El Paso is home to a vibrant culinary scene, characterized by a mix of traditional Mexican dishes, bold Tex-Mex, and old-school American Southwest fare. It's easily one of the best foodie cities in Texas, though it's often overlooked in favor of flashier cities like Austin and Houston. Oh, well; all the more green chile enchiladas, pan dulce, and flautas for you, then. Here's where you should eat when you visit.
Open since 1927, L&J is the city’s oldest family-run food establishment and easily one of the most well-known cafés in El Paso. Located right across from the historic Concordia Cemetery, the much-beloved restaurant serves tantalizingly delicious Mexican fare like green chile enchiladas, fajitas, and tacos. Get the combination plate if you want to try a little bit of everything—it comes with crispy tacos, flautas, refried beans, Spanish rice, and enchiladas. Of course, it’s best to start with the queso, spiked with roasted chile strips, and a giant frosted margarita.
Come for the Texan-style tapas, stay for the inventive desserts. At Tabla, diners can chow down on a diverse smorgasbord of small plates like chickpea fries with Moroccan spices; coconut shrimp lo mein; baked goat cheese with honey and sweet onion jam; and grilled octopus served with hummus, roasted tomatoes, and an olive tapenade. The dulces are worth coming for alone—take your pick from churros, crème brûlée, and pecan ice cream.
Cafe Mayapan serves a delectable array of traditional Mexican cuisine, with a special emphasis on Indigenous fare. The food here is the real deal—house specialties include dishes like quesadillas filled with Asadero cheese and epazote and grilled cactus stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, and chipotle. As if it isn't enough that everything here tastes distinctively fresh and homemade, Cafe Mayapan also doubles as a food employment training center to support the economic development of local working class women.
Chico’s Tacos is such an institution that the Texas Legislature honored the local chain in 2003 to mark the company’s 50th anniversary. Having been featured in countless local and national publications, it’s maybe the city’s most popular local restaurant (there are five eateries around town now). You can’t leave El Paso without trying Chico’s signature flautas—rolled tacos submerged in tomato salsa and topped with shredded cheese. They’re delightfully greasy (and, okay, just a little bit gross), but they absolutely hit the spot, every time.
El Paso’s first-ever vegan restaurant and market serves vegan soul food so good you’ll never know there’s meat missing from your plate. Appetizers include the deep-fried unChicken drumsticks, mango cauliflower tacos, spicy jalapeño oyster mushroom florets, and battered unShrimp. It's their Sunday brunch that truly takes the cake, though, thanks to menu items like fluffy Southern biscuits and the unBacon waffle—strips of succulent “bacon” covered in homemade butter, served atop a giant pile of waffles.
Known for their insanely huge margaritas (so big and lethal that they’re limited to one per customer) and regular live music lineup, Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s is a lively, inviting, and widely loved Tex-Mex joint. Chow down on staples like enchiladas, chiles rellenos, tacos, and chimichangas, and be sure to sample a cup of their famed Fish Soup, a spicy, flavorful concoction of fresh fish and veggies.
For one of the best upscale dining experiences in El Paso, look no further than Cafe Central, which has been serving elegant bistro fare for more than 100 years at this point. The lovely, twinkly-lit outdoor terrace makes for the perfect spot to dig into delectable starters like baked escargot and beef carpaccio, before moving onto entrées like sesame-crusted tuna; clay-baked branzino; and puntas de filete, a regional Mexican beef dish that’s served with roasted green chiles and jalapeño au jus.
To satisfy your pan dulce cravings, head to Bowie Bakery at its original location in El Paso’s historic Segundo Barrio (they have a couple of other locations across the city, too). This homegrown-fave bakery makes incredible desserts; in addition to churning out some 50 daily varieties of their famous pan dulce (literally, “sweet bread”), they make flan, tarts, tres leches cake, and more. Need to balance your sweets intake with something savory? They serve menu items like burritos and menudo as well.
H&H Car Wash
An El Paso landmark, H&H Car Wash is the only place in town (and maybe the only place in Texas) where you can get your car serviced while noshing on delicious Tex-Mex fare like huevos rancheros and burritos stuffed with eggs, chorizo, and picadillo. Owner Maynard Haddad’s father opened H&H in 1958, on the same block where his family lived. Today, Haddad and his brother run the family business, and there are many regulars that frequent the place.
A former gourmet food truck gone brick-and-mortar, Tacoholics makes one of the all-time best dishes in all of El Paso: flautas ahogadas. These mouthwatering flautas are stuffed with your choice of filling (chicken, pork, tofu, or sirloin) and drizzled with sharp crema; then, they're sprinkled with fresh cilantro, raw onion, and queso asadero (a creamy white cheese that’s a specialty of northern Mexico and the borderlands). The proverbial icing on the cake is the piping-hot tomatillo salsa. The result? Flautas so maddeningly good that you'll undoubtedly want to order more, ASAP.