Year in Review: 2011

Last year, I was inspired to write a “Foodie Forecast” of the food trends in El Paso. This year I’m going to change it up a bit by providing an overview of El Paso’s restaurant scene, as well as personal highlights of 2011.

In 2011, El Paso saw more movement than usual in the restaurant scene, or at least that’s how it seemed. Let me know if I’ve left anything out, and tell me about your favorite food memories of 2011, whether they be in a restaurant or in your kitchen, vegetarian or not.

The EP food trend of 2011 was…sweets! Yogurt shops popped up all over El Paso, and cupcake/dessert bakeries infiltrated my Groupon/Living Social deals inbox. Sweet Corner opened up downtown and received a bit of publicity from local media.

Clockwise from left: Tabla, Roasted Cauliflower @ Tabla, Veggie Burger @ Tom's, Vergi-e Pizza @ The Pizza Joint, Veggie Nachos @ The Pitch, Salsas @ Bikini Joe's

So much happened in 2011. This is in no particular order.

  • Commonwealth closed down, making way for newcomer Tabla. The owners of Ripe brought Spanish tapas to the Union Plaza district downtown. I attended their grand opening and got to try a couple of dishes for free. There aren’t too many options for vegetarians, but the dishes that are veg friendly are tasty and the vegetables are perfectly cooked. Unfortunately, the white bean dip contains bacon. Chef and staff are very friendly and accommodating, so they might be able to make dietary modifications.
  • The Ripe family was busy in 2011 when The Drifter food truck decided to stop drifting & set up permanent shop at Tom’s Restaurant on Boston St. in the Kern area. I tried the veggie burger (Boca patty) topped with Manchego & Romesco sauce. Loved the Romesco sauce!
  • John Geske, owner of Geske’s Firegrill & The Garden, took a risk investing in Bikini Joe’s at the former Casa Verde location near Bassett Place (Center). This place has a fun atmosphere and that’s about it. No veg options except for side dishes and a sad salad that was supposed to have greens, but only had iceberg lettuce. Pros: free self serve chips and salsas bar, Corona Ritas. Geske has hopes of turning this restaurant into a chain. Good luck?
  • 2900 closed down, but The Pitch opened a few doors down. This sports bar is veg friendly! The veggie nachos are amazing, but can be really salty  at times. Other veg options include portobello burgers, veggie tacos, veggie nachos, veggie quesadillas, & grilled cheese. I heard that these are the same owners of Coach’s Grill, which unfortunately closed down as well this past year.
  • The Pizza Joint also opened in the same shopping center as The Pitch. Order veggie pizza by the slice or as a whole pie in a fun, eclectic setting with beer on tap. Open until 3 am on Fridays & Saturdays! Kind of reminds me of Two Fisted Mario’s in Denver, but not nearly as delicious & cheap (sorry). Vegan sauce is available upon request (?).
  • The original Jaxon’s at Mesa closed down, and Montana Steakhouse quickly took its place. The steakhouse had 4 locations in Juarez for almost 30 years before coming to El Paso.
  • A couple of new chains came to El Paso in which none resonated well with me. Potbelly offered poor customer service and scanty servings. Baja Fresh also offered poor customer service and poor food quality. The manager couldn’t tell me whether or not their bean offerings were veg friendly. In better news, their rival (?) Chipotle will be opening up their first EP location in the 2900 shopping center (this place is a buzzing!)!!! Schlotzsky’s returned to the westside with a Cinnabon. I used to be a huge fan of this place, but I forgot how expensive it is!
  • Spec’s opened up in the Sunland Park area. This was probably the best news of the year. This Texas chain has a wide variety of beer, wine, liquor, cigars, & fine foods at mostly reasonable prices. Their deli serves an awesome veggie sandwich, as well as a veggie burger (haven’t tried it yet).
  • A new Mediteranean place opened up on the westside called Zino’s. Veg options include falafel, vegetarian platter, & pasta dishes. My mom loved this place, & I really liked their falafel & fries (they had garlic, spices, & cheese), but their hummus was a weird orange color.
  • Everyday Gyro opened on Cincinnati. Food was subaverage & a bit salty. I think I’d rather grab falafel at Sinbad, Zino’s, or Al-Zaituna. Their fries were really good (had fresh garlic) & the hummus was pretty good, with an earthy taste.
  • The eastside finally saw the return of an Indian restaurant in the area. Indian Curry Leaf opened up in the Sun Pointe Shopping Center on Lee Trevino. Everyone has raved about this place, but I wasn’t impressed when I tried their lunch buffet. Either way, I’d give them a second chance because I love Indian food & they’ve begun offering weekday lunch specials in lieu of their buffet.
  • The Drifter may have closed shop, but Create Gourmet Eats food truck began its operations in 2011. They offer the usual veg option of a portabella sandwich, but the bread & toppings make this sandwich pop. Create has hopes of making it onto the Eat St. show on the Cooking Channel, so be sure & vote for them before Jan. 31. I guess they’re all about mainstream media because they completely ignored my review of them (I sent a link) & chose to only promote certain reviews. Otherwise, they are super nice & friendly.
  • I found Jonathan of Belle Sucre at Ardovino’s Farmers Market, and was blown away by the bread (type of baguette?) that I bought. They also specialize in candies, cookies, cakes, pies, & pastries. They have plans of opening a retail location on the westside, and I am all too excited.
  • Hoppy Monk finally opened up their kitchen a couple of months ago. I was underwhelmed by the lack of veg options & the greasy, bland appetizer that I ordered (Trappist mushrooms). I also didn’t appreciate being charged for an extra aioli when I only received two (menu said it came with 3). They’re still working out the kinks, so hopefully everything will be improved upon.
  • Primo’s Craft Beer has opened & I have not been there yet! It’s located in the UTEP area, and boasts a wide beer selection.
  • Steak houses and seafood restaurants popped up all over town, but I’m not going to list them for obvious reasons. Let me know if one offers a good veg option (I have a steak lover at home).
  • Someone on Facebook reminded me to mention Valentine’s Kitchen, next to Hope and Anchor, which supposedly serves up some really good food. Doesn’t sound very veg friendly though. Check out this review from the UTEP Prospector.
Clockwise from left: Buffet @ Indian Curry Leaf, Portabella Burger @ Create Food Truck, Vegetarian @ Potbelly,Veggie Delight @ Spec's

