[Metroactive Dining]

[ Dining Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Tex-Mex Taste Test

A short drive down El Camino Real can put diners in a Lone Star state of mind

By Andrew Pham

IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE for El Paso Cafe to hang its 10-gallon hat on El Camino Real, one of California's oldest and longest roads, built way back when the missionaries first descended on the West Coast. Narrow and fronted by an opaque facade--it appears almost seedy at first sight, like a secretive pawnshop--the cafe looks as though it was already here when El Camino was a two-lane road. The place, something of a minor institution, stirs up images of watering holes in the rougher corners of El Paso, Texas.

Inside, a bar leans against one wall and a hangman's noose dangles opportunistically in the middle of the diner. The walls are filled with memorabilia from the Lone Star State's heyday and a collection of auto license plates. Farther back one finds a patio and a small sun room, both available as dining space. Not quite a destination for first dates or reflective interludes, this watering/munching hole has Spanish songs piped throughout the premises to compete with the five televisions, all tuned to various sports channels.

The kitchen fits the establishment: The fare is unabashedly Tex-Mex, as everyone knew it before gourmets started authenticating everything to the point of standardization. Dishes are modestly spiced and portions are generous. Patrons order at the bar and the bartender brings food to their table.

Less expensive items prove to be the superior choices. Burritos so big they hang off the plate go for $4.85 ($3.70 for regular size; $3.70 vegetarian), filled with a choice of marinated beef, chicken or chorizo (hot Mexican sausage). These oinkers are topped with sour cream, guacamole, and Jack and cheddar cheeses and then broiled for a crusty presentation.

The Alamo Carne Asada ($7.25) didn't match its billing of "tender slices of sirloin steak," but certainly lived up to its namesake for toughness and staying power against knives and forks--probably guns and sabers as well. Served with pinto beans, Spanish rice and corn tortillas, the sheets of beef in a salsa sauté tasted like something a cowhand might have endured beside a chuckwagon. The pollo tapatio ($6.25), diced chicken simmered with onion, tomatoes and bell peppers, told a more tasty story. Another safe choice is the straightforward BBQ baby pork ribs ($7.50).

At $3.85 to $4.25, burgers, served with fries and all the trimmings, are good deals. Fresh salsa and unlimited hot-off-the-fryer chips ($1) go well with the passable margaritas ($3) or selection of Mexican brews ($2.50) and a ballgame on the tube.

It's a cool hangout, an offbeat dive that's a far holler from the streamlined corporate franchises. El Paso Cafe's character may beckon louder than its food, but therein lies the bargain.

El Paso Cafe is located at 1407 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View, 415/961-8858. Send Bargain Bite tips by email or call 408/298-8000 ext. 441.

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the June 26-July 2, 1997 issue of Metro.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.