El Paso is the hidden gem of Texas for many reasons — one being the beloved star on the mountain beckoning people back home. Known as El Paso del Norte, “The Pass of the North”, this diverse border town brings colorful Mexican culture, unique traditions and some of the best damn Mexican food in the Southwest. So If you find yourself in the Tex-Mex capital of the world and you want to experience border life at its best, here is a local’s guide to eating and drinking your way through authentic El Paso in 48 hours.
Single Order and Fries at Chico’s Tacos
Chico’s Tacos is one of those indelible El Paso traditions that has been a part of the city’s culture for ages. Late night partygoers and drunken dive bar patrons wandering the streets after midnight all flock to Chico’s for much needed greasy sustenance and a quick breather between club hopping. Though the original location has since expanded to several Chico’s around Austin, the owner and founder has intentionally kept this trashy treasure within El Paso’s borders in order to preserve its legacy and fidelity to its hometown.
You can find newer Chico’s Tacos restaurants on virtually every side of town, but if you want the OG El Paso Chico’s, you have to visit their Dyer location. It’s delightfully old, a little bit grimy and totally awesome. The lines can stretch out the door, but the wait is never long since everyone has the same thing on their mind: tacos. There’s just something about those salty rolled taquitos drenched in tomatoey sauce and cheese that really hits the spot. For the true taste of Chico’s, get a single order and a large Coke, then order a side of fries to soak in the sauce after you’re finished. It simply can’t be done any other way.
Steak at Cattleman’s Steakhouse
Located about 40 minutes east of El Paso in the beautiful desert town of Fabens is the centuries-old Indian Cliffs Ranch. This working Texas ranch is filled with acres of desert wilderness and spellbinding scenery and has even been the setting for several big screen movies including The Border and Glory Road. Along the ancient Butterfield Trail, which dates all the way back to 1858, you’ll find buttes, bluffs and abandoned stagecoaches, as well as the famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse.
This renowned cowboy style chophouse is known for their succulent steaks, which are procured and prepared the traditional Texas way by experienced local Rancheros. Take a leisurely sunset walk along Butterfield Trail and take a selfie by the old covered wagon ruins, then head up to the steakhouse and feast your eyes — and your stomach — on one of the biggest, juiciest, and best steaks of your life. If you’re not that into meat, you can always order something from the side or salad menu. But, honestly, people who go to Cattleman’s go for the steak. And you won’t be disappointed.
Combo Dinner Plate at L & J Cafe
Voted El Paso’s Best Mexican restaurant by locals, L & J Cafe is a historic Tex Mex restaurant in the heart of the city. Recognizable to many as “the old place by the graveyard”, L & J Cafe has been serving tasty Mexican food and margaritas to hungry El Pasoans for over four generations. What’s their secret? Fast service, friendly faces and fantastic food that puts all other Tex Mex to shame.
Not to mention their secret family salsa recipe, which is so irresistible that it can be purchased by the jar. Among the must-have items on the menu are the incredibly rich Green Chile Queso, tender steak fajita tacos and enchiladas, and amazing wine-based margaritas that are to die for. If you can’t make up your mind and want to try a little of everything, order the combination plate, which comes with enchiladas, crispy tacos, flautas, steak, refried beans and Spanish rice.
Double Cheeseburger with Onion Rings at Rosco’s Burger Inn
Set up in a tiny building off Tompkins Rd, Rosco’s Burger Inn is arguably one of the best burger joints in all of Texas — but you wouldn’t guess simply by looking at it. The inside of the restaurant looks just like your classic mid-century diner, with a stainless steel counter and ancient checker-tiled floor.
But people don’t visit Rosco’s for the atmosphere. This place is all about the beef. Order a single cheeseburger cooked just the way you like it and top it off with some loaded chili fries. Or blow your daily calorie quota - totally worth it - on a double cheeseburger with crispy onion rings. It’s cash only and kinda kitschy, but you won’t mind once you’ve had your first bite of these bomb burgers.
Brisket Machaca at Kiki’s Restaurant
Named by Hispanic magazine as one of the top 50 Tex Mex restaurants in the U.S, Kiki’s is a quaint casual hangout in central El Paso. This laid-back Hispanic restaurant is perhaps best known for their mouthwatering brisket machaca, which is so unbelievably good that it’s been featured on the Food Network. Locals and tourists have been stopping by Kiki’s for decades to have a cold drink, catch up with friends and munch out on decadent Tex Mex creations like Chile Con Queso Hamburger Steak, Huevos Rancheros, and spicy Chile Colorado.
Kiki’s offers great lunch and dinner specials most nights of the week where you can eat like a king for dirt cheap. But if you’re going to do El Paso the right way then you’ll stop by Kiki’s for breakfast or brunch and load up on a mammoth serving of Kiki’s famous machaca, made with grilled brisket, tomatoes, onions, green chili, a little bit of egg and Kiki’s special green sauce. One taste and you’ll see what people love so much about this unpretentious little lunch spot.
