stonewood Modern Grill. Their third Crave location at Resler is now open.

Franchise Year

El Pasoans love chains and it appears investors have finally noticed. 2014 said hello to Blake’s Lotaburger, Which Wich, Einstein Bros Bagels, Firehouse Subs, La Madeleine, Kona Grill, Grimaldi’s, French Fry Heaven, Papa Murphy’s, Ojos Locos, Boston Market, TCBY & Mrs. Fields, Nothing Bundt Cakes and Raising Cane’s.

Inaugural Year

Hands down, the ballpark was 2014’s biggest local newsmaker, and the food was no exception. Huevos Rancheros burgers, buffalo chicken and waffle sandwiches, Memphis meets Mexico hotdogs, fried alligator and more could all be found at the concessions. And, who wouldn’t want to eat nachos out of a commemorative dog bowl? Vegetarian options were limited to cheese pizza and a pricey hummus platter. I’d really like to see a veggie dog or brat! Check out my food and pricing guide here>>.

Other Trends

2014 was also the year of businesses constructed out of freight shipping containers (TI:ME & The Coffee Box), veggie menudo, and the Cantina (Cantina Malolam, Mark’s Cantina, Blackbird Cantina Deluxe). Food was also plated on all kinds of unique dishware that included wooden carving boards, slate, galvanized tins, pizza pans, and dog bowls.

Goodbyes

The restaurant industry is rough, and unfortunately every year, we have to say goodbye to both legends and newcomers that didn’t make it to 2015: Sushi Express, Pacifica, Good Coffee (N. Mesa), Haskins House, Opus World Bistro, Campus King, The Percolator, Red Mountain Bistro, Rancher’s Grill (west & UTEP locations), La Feria Grill, Star City Kitchen, Suzu, The Hamburger Stand and Kipp’s Cheesesteak. The Original Blimp had operated for 40 years and Moe’s Restaurant for 60 years.

Update: Found out from my friend John that these Cinci establishments also closed last month: Great American Land & Cattle (only the Cincinnati location), Japanese Kitchen, Yamato, Baba Ghanoush, The Social House Drinkery, and Everyday Gyro.

el paso food collage 2014 pt 2

Top row, left to right: Hillside Coffee & Donut Co, Malolam & Rita’s Jamaican. Middle row: CoLi Wok & Grille, La Casa de Choripan & Tasty Pants Paletas. Bottom row: A2Z Cafe, Craft & Social & Tumbleweed Saloon.

What can we expect in 2015?

Over-the-top hybrids like the Cronut and Ramen Burger seem to be curtailing, with more emphasis on simplicity and health. Juicing options are getting more plentiful in El Paso with the addition of Mom’s Fresh Juices. Perhaps we’ll see restaurants and bars incorporate juices into cocktails and entrees. In 2014, coffee from regional roasters, Picacho (Las Cruces) and Bldg 6 (El Paso), was served at almost every local restaurant, and The Coffee Box began construction in downtown. If 2014 was the year of coffee, maybe 2015 will be the year of tea, if Tippi Teas’ second location and the arrival of The Tea Spout are indicators.

Frozen yogurt shops are still popping up all over town, but we’re probably going to see more artisan ice cream. A gourmet ice cream food truck is definitely missing from the scene, but the summer did produce two fantastic new options- a paleta cart and an ice cream delivery service. Tasty Pants Paletas could be found at the Downtown Farmers Market and other events peddling balsamic strawberries with black pepper mascarpone cream. Ice Creamed Myself Delivery Service is churning Santa’s milk & cookies this season.

2014 EP Veg Snob Greatest Hits

Pictured: Sweet potato chips @ Tutu’s, spinach pappardelle @ Tosca, vegan pozole @ The Mustard Seed, popcorn @ Steve-o’s, veggie burger @ The Green Ingredient, pinball machines @ Funkmeyer’s Rec Room/Tacoholics

Pozole (Take 2)

Three years later, I am finally updating and sharing a second, more improved pozole recipe. Click here to read Pozole (Take 1). It’s not that I’ve spent all that time trying to perfect it, I just hadn’t revisited making pozole until this year. I sort of forgot about it until some local spots reminded and inspired me to make it again.

My annual El Paso food year in review will soon be published, but until then, here’s a recipe and trend watch report in case you don’t want to go through the trouble of making it yourself. In 2014, El Pasoans were treated to three vegetarian versions of menudo/pozole (the difference is explained in Pozole (Take 1)).

  • Joe, Vinny, & Bronson’s Bohemian Cafe

Both meat & vegan menudo is featured every Sunday. This place has a lot of other veg-friendly menu items; make it a 2015 resolution to try it out. I liked this menudo a lot, but found it a little salty for my taste and wanted more hominy. I liked their use of thinly sliced tofu as a stand-in for the tripe. For $5, you get a good-sized bowl with bread.

