A version of this article originally appeared in The B Section of El Paso Inc. and online: Battle of the Bowl: Menudo vs. Pozole.
El Pasoans are raised on menudo, and while most will tell you their grandmother makes the best, they still have a favorite local spot as backup. Painstaking preparation makes it a special dish reserved for weekends, holidays, and special occasions. Most recently, students of the Ysleta Independent School District were treated to a lunch of menudo, complete with a lemon wedge, onions, oregano, a roll, an apple, and milk. You could say it’s required eating as a resident of El Paso.
In central El Paso on Alameda, the iconic Good Luck Cafe and Lucky Cafe are often mistaken for one another. With similar names and addresses, both places serve some of the best menudo in town on a daily basis. The Good Luck Cafe is often voted best menudo by readers and has been operating since 1968. As the grandson of owner Elvira Puentes, Richard Narro grew up with the business and says it’s the best menudo because it’s Grandma’s recipe.
Like any traditional dish, menudo has its variances depending on region and family. Parts of Mexico like Sinaloa serve menudo blanco or white menudo without red chile, while menudo rojo is associated with the northern states and what we’re used to in El Paso. Tripe, which comes from the stomach(s) of a cow, is usually what makes or breaks menudo for people. Honeycomb tripe comes from the second stomach chamber and is most often used in menudo due to its tenderness and shorter cooking time. Tripe is also the ingredient attributed to curing hangovers due to a high content of protein, vitamin B-12, and other minerals. Some would argue that the essential ingredient to good menudo is pigs’ or cows’ feet, also known as pata or trotters. Pigs’ feet are composed of tendons, bones, and cartilage that lend a depth and thickness to soups thanks to the collagen.
If you can’t stand the thought of consuming offal, there’s always pozole rojo, eaten throughout Mexico as a weekend supper, and prepared instead with pork shoulder and more hominy. Those that don’t eat pork, can look to the state of Guerrero for pozole verde made with chicken in a broth of tomatillos, ground pumpkin seeds, green chile, and epazote.
A few years ago, two cafes made sure that vegetarians weren’t missing out. During weekday mornings and weekend brunch hours, Eloise continues to serve up “Menudont,” a rich red vegetarian-based broth with hominy and seitan. Joe, Vinny, and Bronson’s Bohemian Cafe serves both regular menudo and vegan menudo with tofu on Sundays until it runs out. The Hoppy Monk serves a vegan pozole verde topped with tofu “carnitas.” Downtown newcomer, Zona Centro sometimes features a vegan pozole on their rotating menu.
While the broth is important, all the fun lies in the toppings that play a role in rounding out the flavors and textures. Raw, diced onions and sometimes shredded cabbage both give a sharp crunch, while lime juice balances with acidity. Dried oregano and red pepper flakes are also a must. In parts of Guerrero, a raw egg is stirred into white pozole and topped with avocado, oregano, red onion, and bitter lima juice. Appallingly, there are parts of Texas, New Mexico, and California that serve corn tortillas alongside menudo. El Pasoans know that the true accompaniment is a buttered and toasted bolillo roll, proving more suitable for sopping up every last bit of broth.
So, where can you get the best menudo in town? I’ve rounded up a list of 15 favorites
according to the Best of the Best awards, Yelp, and the Foodies of El Paso Facebook group.
Surprisingly, Village Inn was mentioned a lot and you can’t beat the all-you-can-eat option. If you can’t make it out, there’s always Juanita’s canned menudo!
Or make your own vegan version, using my simple tried and true recipe: EP Veg Snob’s Pozole Recipe Here’s a recent pic of my recipe made with jackfruit: