El Paso’s Growing Culinary Reputation

El Paso has not been known for its culinary excellence or broad array of restaurants. In recent years, however, its reputation has been growing and it’s been garnering more well-deserved and likely over-due attention by food enthusiasts and prestigious culinary awards organizations. The El Paso restaurant scene has grown and thrived in recent years sadly in part because Ciudad Juarez, just across the river with its escalating violence due to drug wars, has become less of a competitor with fewer people crossing the border seeking it’s highly-regarded Mexican restaurants.

Most visitors to El Paso expect a cowboy town of southwestern fare or Tex-Mex chains. They’d be quite mistaken. El Paso has always been a border town with a long history of Mexican roots. The city is a vibrant mix of culture and ethnicities. Its cuisine is no different. While foodies will find some Spanish/Mexican influences in the local menus, the city of El Paso’s cuisine is neither all Mexican nor all Tex Mex. But it’s also not strictly American or Southwestern, either. It’s probably best described as a modern fusion of the city and area’s rich history. Having said that, interestingly, the top five OpenTable Diner’s Choice Winners for 2015 are known for their “Contemporary American” cuisine. Two of the restaurants have received additional national accolades helping to bring El Paso further into the national culinary limelight.

The top five Diner’s Choice Awards on OpenTable for 2015 are as follows:

1) Cafe Central opened as a restaurant back in 1918 and is run today by a four-time James Beard nominee, Armando Portales. (The James Beard Award is equivalent to the Oscar of the American culinary world and considered extremely prestigious.) This restaurant known for its great food is tucked into a discreet corner of downtown El Paso and is known for contemporary American cuisine.

2) Anson11 is located in the heart of El Paso in a history building and next to the famed Plaza Theater. This American bistro offers two experiences: upstairs there is pricier, fine dining, while downstairs they offer more bistro-style plates. Either way, its menu leans heavily toward steakhouse-type fare with seafood as well. The establishment prides itself on flying in daily its fresh seafood.

3) Kona Grill sounds like it should belong in Hawaii but it’s smack in El Paso and labels itself as offering modern American cuisine in a contemporary setting. Interestingly, it’s well known for its award-winning sushi menu and bar as well as its celebrated chefs.

4) Mesa Street Grill is a local family-owned restaurant that opened in 1998. It’s close to downtown in the university and medical district of the city. All of their chefs are all Cordon Blue Culinary School graduates and/or professionally trained. They are the only restaurant in the city to win 3 consecutive “Distinguished Restaurants of North America” awards and 10 Wine Spectator awards.

5) As #5 on Open Table’s Diner Choice list, Bogart’s Steakhouse and Bar is also a steakhouse. (El Paso loves their steaks; it is Texas after all!) Its menu reflects a touch of cultures from North America.

A more recent edition to the restaurant scene in El Paso changing things up, and featured a few years ago by the New York Times, the tiny Tom’s Folk Cafe offers Southern food, including hush puppies. And, if you can’t leave El Paso without having a southwester breakfast, mosey on over to Ripe Eatery. Don’t be put off by the strip mall it sits in because what’s inside is worth a stop.