The winners of the Best of the Best awards were announced a few weeks ago. For 11 years, What’s Up Weekly magazine has played host to letting anyone who attends their annual voting party, select the best of what El Paso has to offer. I wasn’t able to go to this year’s voting party or awards ceremony, but both events are crazy and a lot of fun. Some of the nominees that go to the voting party try really hard to get as many votes as possible by handing out food samples, swag, and even trade votes. It’s one of those things you need to experience at least once. You get to meet a lot of people (unless you’re really shy like me) and get a bunch of free stuff.
There are tons of categories that have changed throughout the years. I pretty much only care about the food categories and the best blogger category, which has been changed to best blogger/social media publisher. It was most likely changed due to the Annie’s Adventures facebook page winning last year and not actually having a blog site. Congratulations to her for winning two years in a row! She is constantly updating her facebook page with all sorts of cool events, places, and restaurants in our region. My blog didn’t even make the finalists, but that’s okay. I didn’t go to the voting party, nor do I think I should even be nominated since I’m a freelance writer for What’s Up.
Fun fact #1: I wrote 10 of the blurbs for the food category winners. I’ll include only my writeups here because it’s my blog and I’ll showcase my work if I want to 😉 You can click the links on the other ones to read the rest.
Fun Fact #2: I wrote the BBQ & steak ones! Ironically, as a vegetarian, I was really honored to have been chosen to write them. It made me feel like Maggie (the editor) has faith in me as a writer!
Fun Fact #3: The hardest one for me to write was Tacoholics because I love them so much! They work so hard and their tacos and salsas are amazing!
Okay, enough with the fun facts, here are the 2014 Chow winners:
Best Asian Restaurant: Genghis Grill
After three back-to-back wins, P.F. Chang’s has been dethroned by Genghis Grill, a fast casual chain that came to El Paso in 2012. At this Mongolian-style restaurant, customization and interaction is key. Armed with a single metal bowl, your job is to conquer more than 80 ingredient options. Choose proteins, veggies, seasonings, sauces, and a starch – noodles, rice, or flour tortilla. Overwhelmed by the choices? Follow one of their recipe suggestions. Once your bowl is assembled, hand it over to the cooks and let the show begin. At Genghis, you have only yourself to blame if you don’t like your food. 1318 George Dieter Dr., 915-600-2822; genghisgrill.com.
Best BBQ: Cattleman’s Steakhouse
It’s easy to forget that Cattleman’s serves BBQ when steak is the reason to make the trek out to Fabens. Not to worry; you can save room for steak by ordering the BBQ appetizer. In true West Texas tradition, their beef is smoked overnight using mesquite. Combo plates are available with large back ribs, thick slices of brisket or beef cubes cut from the fatty end that has caramelized into a smoky crust. Arrive early; BBQ is served while it lasts. By the way, this local 40-year veteran was finally able to bust Famous Dave’s six-year winning streak. 3450 S. Fabens Carlsbad Rd., Fabens, Texas 79838; cattlemanssteakhouse.com.
Best Bakery: Belle Sucre
Best Breakfast: Basico Bistro + Cafe
Best Coffee/Tea Shop: Starbucks
Best Dessert: Craze
Best Fancy-Schmancy Restaurant: Cafe Central
Ask any local for a fine dining suggestion, and they’ll most likely recommend Café Central, a restaurant that is no stranger to this category. Hidden in downtown El Paso, this elegant and ambient restaurant’s kitchen is run by Chef Armando Portales, a four-time James Beard award nominee. Starters are indicative of the standards set here; fried Dungeness crab cakes and octopus carpaccio served with stuff you can’t pronounce are two of the five current options. Their signature cream of green chile soup is not to be missed. Whether gathering for lunch, dinner or cocktails, Cafe Central is sure to impress. 109 N Oregon St., 915-545-2233;cafecentral.com.
Best Gourmet Pizza: Ardovino’s Pizza
Several new pizza places have opened, but none have been able to beat Ardovino’s 11-year winning streak. Over 50 years of pizzas, salads, sandwiches and gourmet foods have made their four locations a local tradition. Ardovino’s does gourmet pizza decadently with options like salmon and fennel and Canadian bacon and asparagus, but The Four Seasons pizza is what truly sets them apart. It’s a large 15-inch pizza divided into quarters: sundried tomato and pesto, artichoke and roasted red pepper, green chile and ricotta and spinach and garlic. Good luck choosing which quarter to sample first. Celiacs won’t miss out; gluten-free crust is available. 206 Cincinnati St., 915-532-9483; 865 N. Resler Dr., 915-760-6000; and additional locations,ardovinospizza.com.
