West Texas & Southern New Mexico
I am planning a trip to Carlsbad & White Sands, as well as the Big Bend area including El Paso. Any suggestions for good Mex,Tex-Mex or BBQ (or for that matter any good food adventures) would be greatly appreciated. I have been known to drive an hour or two out of my way if food demands that commitment, so even if you have an idea that is not immediately in the area please let me know.
This is not food that demands any commitment, but if you happen to find yourself in strip-mall/car dealership hell, here's a good, reliable, and cheap alternative to most other mass-market stuff: Taco Cabana, a really cheap El Paso-based takeout joint which is surprisingly good. It's got patio-style tiles and places to sit, a drive-thru, and a goofy faux-Mexican motif. There is an amusing spiralling tortilla-cooking contraption on the counter that turns out passable, warm, thick flour tortillas (.50 for two, I think), and a pretty standard taco-based menu (including lengua, barbacoa, al pastor, and chorizo tacos, as well as potato-egg-various-meat breakfast tacos) but the real reason to go here is that they have an unlimited salsa bar with four or five kinds of fresh salsa, including inoffensive mild, medium-spicy roasted-tomato, runny hot, and pleasingly jalapeno-filled pico de gallo. Also on the free bar: fresh cilantro, onions, lemon and lime wedges, pickled jalapenos. Cheap, time-consuming meal: buy two tortillas and a cup of the bacon-y tasting refritos. This will cost around $2. Sneak a water cup and fill it with pico. Mix pieces of torn-up tortilla, beans, and preferred salsa permutation together until the tortilla starts to sog. Consume. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas.
These places are ubiquitous on the outskirts of most New Mexico and Texas cities, and I've spotted one as far north as Denver. They tend to have a bit of local spin (the ones in New Mexico offer green and red chile and the sauces are spicer. The one in Las Vegas was lame, however).
Michael--Hope you get some good advice here on the Southwest message board!
I've deleted your posting on the Texas board. If you'd like to leave a
Texas-specific message there, please go right ahead.
(sorry, we're not trying to be difficult here, just trying to keep things neat and
re: Jim Leff
Jim: Our tentive plan is to travel northeast on Route 62/180 out of El Paso to Carlsbad. From Carlsbad we will head north to Artesia on Route 285, continue west through Cloudcroft and then south on Route70/82 to Las Cruces. From Las Cruces we will take Route 10 south through El Paso to Route 90 continuing to Marathon. At Marathon we will head south to Big Bend then north on Route 170 through Presido to Route 67 up to Shafter, where we will be staying at a guest ranch. We return fom there to El Paso with perhaps a detour to Fort Davis.
Whew. Probably a lot more detail than you expected---but hopefully the trail will lead to some good food. Thanks for any input you may be able to provide.
re: Michael Z.
ok, here are two for you...pretty close together, unfortunately (so unless you've got a bottomless stomach you'll have to choose).
Route 10 goes right through Deming, NM (Idunno, about 45 minutes to 90 minutes west of El Paso). Get off and find the scrubby motel row (pretty much the only main drag...you won't have much trouble). Look for a little joint called Mirador.
This is a fascinating place...they make all the usual simple Mexican fare, but uncommonly well. There's a certain earthiness. Everything tastes super-elemental and clean (as opposed to the usual chow in that part of NM, which tastes like it's all out of a can). After a lengthy bite, I suspected something, and, looking at the owners, I realized I was right: they're Indians. Very assimilated, and they don't make any kind of big deal about it, but the rich, focused, honest, earthlike flavors are unmistakable. Don't miss the perfectly balanced lemonade.
Much of the best food in southern NM and southeastern AZ is made by Indians...they're the only ones cooking (and living) from long, strong tradition. The Hispanic Americans living there are suspended between two cultures, neither of which is totally comfortable for them (it's been a turbulent, unsettling 200 years for them), and their restaurants manifest the confusion. Plus, the white people living thereabouts tend (with a few exceptions) to be anything but chowhounds. Site regular Pete Feliz is Hispanic and hails from Tucson...hope he'll chime in on this one.
Sorry, I'm not being real evocative here...but it's 3am and I'm pretty sleepy.
nearby is also a shmancy "new southwestern" restaurant, but one that actually pays off. It's Peppers in a charming-to-a-fault place called old mesilla, NM. It's also a quick detour from rt. 10. It's super-expensive for out there (you may spend as much as $25-30), and I believe there are two dining rooms, one with a cheaper/lighter menu (can't remember which I tried). It's good--not great, but well worth an eat (ESPECIALLY in that area).
Put it this way. If, on your way back, you're turning green with the idea of yet another roadside burrito, hit Peppers for a refreshing change-of-pace before digging into El Paso. But I don't have to tell you which place I liked best.
As for El Paso...I've had bad luck there every time. I'm almost at the point of saying it's a bad chow town, though it deserves much more research. Cross into Juarez (there's a foot bridge) and walk a few blocks down the main drag, then hang a right on
Colon. To your left is a hole-in-wall making the best al pastor tacos in Juarez. You'll never forget 'em. On your way back, have a tequila in the unselfconsciously wild-wild-west Kentucky bar on your left.
i've not found anything that good in El Paso. Walking over that bridge into Juarez is like the Wizard of Oz: the dreary black and white magically transforms into colorful fantasy.
While I have never been to the place I am about to recommend, the real aficiondos of traditional BBQ have no doubt that the place has some of the best barbecue in the US. Now don't laugh. It is in a Dairy Queen in Carlsbad, NM--Danny Gaulden's Dairy Queen at 902 S. Canal in Carlsbad. I have read many very positive comments about this place. Here's a quote from a review: "...During two separate visits and trying both meat plates and sandwiches, all we can say is 'Fantastic BBQ, sides and service'".
I have returned. Weather leaving New York delayed our trip and consequently we lost more than a day which in turn cut into our willingness to detour for food. BUT two worthwhile discoveries were made.
First, Cibolo Creek Ranch, where we stayed for a few days,provided us with three exquisite meals each of those days and is worth a detour for both food and accommodations. It is located in Shafter, Texas about three hours north fo Big Bend and about three hours south of El Paso and about 45 minutes west of Marfa.
Second, the Reata Restaurant in Alpine was great. Alpine is about 20 minutes from Fort Davis (where the observatory is a must). Unfortunetly we were only able to enjoy one lunch there but it is definitely worth a return visit.
Both of these spots can be referred to as loosely southwest cuisine influenced, although Cibolo was more creative.
Because of the weather delays our time in New Mexico was restricted to a visit to Carlsbad CAVERN in Whites NM where there is no food worth mentioning. In El Paso we had one mediocre meal taken at Lucy's Cafe which had been recommended by people who, it turned out, were an unreliable source. We also ate at the Gage Hotel in Marathon where the quality of the meal was mixed: an excellent chicken fried steak, a mediocre barbecued pork and a less than mediocre grilled chiken.
Given that we are likely to return to this area I am still interested in suggestions.