Reprinted with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche Newspaper – http://www.alpineavalanche.com
Living in far West Texas, my husband and I have gotten into the habit of jumping in the car and heading to El Paso every once in a while for some “big city” time. On our first couple of trips, thanks to the advice of friends, we discovered L&J Café and KiKi’s Mexican Restaurant. We’ve been to both and find it hard to try anything new now that we’ve experienced two of El Paso’s legendary Mexican restaurants. We also find it hard to not drive from Fort Davis directly to L&J Café. I even keep one of their menus in the car to help us decide if we want to stick with our favorites or try something new.
L&J Café has been a culinary landmark of El Paso since 1927 and was recently voted as the Best Restaurant in El Paso. Back in the early days, it was called “Tony’s Place” and was on the outskirts of town. Back then, it offered home cooking, home brew, and slot machines through Prohibition. Later renamed “L&J Café”, it’s now run by fourth generation family members. The slot machines are gone, but the authentic, regional home cooking along with beer and wine are always on the menu.
My husband usually gets a combination enchilada dish with one chicken mole enchilada, one steak enchilada with red sauce, and one green chicken enchilada. Served on a large plate with beans, rice and a spring greens garden salad with French dressing, the presentation is almost too pretty to mess up by digging in. Almost.
Every time we’ve been to L&J, even with a short wait and a packed house, our meals are served quickly and are always consistently delicious. Their unique take on complimentary chips and salsa makes my mouth water just thinking about it… the salsa, due to popular demand, can be purchased in jars at the restaurant, online and at local stores. It’s touted as a “delicious version of traditional ‘chile de arbol’ salsa” that can be eaten with chips or used in cooking.
I have enjoyed the cheese enchilada plate many times (served as mentioned above), and in recent trips have broadened my dining experience by enjoying the chile rellenos drenched in a tasty vegetable sauce, the chicken chalupas loaded with shredded chicken and cheese, and my new favorite – the steak tacos. The steak tacos are served somewhat deconstructed as the rectangular white plate is filled with savory chopped grilled steak, beans and rice, guacamole, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, grilled green onions, and hot corn, flour or mixed tortillas. I’ve had the steak tacos twice. I could go for some L&J Café right now, but we’re not due for another trip to the city for a while.
L&J Café is located at 3622 E. Missouri Avenue in El Paso. Open daily from 9 a.m. to at least 9 p.m. Visit their website at http://www.landjcafe.com to plan what you’re going eat and get the driving instructions for your next trip to the city.
Homemade Chile de Arbol Salsa
½ pound chopped Roma tomatoes
¾ pound tomatillos, husked and washed
1 cup (30-40) Arbol chiles
½ bunch cilantro leaves (no stems) chopped roughly
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
Preheat broiler and place tomatoes and tomatillos on a baking sheet. Broil the tomatoes and tomatillos, turning occasionally, until they are charred all over – this should take about 12 minutes. Put the charred veggies in a saucepan and add the other ingredients.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until onions are tender (about 15-20 minutes). Transfer to a blender, puree and then strain. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled with your favorite chips or as a zesty sauce for your meats and anything you’d normally sprinkle with salsa. Store it in the refrigerator for up to five days, or freeze it to keep for weeks.