Best Hottest Salsa: L & J Cafe
Best Italian Restaurant: The Italian Kitchen
Tradition has once again prevailed, as The Italian Kitchen takes this category three years in a row. The original location has resided in a cozy home since 1948 in Five Points, while the westside location came about in 2006. Italian-American favorites are served with a bit of El Paso flair, like the green chile chicken lasagna. Their warm, buttered bread is similar to bolillo rolls served with menudo, which ironically, is served on weekends at the west location. Chicken Angelo, eggplant Parmigiana and pizza are customer favorites. If there was a cheese lover’s award, Italian Kitchen would win that too, because most entrees are enveloped in a thick blanket of cheese. 2923 Pershing Dr., 915-565-4041; 450 Thorn Ave., 915-842-0775;theitaliankitchenelpaso.com.
Best Local Burger: Crave Kitchen & Bar
Crave may not strictly serve burgers, but they sure know how to make the best for four years in a row. Success lies in the use of certified Black Angus beef cooked your way and careful curation of toppings, ranging from classic to innovative. Tuesdays not only feature $5 burgers, but an over-the-top selection as well, like the Chef Boyardee, which features a panko-breaded fried cheese ravioli on a juicy beef patty with marinated diced tomatoes in pesto, spinach with lemon thyme, garlic aioli and a balsamic reduction drizzle. A veggie patty or chicken breast can even be subbed for beef. 11990 Rojas Dr., 915-594-7971; 300 Cincinnati Ave., 915-351-3677; cravekitchenandbar.com.
Best Mediterranean/Indian Restaurant: Zino’s Greek & Mediterranean
Best Mexican Restaurant: L & J Cafe
Best Mexican Restaurant is the most critical category in a border town where everyone has their favorites and own opinion as to what defines great Mexican food. Let’s just say that this four-time winner deserves this category once again due to a rich history and enchilada sauce. Who can argue with consistent local and national awards, as well as celebrity clientele? The best way to eat their signature enchiladas is to pay the extra fee and get half red, half green. This landmark is also known for their chile con queso and ground beef tacos made with potatoes. 3622 E. Missouri Ave., 915-566-8418; landjcafe.com.
Best New Restaurant: Independent Burger
Best Seafood In The Dusty Desert: Little Shack
What started as a literal little shack in the parking lot of a westside shopping center has now expanded and added a second location in the UTEP area. Small menu and small venue equals big, fresh flavor that has kept customers coming back for more and helping them steal this category away from Pelican’s. Little Shack is known for their fish tacos, shrimp cocktails and ceviche. Breaded and fried fish is served on a corn tortilla, topped with red cabbage, cilantro and chipotle cream. Generous portions of quality shrimp, red onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and crisp cucumber make up their cocktails. 2701 N. Mesa St., Ste. 200, 915-603-6007; 5360 N. Mesa St., 915-321-1562.
Best Service in Town: Crave Kitchen & Bar
Best Spot For Steaks: Cattleman’s Steakhouse
Being way out west, there are plenty of times when we don’t feel like a Texas town, but there’s always Cattleman’s to remind us of our rightful claim. Situated on a ranch in Fabens for over 40 years, this has been THE place to go if you’re hankering for a steak. Cut right on the premises and cooked perfectly per the customer’s order, you can bet on a tender and flavorful steak every time. No need to feel inferior for ordering a Cowgirl steak (1 ½ lb. T-bone), because Cattleman’s has also been voted Manliest Steakhouse in America by Men’s Health. 3450 S. Fabens Carlsbad Rd., Fabens, Texas 79838; cattlemanssteakhouse.com.
Best Sure-Bet For Good Food (Every Time): Crave Kitchen & Bar
Best Sushi: Sunny’s Sushi, Steak, & Seafood House
Best Tacos: Tacoholics
The pioneers of the gourmet food truck craze in El Paso are now taco trendsetters, breaking last year’s tie with Chico’s Tacos. Success led them to a funky spot in an eastside gas station, and now these vatos find themselves once again slingin’ out of the truck after the station closed down. Build your taco with sirloin, pork, chicken, or tofu, and choose a style. Korean BBQ is a must, but know there are other tantalizing options like grilled onions with queso fresco or homemade chorizo. Top ’em off with salsas so good, they’re likely to snag next year’s best salsa category. 7450 Gateway Blvd. E., Ste. B, 915-929-2592; tacoholics.com.