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Brunch at El Paso Taqueria

  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Atmosphere: small, booth and table seating
  • Attire: casual
  • Ideal for: 1x1/small groups, cheap eats, authentic, kid-friendly
  • Phone: (212) 996-1739
  • Website: www.elpasotaqueria.com
  • Location: 64 E. 97th Street (btwn Park & Madison Avenues)

*All of my photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

Located in the middle of a quiet, unassuming block on Manhattan's far Upper Eastside stands El Paso Taqueria.  Although I had heard of, but never been to, the restaurant before Sunday, this under-the-radar jewel has always held a special place in my heart, as it bears the same name of the beloved Texas town where I grew up.

Dara and I had arranged to meet for brunch/lunch at EPT (El Paso Taqueria, for short) on Sunday at noon.  Given the wacky weekend subway service, I actually arrived at the restaurant around 11:40am, much earlier than expected.  Although my party was incomplete, I was told that I was free to sit wherever I liked; plus, there were only a couple of other patrons in the restaurant when I arrived.  I plopped in to the comfortable banquette-side of a two-top table before being handed a menu and glass of ice water.  In anticipation of Dara's arrival, I asked our server for a glass of horchata and some chips and salsa.

The cool, sweet and spicy (cinnamon) rice-based beverage left a silky film on my tongue and a nutty aftertaste in my mouth.  The warm chips and freshly-made, robust salsa proved to be the perfect intermission as I waited for my guest.

HorchataTostados y salsaUpon Dara's arrival, we decided to whet our appetites with an order of guacamole, plus a bowl of queso fundido con rajas (Monterrey Jack + muenster cheeses melted with sliced green chile and onions, accompanied by warm corn tortillas).  While the guacamole was lovely to look at - perfectly ripe avocados, chunks of fresh tomato - it was flavorless, due to a lack of salt.  Fortunately, this was an easy problem to fix, as I have been known to have quite the heavy hand with a salt shaker.  The queso fundido, however, packed a devilishly addictive punch.  Because the cheese was so dense, Dara and I chose to forgo dipping our thin chips in to the queso - they would just break in half - instead opting to make mini-burritos using the corn tortillas.  Each bite yielded slightly-crunchy bits of poblano pepper that was suffocated by the rich blend of Monterrey Jack and muenster cheeses.  Before rolling up my filled tortilla, I topped the queso with a dollop of guacamole and salsa, followed by a dash of salt.  Heaven.  

Queso fundido con rajasWhen life gives you queso fundido, make a queso fundido burrito!While Dara chose an egg-based dish for her entree, I ordered my favorite comfort food and Mexican restaurant standby, cheese enchiladas.  The tell-tale sign that I know if a place is authentic or not is by their rice and beans.  Although EPT's beans were black, which is not what I'm familiar with (I grew up eating whole and refried pinto beans), the orange-colored, Veg-All-laced arroz was spot-on: short (white) rice kernels that formed random clumps, subtle garlic and cumin essence, salty, and a mild chicken-broth + tomato aftertaste.  

The first observation I made while cutting in to my cheese enchiladas was that the tortillas did not  appear to have been fried.  This led me to believe that, because the corn tortillas were so fresh, they were able to be rolled without splitting (which is caused by dry tortillas - hence why they're fried in the first place).  None the less, the enchiladas were stuffed with a heaping amount of Monterrey Jack and topped with a thick and smoky red sauce.  Needless to say, I practically licked my plate clean, with the exception of the black beans.

Enchiladas de queso con salsa rojo, arroz y frijoles negrosFrom the friendly and attentive service, delicious and authentic Mexican cuisine, and the relatively inexpensive price, EPT (El Paso Taqueria) is my own little slice of EPT (El Paso, Texas) in the Big Apple. 

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