One of these days I will get it together and post my food in review sooner than mid January. For now, enjoy all things food that happened in 2017 in El Paso. I feel like I wasn’t able to keep abreast of the food scene as well as I have in past years, so please chime in, in the comments about what I missed and your favorite food memories of 2017.
It could be said that 2017 was the year El Paso went on a diet, which sounds depressing for a food post, but this year we were into juicing, kombucha, meal prep, and vegan friendly options. Yet, on our cheat days, we managed to gorge on pizza, fried food, and frozen desserts like Thai rolled ice cream. Many new restaurants and bars opened up that I could barely keep up with, especially on the eastside, which has overflowed into Horizon City. Several local businesses even grabbed the opportunity to open their second and some, a third location in Horizon.
2017 was also the year that we saw two local businesses, Savage Goods and Kaedama successfully complete Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns. Almost inevitably each year, we lose one of our legendary standbys; in 2017 we lost the 45-year-old Casa Jurado. We almost lost Charcoaler when owners decided to retire and closed it down for good, but a few months later it reopened when a local restaurant group and the owner’s granddaughter bought and revitalized it.
Let’s delve into 2017’s top trends in El Paso:
Cauliflower wings, as in breaded and fried cauliflower, could be found at local spots The Green Ingredient (which unfortunately closed the downtown location), Ode Brewing and Eloise, while chains Alamo Drafthouse, P. F. Chang’s, and Chili’s were serving them, too. While not of the cauliflower variety, Steve-o’s debuted a fried veggie trio appetizer that was easily one of my favorite eats of 2017.
I don’t know why we saw so many coffee shops open this year, but it happened and we even got some canned nitro coffee in the flurry. We saw so much coffee movement, What’s Up Weekly dedicated a whole informative issue that we desperately needed. We welcomed Salt & Honey, Nomu Cafe, Craft Cafe, The Hive, Global Coffee, Bowie Feathers (which moved downstairs into the former Hello Day Cafe spot), Cafe Tolteca, Podium Finish, Savage Goods, and Coffee Party. We also were able to purchase locally canned nitro coffee from Tradecraft at various coffee shops.
The trendy Thai rolled ice cream which first hit El Paso a couple of years ago at Tippi Teas, could be found at two new spots on the westside dedicated to the frozen treat, Rolled Cold 915 and Fahrenheit 32 (which opened a second location on the eastside and then a third in San Antonio), and a food truck called That Roll Thing. Social Ice specialized in a natural Italian ice that’s not quite shaved ice and not quite sorbet without any dairy, and made with real tamarindo, cucumber, cantaloupe, mango, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, lime, and watermelon. They also serve some over-the-top fried sweet concoctions. Ice Creamed Myself continued to wow both vegans and lactose-tolerants with chocolate-covered frozen cheesecake and pumpkin pie, and snagged What’s Up’s Best of the Best Dessert award.
Mazapan, our region’s beloved Mexican peanut confection, was crumbled and mixed into lattes (Coffee Box and various other coffee shops), shakes (also Coffee Box), ice cream (Fahrenheit 32 & Alegre), cookies (El Paso Cookie Inc.), donuts (Sane Vegan Treats), cupcakes (Smallcakes), cocktails (Love Buzz), and brewed into beer (Ode Brewing) this year.
One of my favorite collaborations this year was Nishi Ramen’s local team-up spotlight. Chef Lozano teamed up with other local businesses to feature one of their ingredients in a weekly special. Some of the collaborations included seitan from One Grub Community and pizza dough from The Pizza Joint for ramen pizza (hell yeah!). Kicha Foods chorizo and soyrizo made an excellent topping at The Pizza Joint, and Nomu Cafe had rotating offerings from One Grub, Sane, Savage, and Sweet Addiction. Craft Cafe had some excellent chai donuts and other treats from Blushing Buffalo. Madre Nostra Kombucha could be enjoyed at Eloise, Tin Man, and Nomu Cafe.
Pizza seems to trend every other year or so in El Paso, and this year saw a lot of movement. Two fast casual chains, Midici and Pieology opened along with local St. Augustine’s Artisan Pizza + Craft Beer and Forma Pizzeria (originally a mobile and catering business). Ardovino’s Pizza opened its fifth location at the new Substation retail development. The Pizza Joint also opened its third location on the eastside inside Funkmeyer’s Rec Room, and then its fourth location on the westside as soon as the last Andre’s Pizza location closed down. Andre’s was a longtime El Paso standby (and one of my favorites) for local pizza, at one point operating three locations in town. Speaking of Andre’s, rumor (Yelp) has it that the person who started Andre’s before selling it, is behind the new spot on Resler, Cactus Flats Pizza, Subs, & Ice Cream. Early in the year, the eastside Nona’s Pizza location closed to reopen as a different concept called Thirty 5ive Tavern & Grill. Later on in the year, the westside Nona’s Pizza also closed down. Casa Pizza closed its original location at Magruder to open in a new spot on the westside where Chut-ney had operated.
Not sure when poke, the Hawaiian specialty made trendy in L.A. initially found its way into El Paso, but I remember first seeing it served at INTL (International) in 2016 by way of Chef Michael De Leon. In 2017, you could find it at Nosh, Mirai Bowl, Steve-O’s, and even a food truck dedicated to the dish called Poke Dots. Towards the end of the year, franchise Pokeworks opened next to Pieology. A couple of other poke places will open in 2018.
