This review was originally published in the Tiempo Dining Out section of the El Paso Times on December 28, 2012. This was my first submission for monthly reviews that will feature vegetarian friendly restaurants in the El Paso region.
Established in 1994, Singapore Cafe has become an Asian and vegetarian staple in El Paso. Singapore’s large menu has something for everyone, including a children’s menu. You won’t find many Singaporean dishes on the menu, but you will find a variety of Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Malaysian influences.
The graphically rich menu is divided into sections of beef, chicken, seafood, noodle/rice and vegetarian dishes. It’s rare for an El Paso restaurant to have a section solely dedicated to vegetarian dishes, and even rarer for that section to contain more than 10 veg-friendly items.
Vegetarian spring rolls (fresh, not fried) are popular, but the most loved appetizer is a thin Korean pancake called Bu Chin Gae. It contains thinly sliced scallions and carrots and comes with a sweet soy sesame dipping sauce. The savory pancake is cut into triangles and has a satisfyingly toothsome, dense texture. The dipping sauce pairs perfectly with the subtle onion flavor, but has a watery consistency. I would have liked it to be thicker so that more sauce could cling to the pancake. Other starters that can double as main dishes are vegetarian versions of the Clear Noodle Soup and Bun Ga. Bun Ga is a large Vietnamese salad filled with fresh veggies and herbs, tofu, and rice noodles.
Entrees come in generous portions, and come with your choice of white or brown steamed rice unless it’s a noodle-based dish. Singapore Cafe is known for its Pad Thai, and fortunately, vegetarians won’t have to miss out on their signature dish. Pad thai is traditionally a dish of chicken, shrimp, tofu, egg, bean sprouts and rice noodles cooked in a sauce of tamarind, fish sauce, and other ingredients, garnished with crushed peanuts, cilantro and lime wedges. The veggie version is all of this sans the chicken and shrimp, but with more tofu (you have to specify no eggs and fish sauce if you don’t want them in the dish).
Phad Prik King is another Thai dish described on the menu as a ginger curry with green beans and onions. The dish is traditionally made with a dry red curry paste, but Singapore Cafe serves up a saucy, mild yellow curry sauce. The entrée came with plenty of tofu and fresh green beans, but the sauce lacked flavor and any hint of ginger; I had to add chile oil and sriracha. Skip this dish and opt for more flavorful dishes that are not to be missed like the Ginger Tofu or Yu Sang Broccoli. Ginger lovers will delight in a dish of tofu, mushrooms, snow peas, onions and crushed peanuts. Yu Sang Broccoli with tofu is a safer bet for those who enjoy Chinese fare with some spice.
For dessert, you can try a Banana Turon, a Filipino specialty of bananas rolled in a spring roll wrapper and fried. Ice cream is also offered.
Vegetarians and vegans will feel more than welcome at Singapore and will enjoy a variety of dishes not common to El Paso’s Asian restaurants. Some dishes don’t quite adhere to their traditional namesakes, but contain plenty of fresh vegetables and perfectly cooked tofu. If you dine in, be prepared to relax and enjoy the meal, because service can be slow. Don’t forget to specify veggie when ordering vegetarian and indicate if you would like the dish prepared without fish and eggs. Wine and beer is BYOB
- Where: 4120 N. Mesa.
- Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sundays.
- Cost: $$.
- Information: 533-2889 or thesingaporecafe.com
I took these photos at the Vegetarian Society’s board meeting. They meet once a month on the second to last Monday. Social time is at 6 pm and meeting begins at 7 pm in the back room. Everyone is welcome to attend.