May 10, 2013

Guide to Fort Bliss: Best (and Worst) Restaurants, Part 1

Whenever we PCS (which basically means moving, for my civilian readers) to a new post, there are certain things we must find out all over again. Like, where is the best place to buy groceries? Or get your car washed? Who has the cheapest gas? What roads are traffic prone?

You get my point, yes?

The little things we often take for granted must be relearned for our new location. So I thought to myself... why not work on a post guide? I wish I had one for everywhere we've been and the places we've yet to go, so it might prove useful for someone else.

In light of that revelation, here's the first installment of my Guide to Fort Bliss. I've compiled your opinions (that's right!), along with personal experience and some fact-checking online. Please, please feel free to help me add on to those guides. Times change, and tomorrow this information could all be wrong. Comment, send me an email, message me on the Army Life Facebook page... but add your own insight and experience. Help take the mystery out of this post for the next family coming in.

The picture to the left was taken inside one of many restaurants here in El Paso, TX. As with any other city, restaurants can be hit or miss. Some are really very good, and others... well, not so much.

El Paso has been swiftly growing with the addition of so many troops at Fort Bliss. I know the Hubs and I noticed many changes in the time we've been there. Four years ago, there weren't nearly as many places to eat out as there are now. And new places are being built everyday!

So, I asked, and you all answered... What are your favorite restaurants in the El Paso area, and which ones would you avoid?

Because there were so many good responses, the list is taking quite some time to compile. I'm kicking off Part 1 of this series with two staples in the area, Mexican/Tex-Mex and Steakhouses!

Best and Worst Restaurants (Fort Bliss and surrounding areas), Part 1 

Mexican and Tex-Mex:

Being so close to the Mexican border, you would naturally assume that El Paso is home to some excellent Mexican restaurants... and it is! Lots of them, actually. But there are also a few who, let's just say, aren't as good. We'll start with the ones we'd go back to again and again, what do you think? I think yes.

(Take note: These are in no particular order!) 

1. Carlos and Mickey's - (this restaurant is currently working on their website, but in the meantime you can check them out at Urbanspoon)

I've heard mixed reviews about this place, but the larger part leans toward the positive. The atmosphere is festive, usually with live mariachi on weekends and some outdoor seating. I've personally been once, and the margaritas are on point! The biggest complaint seems to be about wait times. Consistently, there is a crowd at the door waiting for a table. And while this might deter some, it also vouches for the restaurant's popularity, right?!

2. Kiki's - This tiny restaurant is actually recommended by Aaron Sanchez of Food Network, specifically their Beef Machaca dish. Check out this YouTube video to get your taste buds watering!

I don't know why I haven't tried this restaurant yet, but you can bet it's now on my El Paso bucket list!    

3. Burritos Crisostomas - Picked as one of the top 4 restaurants in Mexico by GQ Magazine (Mexico edition), I think their El Paso locations are worth trying out! I haven't yet been here myself, but several of you made recommendations. Urbanspoon reviews are very mixed, some loving it and others absolutely hating it. If you've eaten there, please comment and let us know whether you enjoyed it or not.

4. Julio's - There are several of these around El Paso, with the newest location at 3630 Joe Battle Blvd, in the Far East. The Hubs and I have eaten here only once so far, but we enjoyed it. The atmosphere was amazing, the new building is beautiful. Our service was prompt (not always the case in El Paso), and the food was good. I wouldn't say it was the best I ever had, but I would go back. The latest reviews on Urbanspoon have been positive. Plus, several of you have also mentioned this as a favorite. Win all around!

5. L & J Cafe - affectionately dubbed "the old place by the graveyard", this tiny hole-in-the-wall touts some excellent food. Their list of awards are numerous, and their popularity hits a whopping 92% on Urbanspoon (as of today). Based on reviews, I'd say this is the best Mexican you'll find around these parts. I'm so impressed, the Hubs and I will be checking it out ourselves within the next few weeks.

Now, I'd like to talk about those restaurants which have some mixed reviews, and some of which are just terrible. I apologize in advance if your favorite restaurant is on this list, but feel free to defend it in the comments section. I'm placing these here based on personal experience (of myself and others), reader comments, and online reviews. 

1. Leo's - I'd like to start by saying: the Hubs and I have eaten here, and we enjoyed it. Was it the best I've ever had? Sadly, no. I would rate the atmosphere as good, the service ok, and the food about average. Several readers commented how Leo's is a particular favorite of theirs.  However, other readers commented how much they dislike the food here. The online reviews seem to vary by location (there are 6 in the area), so this is a difficult one to call. I suggest trying it out for yourself and see what you think!

2. Avila's - This is yet another restaurant I've heard mixed reviews about. However, it has often been featured in Hispanic Magazine's "Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants" (in the United States). Most of the poor reviews center around the atmosphere (old) and the service (slow). For now, I will assume the food makes the rest of it worthwhile, as many people claim this to be one of their favorite Mexican restaurants in town. If you've eaten there and can provide a better perspective, please comment

3. Andale -  This restaurant has more bad reviews than good. Although the margaritas have been praised, the food, service, and atmosphere have all been harshly critiqued. Personally, I have eaten here once and would not go back. I took my mother and sister for a late lunch during the week. Our service was so slow, it was 3 hours before our meal was complete. And the food was not all that appetizing. It was edible, but definitely not good. Many have complained of noise levels, and the Urbanspoon rating hovers only around 50%. I'd say, try at your own risk.