Street to Building
It was a dream come true for several local artisans who took their business models from markets and orders to brick and mortar locations. Congratulations to Kicha Foods, Sweet Addiction, Nishi Ramen, Madre Nostra Kombucha, Savage Goods, Kaedama, and Chase the Taste!
It was truly the year of the vegan in El Paso, where options could be found on the streets and as meal prep kits. Lick it Up food truck was a favorite among the vegan community, and by the year’s end announced it would be converting its Mexican street food menu to a completely vegan menu in January. Craft Cafe debuted as El Paso’s completely vegan coffee cart, and specializes in artisan nut milks like pistachio. Nomu Cafe opened this year initially offering a few items from Eloise, but by mid year formed a partnership with One Grub Community (Downtown Farmers Market favorite and Best of the Best Veggie-Friendly winner) and Sane Vegan Treats to offer a completely vegan food menu, along with packages of Louisville Vegan Jerky Co. At the tail end of the year, Savage Goods opened, offering a mostly vegan assortment of menu items and baked goods. Vegan pizza, not the kind you order sans the cheese, but the full on faux cheese and meat toppings kind could be enjoyed at more places than just The Pizza Joint, who this year teamed up with locals Kicha Foods to offer soyrizo (and chorizo) as a topping. Midici (also has vegan sausage) and Forma have vegan cheese, and while most use Daiya cheese, newcomer St. Augustine uses Violife brand. El Paso Cookie Inc. celebrated their first year of business this past December and not only served up vegan cookies and menu items, but meal prep and held seasonal dinners as well. The northeast also welcomed vegan options at new businesses, Healthy Desires Cafe and Chase the Taste (formerly a food truck).
Other Noteworthy Tidbits
- New food trucks (I know I’m missing some): Poke Dots, That Roll Thing, The Odd Brunch, Seoul Tasty Korean BBQ, Juice From the Truck, Dia de los Pescados, De Nile Foods.
- After almost 40 years of operation in Canutillo, Little Diner opened its second location in the Lower Valley at 8556 Alameda.
- After expanding to the West Side, Lucy’s Cafe opened another location in the Northeast at 10025 Dyer.
- Around the World Catering Service took over the restaurant inside The Best Western Plus (best known for Teddy’s Bar). Gallery 3 Kitchen is where you’ll find some creative comfort food like Brussels Sprouts tacos and their award-winning mac and cheese.
- Crave opened its fourth location at the Fountains at Farah.
- John Geske and Kirk Robison of Pizza Properties (Peter Piper Pizza franchise) teamed up to create fast casual restaurant Boss Tenders, Dogs, & Custard, with 3 locations already open: on the eastside in the El Paseo Marketplace, in Horizon City at Eastlake Village shopping center, and on the westside at the West Towne Marketplace.
- The eastside got 2 new vietnamese restaurants: Wicked Pho and Viet Restaurant, who was named Yelp’s hottest new restaurant of 2017 in the state of Texas. Can you believe that y’all?! How is it possible that our very own Viet Restaurant beat out Austin’s Kemuri Tatsu-Ya?! Kemuri made #8 on Bon Appetit’s Hot Ten list!!!
- Steakhouses showed up in the form of Salt Grass Steak House in the place of the westside’s Fuddrucker’s, and West TX Chophouse took over the old Jaxon’s at 1135 Airway Blvd, next to Famous Dave’s.
- Mediterranean restaurants turned up this year with a food truck (De Nile) as mentioned above, Café Istanbul Mediterranean Café, Tasty Kabob, and Jerusalem Grill moved from the spot next to their grocery store to a nearby shopping center and started offering a weekday lunch buffet option.
- Taco Tote opened another location in the parking lot of The Outlet Shoppes
- Palomino Tavern, which previously operated on the corner of North Mesa and Robinson (now home to Wing Daddy’s Express) returned to the Kern area at the former location of Kopi Coffee on Cincinnati. Chef Lawrence Acosta of Tom’s and Dark Horse (which has also closed) fame heads up the kitchen, and has developed a creative menu with plenty of surprises.
- Tin Man, the craft beer growler filling station, opened a third location in Horizon, while Steve’Os Kitchen & Craft Bar opened its second location at 12040 Tierra Este, called Steve’Os Kitchen + Beer Garden.
- Moe’s Southwest Grill opened at 3261 Joe Battle. The franchise is very similar to Chipotle.
- Rib Hut opened their second location on the far eastside at 12302 Montana Ave. in the Tierra Este shopping center. This meat haven is nice enough to offer a vegetarian option of a veggie pita sandwich. Their curly fries and ranch dressing are worth braving Wednesday Rib Night with the family.
- The Green Ingredient closed its downtown location, but opened and continued to operate an express location inside of Push Fitness West at 6100 Dew and at farmers markets.
- Nuovo Cappetto, located in the Cincinnati Entertainment District closed down and blamed their decline on the streetcar construction. The original Cappetto’s on Montana closed down in 2012.
- Thai Chef, a Northeast restaurant that served pad thai, curries and Thai tea, closed. However, you’ll find those exact items at Tara Thai, which is operated by the same owners on 2606 N. Mesa St.
- Papa Pita closed down after two years, but indicated that they plan to pursue other opportunities.
- Chut-ney closed down, leaving El Paso with only two options for Indian food- India Palace & RV International Grocery Store.
- We also lost Sweet Corner, Tosca Pizzeria, Dominic’s Italian Restaurant, and Salt Box Pours & Provisions.