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.