Have you ever had someone tell you that “you must go to ________ [insert NYC neighborhood here] and have the __________!” [insert awesome food for which aforementioned neighborhood is known]. Of course you have. This equation works for dim sum and dumplings in Chinatown or Flushing, Shabu Shabu and Fried Chicken in Koreatown, (W 32nd St), Indian in Jackson Heights, and it most certainly works for Tamales, Tortas, Tacos, Burritos, and Enchiladas in El Barrio. But, because your food-savvy recommender acts as if the best restaurants in said neighborhood have a magnet that wordlessly pulls your feet to their front door, have you noticed that they never actually tell you which restaurant to go to? I have encountered this restaurant neighborhood quandary more than once, so, for those of us who don’t have a culinary magnet that kicks in when you get off the train at E 116th St and Lexington, you have me to recommend the best Mexican places to eat. One of the veteran Mexican Restaurants in El Barrio is El Paso Taqueria & Cerveceria, and they are most certainly on the top of my list for both eat-in and delivery (Please Note: El Paso has with 3 locations in Spanish Harlem—my review is about the El Paso at 237 E 116th St between 2nd & 3rd Ave). Having recently revamped their menu to include traditional Mexican dishes with a modern twist, El Paso is miles ahead of any of their competition on E 116th St (and there is a LOT of competition on East 116th St).
Because they are 3 blocks away, have super-fast pick up/delivery, and a great brunch (with one of the best lemon salad dressings ever), Keith and I have eaten here more times than I can count. Though I already love El Paso, on the day that I decided to eat-in and take pictures, I discovered one of the best lunch deals in New York.
But, before I learned of this amazing Lunch Special, I had decided that I wanted Tortilla Soup (a brilliant addition that came with the menu makeover) and a Grilled Vegetable Burrito, which I saw on the a la carte menu. My server, who was absolutely delightful and very attentive, recommended that I save around $10 on my bill and order the Lunch Special, where I could get exactly the same thing, but less of it (which is a good thing, because my eyes are ALWAYS larger than my stomach, especially when I’m dining for review purposes). So, I glanced at the Lunch Special card on my table and as soon as I saw Enchiladas Verdes as an option the Burrito was quickly swapped out and I put in my order.
Another great thing about El Paso is that they are really making an effort to create a warm weather paradise in the back of the restaurant. They are creating both an indoor(ish) beer garden space on part of their patio, and there will also be an outdoor space that can be used by casual restaurant patrons, or be rented for special events. When I was there for this post the GM was nice enough to show me what’s happening in the back, and I am excited to go check it out once it’s opened.
Tortilla Soup: El Paso’s Tortilla Soup is delivered to the table in two parts. The first, which is a pile of fried tortilla strips, cheddar cheese, raw onions, cilantro, dried chilies, and avocado beautifully arranged in the center of a very deep bowl, patiently awaits the second part—the broth your server will pour. Once the broth is added the bowl turns into a piping hot and very slow cooked chicken-based soup with nice depth and great spice. Though the highlight of the soup is the broth, the buttery avocado and the slightly soft but still crunchy tortilla strips add great texture while the dried chilies and raw onion impart a spicy freshness that make this soup a perfect cold-weather starter.
Chicken Enchilada Verdes: Ever since I found out what a tomatillo actually is (my rather hilarious tomatillo/chayote adventure is explained in my Roasted Tomatillo Sauce Post), I have not been able to get enough of them. Roasted or boiled, chunky or pureed, as a sauce or a salsa, tomatillos are my jam (Note to Self: learn how to make Tomatillo Jam this fall). And, it just so happens that El Paso has one of the best Tomatillo Sauces (aka Green/Verde Sauce) that I have had in our neighborhood. Made of boiled tomatillos, chilies, and cilantro (and other ingredients I’m sure my server wasn’t going to tell me), this sauce has the perfect amount of acid, and heat, and it lends a fresh citrusy burst to the otherwise very rich tortilla, chicken, and cheese combination. And, if loving their Green Sauce wasn’t enough, the simple and tender chicken filling was the perfect complement for the fresh tortillas that wrap it into fat rolls garnished with melted cheese, sour cream, and salty queso fresco. And, like almost every other Mexican Restaurant in New York, El Paso get their Tortillas delivered daily from Tortillería Nixtamal in Corona, Queens. These tortillas, which are the freshest and the most authentic you will find anywhere in the 5 boroughs (or so says the New York Times, anyway) are slightly sweet and are only better when then absorb all of that wonderful tomatillo sauce.