I forgot my passport, but that didn’t matter. I was in El Paso, technically not Mexico, but close enough. I knew that Mexico was over there — the country felt like a portrait whose eyes were always following me — but it was also here, on this side of the fence. (One constant reminder of the shared boundary: U.S. Border Patrol vehicles parked along Interstate 10 and helicopters flying overhead.) Signs in restaurant windows advertised menudo soup, and not just for Sunday supper; girls dressed in their quinceañera best posed for photos in San Jacinto Plaza. At H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop, a waitress returned my morning greeting with a “buenos dias” before setting down a heaping plate of huevos rancheros. At bars around town, I learned that a chile is the cocktail condiment of choice. Two customers at Love Buzz introduced me to the paleta shot, which evokes the chile-fied watermelon lollipops of their Mexican youth, and a bartender at Cafe Central rimmed a mescal-filled glass with ground-up crickets, chiles and salt. Note to high school Spanish teachers: Add the phrase “sal de grillos” to your lesson plan. Of course, the southern Joneses aren’t the sole influences on this sun-broiled city in the Chihuahuan Desert. El Paso is in the United States, after all, which means the Spaniards left their mark, as did — and still do — the Pueblo Indians. A shopkeeper at the Tigua Indian Cultural Center shared her recipe for traditional oven-baked bread. I’d need flour, water, salt, lard and an horno, she told me, or I could throw down six bucks for quicker loaf gratification. And then there is the Texas connection. To feel it, I could look up at the 459-foot-long illuminated star set in the Franklin Mountains, or down at the pair of Rocketbuster cowboy boots that taught me how to walk the El Paso walk.
First things first: How to pronounce
Like Proust, Octavio Zavala taps into the time-machine powers of food. Instead of madeleines, the chef-owner of
On a recent weekday, the morning rush at 7H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop 7HandH Car Wash and Coffee Shop Google Map: 701 E. Yandell Dr. 915-533-1144 included a businessman in a suit and tie, a gray-ponytailed doctor, a regular in a University of Texas at El Paso sweatshirt and a white pickup truck. At the hybrid establishment, open since 1958, you can wash down breakfast or lunch while your ride receives the salon treatment. The space is as cramped as a gas station convenience store, with a row of orange stools lining a teal Formica counter and a few tables and chairs pressed against a wall littered with photos of customers and the owners’ family members. You can also take your meal outside and watch the car-cleansing show from a chair that folds up — or rocks. The menu specializes in Mexican classics (flautas, carne picada, chile rellenos), with a dash of Denny’s (two eggs with bacon or sausage, oatmeal). And no dish is more than the price of a wash.
The co-founders of
“Boring people don’t want our boots,” said Nevena Christi, owner of
Three generations of Alvidrez-Herreras showcase their talents at
From the backyard cactus garden at
If you dreamed of robbing a bank during your night at the
16Five Points 16Five Points Google Map: A stretch of Central El Paso that includes Piedras Street, Montana Avenue and Pershing Drive makes a strong case for retaining authenticity and grit without sacrificing hipster tastes. “The older businesses didn’t want to gentrify,” Adam Bedoya said. “They wanted keep the feeling of Five Points alive while bringing some new life into it.” That new vitality includes the year-old Salt and Honey Bakery and Cafe, where Bedoya, a waiter, serves all-day brunch and breakfast, housemade pastries and coffee drinks, such as a tri-flight of espressos. Across the street, Joe, Vinny & Bronson’s Bohemian Cafe hydrates patrons with the holy trinity of beverages: coffee, wine and craft beer. JVB’s signature drink is the Golden Milk, a symphony of turmeric, honey, soy milk and cinnamon, with a crescendo of espressos. Around the corner, Pershing Inn, which opened in 1946, takes its booze and bands outside to an open-air patio with a full bar, stage and picnic tables that encourage family-style drinking. Love Buzz hosts live and loud music — metal, punk and indie rock — three times a week. For a taste of Old Five Points, grab a red plastic tablecloth-covered table at the Italian Kitchen, which recalls the neighborhood from seven decades ago.
Known as the “Ellis Island of the Border,” 17El Segundo Barrio 17El Segundo Barrio Google Map: Paisano Drive to the North, Cesar Chavez Memorial Highway to the South, Cotton Street to the East, and the alley between Mesa and Stanton streets to the West. was established by Mexican immigrants in the late 19th century and is considered one of the most historic Hispanic neighborhoods in the country. It’s also a great place to experience Mexico without a passport. “Do you want to try some pig skin?” asked a woman behind the counter at Burritos y Carnitas Yoni, which also sells burritos, tortas and tacos. At Ruidoso Super Market, pick up bilingual religious candles and Costco-size packs of tortillas. Murals illustrate the area’s people and past in vivid detail. “El Paso Port-All,” a 90-foot-long artwork at the International Bridge, offers a highlight reel of El Paso. Images include the crocodiles in San Jacinto Plaza (once live, now sculpted), a taco cart, a Mexican woman harvesting crops and the giant star over the Franklin Mountains that shines down on two cities sharing one border.