Veggie Menudo @ JVB with tofu. The bread looks pale because they had run out of butter that day.

Veggie Menudo @ JVB with tofu. The bread looks pale because they ran out of butter that day.

  • The Mustard Seed Cafe

This was one of my favorite places of 2014. You can’t beat delicious, healthy, AND affordable vegetarian food that supports a great cause (they also have meat options). I love that El Paso now has 2 non-profit eateries (Cafe Mayapan is the other). The downside? Very limited hours of operation (Wed-Fri, 11am-2pm). Also, the menu changes every week, which is fun, but a shame if you missed something like pozole, featured only twice this year. The suggested price (it’s pay-what-you-can) was $2 for a cup and $4 for a bowl that came with all the fixins, and you got to choose between green or red, meat or vegan. I decided on red, and it was very good, although it was more like a stew to me, since it was loaded with veggies.

Red pozole @ The Mustard Seed Cafe

Red pozole @ The Mustard Seed Cafe

Also on the menu was garlicky bread from Belle Sucre, corn & black bean salad, & lime pepita cookies (vegan & baked in-house!)

Also on the menu was GARLICKY bread from Belle Sucre, corn & black bean salad, & lime pepita cookies (vegan & baked in-house!). The bread was delicious, but boy, did I have dragon breath for like days.

  • Eloise

This month, Eloise released a new winter menu that debuted newcomer, Menudont. It’s a large bowl of of hominy and seitanic tripe (seitan is “wheat meat” or meat sub made of vital wheat gluten for you nubes). I have yet to try this one, because it is a whopping $13. I’m sure it’s worth it, as it’s a really big bowl and they make the seitan in-house.

pozole take 2

Pozole @ La Casa de Lisa

The Recipe: Vegan Menudo/Pozole

Tips & Ideas:

  • Meat stand-ins: I never liked the meat in there to begin with, so I don’t add any subs in my recipe. If you really want added texture & protein, try seitan, tofu (maybe frozen & then thawed for a chewier texture), tofu skin (dried bean curd sticks), textured vegetable protein, or shitake mushrooms. My Instagram friend @undeadben1 says he takes sliced tofu and fries it in vegan butter until it’s a little crispy, which adds texture and richness.
  • Chile: I can’t find the dried chile pellets at the farmers market anymore and I’m too lazy to make it from scratch. Bueno brand is my favorite and can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. It has no added seasonings. I like using the Special Reserve Premium Red Chile Puree. If you’re going to make your own, all you have to do is remove the stems and seeds from about 4 dried red chiles (guajillo, cascabel, or ancho are the most common used for menudo), submerge them in hot water for about 30 minutes, and blend the chiles, adding enough of the soaking liquid until you get a smooth sauce. Strain it if you don’t want it all cascarudo (as in a bunch of chile skins floating around).
  • Broth: In my opinion, the brand of Edward & Sons Not-Beef boullion cubes are what make my pho and pozole really good.
  • Hominy/Posole: Use canned if you must, but there’s nothing like a slow-simmered soup. The nixtamal is raw and needs to cook for about 2-3 hours, and that’s also what’s going to give you a more authentic broth. Seriously, don’t use canned hominy. Frozen nixtamal is easily found in El Paso grocery stores in the freezer aisle, usually next to the chile or Hispanic products.

This recipe makes a whole pot or about 6 2-cup servings, but you can double it if you’re making it for a big crowd.

8 cups water
4 cups faux beef or vegetable stock (I use 2 Edward & Sons Not-Beef bouillon cubes)
1/2 package (1 lb.) frozen nixtamal (uncooked hominy)
1 14 oz. container of red chile sauce, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½-1 teaspoon salt
olive oil

Garnish ideas: lime, shredded cabbage, dried Mexican oregano, crushed red pepper, cilantro, onion, queso fresco, radishes, etc. Don’t forget the buttered and toasted bread.

In a large pot or dutch oven, bring water to a boil and add the rest of the ingredients except for the olive oil. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 1 and half to 2 hours, or until the hominy is cooked. Add more water and salt if necessary. At the end, add a drizzle of olive oil and stir. This will add a bit of greasy richness that the soup is missing from lack of meat.

pozole

Review: Nakd Natural Balance Bars

To me, nutrition or cereal bars are quick, on-the-go snacks that I dislike; they’re either overly-sweetened or have that weird protein taste, and definitely do not abstain my hunger. In the last couple of years, I’ve become a fan of the fruit and nut bars that are devoid of added sugars or protein supplements. They’re simple and delicious, so I was really excited to try Nakd bars when the company contacted me to review their product.

hello nakd bars

Well, hello!