4. Chico's Tacos - One person will tell you these are the best, and another will tell you how sick they got from eating them. I haven't tried it myself, for fear of the whole getting sick thing. Many reviews mention the grease factor (too much of it), so that probably explains the stomach issues. I think the major draw here is the low-priced menu. Another try at your own risk (and let us know how it goes)!

5. This last one is a difficult one to judge. The Hubs and I ate here upon our arrival in El Paso, and had a very negative experience. Therefore, we have never returned.

HOWEVER, the online reviews of this restaurant seem to be good. I haven't yet met anyone else who has eaten there, so I have no way to compare. If you've eaten at La Malinche (any of the locations), email me or comment below, so my biased view isn't the only one here.

Steak Houses:

This is the great state of Texas, so you can rest assured there are plenty of places to eat steak! Between the chain restaurants and the locally-owned, everyone should be able to find what they're looking for.

Peacock at Cattleman's 

1. Cattleman's Steakhouse - When I ask about steak in El Paso, Cattleman's is always everyone's first response. Not only has it been voted America's Manliest Steakhouse, it's won countless other awards.


While I adore the atmosphere, I personally have not been in love with the food. To be perfectly honest, I've had better steaks elsewhere. And I am always surprised the restaurant doesn't offer any real vegetable selections. I mean, seriously?? I like a little salad or something with my meat.

Despite that, the Hubs and I have enjoyed dinner here several times. We usually take family when they visit because there is so much to see. Peacocks, rabbits, horses, and rattlesnakes, not to mention the movie sets. The whole adventure becomes an afternoon outing.

So, my conclusion is this:

While I wouldn't drive out there for the food alone, I do occasionally enjoy an afternoon at Cattleman's with family and friends. Atmosphere is the huge draw here.

2. Edge of Texas - The reviews of this restaurant have been pretty great all across the board, from reader comments to Urbanspoon. The Hubs and I have eaten here once, and we both enjoyed it, so add in personal experience too. The largest complaint I hear are about business hours. Keep in mind this restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! Many a patron has discovered this the hard way. While there may be a few naysayers in the bunch, overall the Edge of Texas rates with the best of the bunch here!

3. Corralitos Steakhouse - This is a new find for me, thanks to my pal Becky (you might remember her from our NY or Ireland trip)! We ate lunch there earlier this week, and it was excellent. I've seen a few bad reviews, but our food was perfect and the service impeccable. It's my understanding that this restaurant is doing some restructuring. The new philosophies must be working, because our meal was the best I've had in a while. Also, the atmosphere was cozy, always a bonus. If you've tried them in the past, I suggest going back again. if you've never been, then what are you waiting for?? I'll be curious to hear your responses, I hope you all enjoy it as much as Becky and I did.

4. Texas Roadhouse - I don't really like the idea of including a chain restaurant here; however, I'm adding this one as there will soon be one right on post at Freedom Crossing. As of now, the restaurant isn't open, but it will be fairly soon. In general, Texas Roadhouse tends to be a popular favorite everywhere, so I hope this new one lives up to the hype!

Now for the not so good ones. This was actually harder to come up with than you think. It is Texas, after all!

1. Great American Land and Cattle - I'm including this restaurant in the 'not so good' category for one major reason: Reviews vary greatly based on location. I've heard the Westside location is great, but the Zaragoza location is awful. Others fall in the middle. My only experience here was at Zaragoza, and it was indeed awful. We've never returned, though I've considered trying other locations.   I'd love your input, please feel free to add your two cents in!

2. Cattle Baron - Though this restaurant receives many good reviews, they consistently lose points for the quality of their steaks. The atmosphere is good, salad bar is good, service is good... but the steaks fail to measure up. The most common adjective is "tasteless". I've eaten here several times and in various locations, as it's a chain. BUT, I've never ordered a steak. Love the salad bar though, and my food has always been tasty. Have you eaten a steak here? If so, what did you think?

So, that concludes Part 1 of our best (and worst) restaurants in good old EP. More posts are coming soon, with genres varying from Asian all the way to the best bakeries in town.

Happy eating!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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  1. We really like Baja Fresh. The hubby used to try and get me to eat there, but I wanted to go somewhere else instead. We finally went a couple weeks or so before moving. It was good! We ended up going a few times before leaving and now I miss it :(. Not Mexican or Steakhouse, but BJ's is also good. I really liked their black cherry soda and sliders.

    1. Oh, I'm sorry, but Baja Fresh closed down... it's a chain though (I think), so you might be able to find it at a new duty station. And BJs will likely be making one of these lists, so check out the next part of the series as I release it :)

  2. That's a bummer!! It is a chain, they don't have it out here though :/.

  3. What!? Avila's didn't make the good cut? I am sad. And now I am over it because you bring up a good point about setting. It is outdated and drab, so I wouldn't pick it as a date night. On the flip note, a day of errand runninwas usually the type of day that I would stop. Service for us was always wonderful and fast. We even had a waiter who reminded us of Drew Carrey. Glad that Edge of Texas made the good cut. It has the filet mignon I've had. But their setting is a little outdated too. I love your guide to the area! You're a great resource for any Army family, especially at Fort Sill :)