Mole Poblano at Julio’s Cafe Corona
Established just south of the border in Juarez, Mexico, Julio’s Cafe Corona has been a fundamental part of El Paso’s food scene for years. Since the inception of Julio and Guadalupe Ramirez’s tiny corona in Mexico, Julio’s has grown to two successful locations in El Paso. Though the restaurant has been passed down a few generations, the new owners have diligently and painstakingly preserved the deep Mexican roots and strong family traditions that Julio’s was built on.
On the menu, you can find plenty of old-school home-style Mexican recipes like Filete Tampiquena and savory Salpicon, along with a vast array of Spanish, International, and fresh seafood selections. While just about every pick, from flautas to flan, is a safe and delicious bet, there are a few Julio’s specialties that you absolutely cannot leave without trying. The first is the Queso Flambeado, a giant bowl full of gooey melty heavenly cheese served with soft warm tortillas, second is the top shelf margarita that’ll knock your socks off, and last but not least, Julio’s special Mole Poblano, an ancient Mexican recipe that can be traced back centuries. This is what real Mexican food is supposed to taste like.
Steakburger at Great American Land and Cattle
Home of the “real Texas Steak”, Great American Land and Cattle has been serving El Paso, Vinton and Mexico since 1977. This southwestern steak and chop house prides itself on dishing out fresh - never frozen - USDA beef that is cut on premise. So basically your steak comes from the best cattle plains of Northern America straight to your plate.
If you want to try some of that world-renowned Texas BBQ that people can’t stop talking about, then have Great American Land and Cattle’s famous slow-cooked meat, which is smoked in a mesquite-burning pit for over 12 overs before it’s drenched in homemade BBQ sauces. Or take the popular route and order the highly sought after double steakburger, which is a whopping pound of prime beef sandwiched between two fresh buns and skewered with a giant steak knife. This burger is a marvelous mound of meat that could easily feed the whole table!
Combination Plate 3 at Forti’s Mexican Elder Restaurant
Originally opened by David and Consuelo Forti in 1976, Forti’s Mexican Elder Restaurant is a longstanding El Paso tradition that has over the years become a part of the fabric of the city. Named after the yellow flowering berry tree, this family-oriented restaurant is dedicated to preserving the warm hospitality and old recipes that make Forti’s so special.
With phenomenal Mexican dishes like skewered Brocheta, Camarones al Mojo del Ajo and Chile con Queso Steak, it’s easy to see why this small cafe has had visits from dignitaries, artists and world travelers alike. Make Forti’s your first meal of the day and try one of Consuela’s filling Omlete recipes. Or order the combo and get a mondo midday meal comprised of enchiladas, tacos, tamales, chile relleno, beans and rice. Then wash it all down with a refreshing Watermelon Margarita before you head back out on the streets of El Paso.
Mango Margarita and Fish Soup at Los Bandidos de Carlos and Micky’s
Located in west El Paso, Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s is a lively little Tex Mex joint that is known for their notoriously large margaritas and daily live music. Voted the number one best margarita in El Paso, this casual restaurant is the perfect place to take a group of friends for a rowdy dinner or have a leisurely Sunday brunch and enjoy the mild morning weather and mariachis. Every day brings a different irresistible lunch special like Chicken Milanesa, crispy Beef Gorditas, and sublime Tacos al Pastor. And if you visit Carlos and Mickey’s Cantina during the weeknight, you can catch a great show from local artists like Los Compadres, Bachatta Boys, and Trio Los Naipes.
On the “Oldies But Goodies” menu you’ll find all the requisite Tex Mex sensations like spicy Tortilla Soup, Burro Wings, cheesy Bandido Fries and Jalapeño Poppers. Plus a handful of Carlos and Mickey’s specialties including Rosas’s Flautas, Fish Tacos, and Chiles Rellenos. But the one dish that sets Carlos and Mickey’s apart from the rest is their flavorful Fish Soup, which is a hot concoction made with a variety of fresh fish and veggies in a spicy seasoned broth. If you’re not a fish fan then the Albondigas meatball soup with cheese quesadillas is also a solid signature dish.
Prime Rib Sandwich and Mexican Shrimp Cocktail at Pelican’s Steak & Seafood
Located in eclectic west El Paso, Pelican’s is a longtime Steak and Seafood restaurant known for their super fresh “daily catches” and USDA choice beef cut to order right in the kitchen. This semi-upscale steakhouse has been one of El Paso’s favorite surf n turf spots since the 80’s and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere anytime soon.
And it’s no wonder, with an appetizing selection of divine dishes from land and sea that include oysters on the half shell, Monterrey Shrimp, Bacon Wrapped Scallops and tangy Chorizo Mussels. Among the more popular menu picks are melt-in-your-mouth lobster tail, King Crab, and Chilean Sea Bass smothered in bleu cheese. To start off, get the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, which is superior to any other shrimp cocktail you may have had heretofore. Then indulge yourself on the perfection that is the Prime Rib Sandwich, one of Pelican’s most requested - and most delicious - dishes.