El Paso, TX: What’s Got the West Texas Town Buzzing

by Brook Benten Jimenez on August 3, 2022 in General, Travel,
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Known for gastronomy, Franklin Mountains, its Mexican border, rich history, Fort Bliss, UTEP, and a reimagined downtown, there’s plenty to buzz about in El Paso.

 

Tequila Buzz

Ambar Restaurante, downtown El Paso, houses the largest and rarest selection of agave spirits in Texas.

A floor-to-ceiling glass display on both sides of the bar showcases tequilas and mezcals you know and hundreds that you don’t. Photo courtesy The Plaza Pioneer Park.

If your tequila knowledge is limited to “lick it, slam it, suck it” Jose Cuervo gold, expand your palate through an agave tasting at Ambar Restaurante.

Plenty of celebrities have dabbled into the tequila world– you may be familiar with Casamigos, by George Cloony and Randy Gerber, but there are many more. A Celebrity Agave Flight will introduce you to tequilas owned by celebrities. Rave reviews have gone to one bearing Carlos Santana’s name and another, Michael Jordan’s.

If agave doesn’t excite you, Ambar also offers a full bar – including the best on-tap Chardonnay I’ve ever had. But, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. When in El Paso, sip the good tequila.

Grub Buzz

Anson 11 is the newest upscale restaurant to come to downtown El Paso. The locals call it the new “it” place. A reservation on the second-floor “scenic level” is the place for a special occasion. These reservations are as hot as the west Texas sun, so book in advance. The restaurant sits on a historical landmark, built on the 1832 Ponce de Leon ranch. The food is the real spectacle here. The showstoppers of our meal were the Petite Greens & Burrata salad and Surf & Turf.

The Petite Greens & Burrata salad is a kaleidoscope of colors, combining petite greens, molten burrata cheese, berry gelee,serrano, and feta-olive vinaigrette. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

 

Surf & Turf is a savory sensation of shrimp and filet mignon with parsnip puree, asparagus, and peppercorn sauce. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez.

Ambar Restaurante has only been in El Paso for two years, but the food that comes out of the Ambar kitchen would make a Mexican grandmother proud. Attention to detail is put into every dish, with special touches that excite your taste buds, like the habanero-pickled onions atop the avocado toast. I eat avocado toast at nearly every place I visit for breakfast. Ambar takes top honors on that dish. 

The house-made sourdough bread is topped with smashed michoacan avocados, crispy bacon, pickled onions, shaved radish, and a poached farm egg. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez.

To further elaborate on Ambar’s attention to detail, we shine the spotlight on Rosa. Rosa travels, by foot, from Juarez, MX, to El Paso every day to make homemade tortillas for Ambar Restaurante. 

Rosa’s tortillas are part of what makes Ambar Restaurante so lip-smacking good. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez.

Carlos and Mickey’s is an eatery that will bring a grin like a Cheshire cat to anyone from El Paso. Carlos and Mickey’s shares the same ownership as Pancho’s — which also originated in El Paso. The margaritas are gigantic. The vegetable-studded rice is considered to be the best in El Paso. Reservations are not accepted, so expect a wait to get seated. We arrived at 11am, opening time, and there was a line ahead of us.

Talk to anyone who has ever lived in El Paso, and they’ll either tell you the “one” place that you have to eat while visiting – or, they’ll tell you the “one” place you should never eat while in El Paso. The answer is the same, either way: Chico’s Tacos.  Without further elaboration, the tacos sink in a fatty, salty, savory sauce in the paper food boat it’s served in.  Chico’s pros master an art of stabbing a plastic fork into one end of the taco and lifting the full monte into their mouths, corny dog style. Chico’s may be a dietitian’s worst nightmare, but it’s a drunk person’s nirvana. Open till 2am, it beckons El Paso locals and tourists, alike, after a wild night. Chico’s Tacos received national notoriety after being featured on the Food Network’s television show The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

Hotel Buzz

The 130 guest rooms and suites are modernly decorated with inspiration from the Pueblo Revival Art Deco Architecture and West Texas Landscape. Photo courtesy The Plaza Pioneer Park.

When I first visited El Paso in 2006, I complained that there is “nowhere nice to stay in this city.”  That changed three years ago. The Plaza Pioneer Park is both an architectural landmark and independent boutique hotel that symbolically stands for the revitalization of El Paso. It was initially built in 1930, in the throes of The Great Depression.  It was restored and reopened in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. This hotel opened and reopened during trying times, and that’s what gives it the El Paso spirit and makes it cool.  

 

La Perla features a rooftop lounge, two terraces, and patio space. It offers a total of 4,044 square feet. It is available for rental for meetings or special events. Photo courtesy The Plaza Pioneer Park.

The top two stories were once the penthouse suite where Hollywood star, Elizabeth Taylor, lived during her marriage to Nicky Hilton. That space is now home to a rooftop bar, La Perla, named after Ms. Taylor’s most valuable jewel. The rooftop of The Plaza is El Paso’s highest point.  From this vantage point, you can see two countries and three states. 

Book your stay at The Plaza Pioneer Park (915) 504-7063 or www.plazahotelelpaso.com.

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Cover photo from  The Plaza Pioneer Park

Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed., is a decorated fitness expert and wellness writer.  She lives in Austin, TX, with husband, Daniel, and two children, Hayes (9) and Julie Anna (5).  She provides inspiration to “help other mothers lift the motherload” on Instagram at @BrookBenten