2012 Brings Good & Bad News

  • Sunset Pizza is closing down on Jan 21. This breaks my heart immensely. I’ve always thought that they served the best pizza in town, and this place holds significant memories. Fortunately, their menu & passion will carry on under a new name & location at Tosca Pizzeria, 4017 N. Mesa (where San Francisco Oven used to be) in March 2012.
  • El Paso is finally getting a Chipotle!!! It will be located near UTEP in the shopping center at 2900 N. Mesa. Some people are disappointed by another burrito place opening in our predominantly Hispanic town, but haters gonna hate. I LOVE this place. It’s delicious and veg friendly.
  • We’re still awaiting the opening of Square Cow Burgers, Beer, & Wine. I sure hope they have a veggie burger.
  • VSEP will offer an Indian cooking class, as well as continue to host bake sales and dinners.
  • Fire (inside the DoubleTree Hotel) stopped serving the DoubleTree Hugger sandwich. It turns out that Kipp’s Cheesesteak’s veggie sandwich is cooked in beef stock.

Personal Highlights

I saved my personal highlights for last in case you didn’t want to read them. 2011 was a great year for me foodwise. I fully devoted myself to this blog, and my pictures improved dramatically when I invested in a fancy camera.

  • VSEP events: The Vegetarian Society hosted some fun and educational events. My favorites were the Arirang Tour & a cooking class held at Singapore Cafe.
  • I won a Big Green Egg Grill from Harmony Valley Foods for my Chili Chile Cheeseburger recipe!
  • The El Paso Times interviewed me & wrote up a nice big article in the Living section, which in turn, drove a lot of traffic to this blog.
  • Finally attended La Vina’s Wine festival. Read about it here.
  • Picked my own veggies in La Union, NM from The Maze’s garden.
  • VSEP sponsored my participation in the 23rd Annual Lone Star Vegetarian Chili-Cook Off. Alas, I did not place.
  • I participated in Vegan MOFO. This really helped me find focus and inspiration. It also accelerated the amount of posts I wrote during that month. Most importantly, the sense of community was amazing.
  • Found out that Hot Dog on a Stick serves veggie dogs on a stick. $3 is what you pay for nostalgia, convenience, & greasy goodness.
  • Lean Cuisine started offering Veggie Cuisine entrees featuring Gardein products. You can find them at Walmart.
  • I also invested in an iPhone and I hate to admit it, but I love it. I’ve posted less restaurant reviews due to the Foodspotting app. Other apps I frequently use are Instagram, Epicurious, and Urbanspoon.
Clockwise from left: Arirang Market, My winning burger entry, La Vina Winery, Lean Cuisine & Gardein joined forces, Chickpea Soup recipe forVegan Mofo, La Union garden

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment in 2011!

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6 Comments

  1. Loved this!! Kudos to El Pasoans who want to share the love (and information). My fav of 2011? Zinos. Pistachio Backlava FTW!!! Thanks Lisa & IDEP 🙂

    1. Thank you! Oooh, that sounds delicious! I’m not really a dessert person, but I LOVE pistachios. I’m gonna have to try it! 🙂

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