Natural Balance Foods company packs raw fruits and nuts into a bar without added sugars, syrups, or honey. Depending on the bar’s flavor, they mostly contain dates, cashews, almonds, pecans, raisins, and natural flavorings that really are naturally occurring, like spices and extracts. They aren’t baked, but are cold-pressed instead, and are also completely wheat-, dairy-, and gluten-free. Nine very intriguing options make up their fruit and nut bar line: rhubarb & custard, cocoa mint, cocoa orange, cocoa delight, caffe mocha, pecan pie, gingerbread, cashew cookie, and berry delight. Last year, they introduced a crunch line (strawberry, banana, cocoa, and apple) that I especially enjoyed. I loved the extra texture and protein the soya crunchies added without that weird protein flavor.

I was a bit surprised at which flavors ended up being my favorites. I liked the gingerbread, cocoa orange, and caffe mocha a lot (and of course all the crunch ones). I was super excited for the rhubarb custard, but it was a bit of a letdown, tasting more rhubarb-y than custard-y. I recommend getting their sampler case so that you can try them all, which is only $9.99 right now!

The bars are made in Britain and currently not distributed in the U.S., but can be ordered from their website…AND they’re offering free standard shipping until January 31, 2015! You can find them in various stores in Canada. Be sure to visit their website to check out their complete story and more info on their product. They’re a great company that also donates to animal and people charities. Also, check out the Community section of their site for articles like “Vegan Diet Plan for Beginners,” which includes a brownie recipe.

A royal smooching of just fruits & nuts!

A royal smooshing of just fruits & nuts!

Disclaimer: Natural Balance Foods sent me a box of bars in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Pizza in El Paso

Thanks to an article from one of our local radio stations, I now know that October is pizza month! It’s also prompted me to throw in my own two snobby cents about local pizza in general. Chime in with your local favorites!

5 Best Places to get Pizza in El Paso, according to Mike from Kiss FM:

  1. House of Pizza
  2. Ardovino’s Desert Crossing
  3. Casa Pizza
  4. The Pizza Joint
  5. Grimaldi’s

Read the full article here>>

  • First off, I ashamedly have never tried House of Pizza and Casa Pizza. These are legendary local institutions and they’re on my to-eat list.
  • I have had pizza from Ardovino’s Pizza, but not Desert Crossing. I have a thing about ordering pizza at restaurants that don’t specialize in pizza; so, maybe an Italian place has great pizza, but it won’t make my list. Desert Crossing probably has great pizza because they have a wood-burning oven that you can see and smell right as you walk up to their beautiful establishment. I think Ardovino’s Pizza is average and their crust is super thin, but many will appreciate their gluten-free crust option and the Four Seasons Pizza is kinda awesome. It’s a 15″ pizza divided into these quarters: sundried tomato and pesto, artichoke and roasted red pepper, green chile and ricotta, and spinach and garlic.
  • The Pizza Joint. I’m torn because I really want to like this place. It’s got a great vibe, they offer pizza by the slice, they stay open as late as 3 am on the weekends, and they carry vegan cheese. It’s something about their sauce that I don’t like. Something tastes too overpowering to me, like maybe too much rosemary.
  • I haven’t tried Grimaldi’s, but shame on Mike for including a chain! He didn’t say anything about keeping his list local, but still. That said, it’s also on my to-eat list. ;)

EP Veg Snob’s top 5:

  1. Andre’s  This is classic pizza at its best. It’s a shame that the UTEP location closed down, and only the Westwind location remians. You can order it whole or by the slice. Be sure to try their addicting homemade Greek and ranch dressings. Both dressing are a must; they’re so good, you’ll want to drink them.
  2. Sparrow’s Spirits & Pies Delicious Chicago-style deep dish stuffed pies you won’t find anywhere else in town. It can take up to 45 minutes to bake & it may seem pricey, but it’s worth it.
  3. Tosca Stone Oven Pizzeria  After the owner of Sunset Pizzeria (used to be my favorite) decided to retire, he gave staff members his blessing to take the vision and recipes and revamp them into Tosca down the street. Pizza was decent when they first opened, but now they’ve tweaked everything and it’s spot-on. You can choose between red or white pizzas, and even a green enchilada pizza. This is one of El Paso’s most underrated restaurants.
  4. Rulis’/Unrulis‘ Last year, Chef Rulis opened sister restaurant, Unruli’s Pints & Pizza at Sunset’s former location. What a relief it was to know that that oven wouldn’t go to waste. A year later, Ruli’s International Kitchen and Unruli’s have merged into one and the same location with pizzas still on the menu. I think a simple cheese pizza is the way to go here, but you can get crazy with kale as a topping if it’s in stock.
  5. Cicala’s Italian Pizza This place hasn’t even been open a year, and they’re already on my list. Their crust is brushed with olive oil and fresh minced garlic. It’s on Fort Blvd., past Manhattan Heights.

