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

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 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.
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
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 
Sam's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon



  1. Is Sam’s still you’re favorite Chinese restaurant in El Paso? If not which is it? When you get a chance, you ought to try Soya Cafe on Airport and Montana. It’s very inexpensive and the food is very good.

    • Thanks! I’ve always been curious about that place. Right now I like Sun Garden and Singapore Café. I still need to check out Red Lantern and Thai Chef.

  2. Singapore Cafe has always been hit or miss with me. It used to be my favorite place to eat years ago. The last time I ate there was in November 2011. It was so bad I wanted to throw up. Don’t plan on going back.

    Sun Garden ROCKS!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s