If I could throw a chain into this list it would be Peter Piper Pizza, hands down. It’s so good, I often think I can’t live in a place without Peter Pipers.

Peter Piper Pizza

Peter Piper Pizza

A runner-up on my list is Nona’s. I like their pizza and I like the place, but they are just too inconsistent to include as one of the best.

The Gringo @ Nona's

The Gringo @ Nona’s

Another place that I haven’t tried whose name gets thrown around a lot as having the best pizza is Cafe Italia.

Miscellaneous lists, because I’m a librarian & like to share information.

Vegan Pizza

Of course you can make any pizza vegan by ordering it without cheese, but where’s the fun in that? I believe all of these places use Daiya brand cheese.

  • The Pizza Joint You can add vegan cheese for $1 to any 16″ or 20″ pizza. Be sure to specify vegan red sauce, too or get the roasted garlic spread as a base.
  • The Healthy Pizza Co. This place appeals to all dietary walks. Whether you are paleo, vegan, lactose intolerant, or gluten sensitive, they’ve got a menu item for you. Vegan cheese is also a dollar upcharge here. I have qualms with this place because I included them as a nominee in the 2013 Best of Vegetarian Food of El Paso awards in the pizza category. They then asked the Vegetarian Society to remove their name from their dining guides because they do not want to be considered a pizza place which is unhealthy, or something or other. What?!
  • Eloise No pizza here, but I thought it was worth mentioning that they currently have these yummy flatbread pizza bites. Vegan cheese is avalable upon request.

Food Trucks

 

Healthy Pizza Co.

Healthy Pizza Co.

 

Review: Dragonfly Wine & Sushi Bistro

Chef's choice vegan roll w/soy steak

Chef’s choice vegan roll w/soy steak

Doniphan Street’s newest resident is like nothing El Paso has ever experienced before. Combining Japanese and Korean influences with a touch of fusion and molecular gastronomy, Dragonfly is an affordable upscale restaurant. Friendly staff and owners will guide you through their massive menu of hot and cold appetizers, sushi, sashimi, nigiri, entrees, noodles and desserts. It’s not only for wine lovers; sake and draft beers are also served here.

Starters vary from kimchi edamame and squid salad, to tempura crab cake and spicy tuna tacos. The “new age” section features green tea-cured salmon with yuzu-wasabi cream, seared white tuna with avocado puree, kimchi vinaigrette, shiso and pop rocks and other innovative dishes. Choose from over thirty sushi rolls ranging from standards to chef creations with local names. The Bunny 2nd has shitake tempura and sweet potato, avocado, vegan cheese, spicy mayo and eel sauce rolled in soy paper. If you’re watching carbs, try the Okinawa Cuke which is served without rice. It’s a cucumber-wrapped roll with tuna, salmon, krab, avocado, greens and ponzu sauce.

The washoku section is where you’ll find Japanese and Korean specialty entrees like bulgogi (Korean grilled beef marinated in soy, fruits and sake) and katsu (breaded and fried chicken with sweet miso sauce) served with miso soup, rice and seasonal vegetables. You won’t find ordinary steamed rice here either; white and black rice is cooked in a high pressure cooker. Vegetarians will be in heaven with the variety of options including Teriyaki soy or tofu steak and green spinach ramen.

The creativity doesn’t stop at dessert; try mochi in various flavors, fried ice cream (green tea, plum or red bean) or cheesecake gnosh (ganache?) with powdered nutella, candied bacon and blueberries. Word of mouth is sure to make this inventive newcomer and trendsetter a local favorite.

Additional Veg Snob Notes:  All I can say is WOW. This place is amazing, especially for vegans and vegetarians. They don’t have a written vegan sushi menu, but they have noted that they will make whatever vegan roll you want. They have vegan cream cheese, mayo, and soy steak! I gave Chef Ji full reign, and he created the best roll I have ever had as evidenced by the photo. It was very much worth the $9 that I was charged. The tofu steak was also very good, but I didn’t care for the soy steak. The soy steak was a very small portion for the price and kind of reminded me of Boca brand veggie patties with more texture.

Visit them on Facebook to view hours and menus at facebook.com/dragonflysushi
Dragon Fly on Urbanspoon

This review was originally published in What’s Up Weekly on June 25, 2014.