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Nov. 6, 2007:  Tucson, AZ. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. One of the best attractions in Tucson is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum located a short distance west of the city. The museum is a private non-profit organization that is financed entirely by admissions, memberships, and contributions. It is well worth a trip, with special activities going on all morning and into early afternoon. Because of the desert heat, not much is usually going on after about 2 p.m., although the exhibits are open and some are indoors.

The museum has built exhibits for plants and animals in their natural habitat that live anywhere in the Sonoran deset, covering much of Arizona and northern Mexico. I think I was surprised at the variety of animals that can survive in the desert.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum at Tucson

An exhibit of Mexican wolves is one example of the animals that can be found at the museum. One purpose of the museum is to provide a habitat for animals that have become very scarce in the wild.

The Mexican wolf is one of the animals that lives at the museum

The museum also has several eating places, including the acclaimed Ocotillo Cafe that has limited hours in the summer: several days a week for lunch and Saturday evenings for dinner. Ironwood Terraces Restaurant is open all year and serves hamburgers, pizza, sandwiches, and Southwestern fare. I have it from a good source that the restaurant's wraps are outstanding.

Ironwood Terraces is open for lunch

Oct. 25, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Asian Grocery Stores. El Paso is not exactly a mecca for Asian food, but there are several grocery stores and small markets where groceries and supplies from the far east are available. There are also Indian, Middle Eastern, and other stores that sell goods from other parts of Asia, but I will probably cover those in another article.

There are probably some stores with which I am not familiar, but I can name the ones I know from my own personal shopping. Oriental Imports at 9101 Gateway West is the largest Chinese market I have seen in town, and the one that I think has the best selection. Located inside the Oriental Center on the Interstate 10 in east El Paso, there is both a gift shop and a grocery store that seem to be under the same ownership. Some of the Chinese restaurants in town say the grocery store has the best Chinese vegetables in town, stocking items that cannot be found anywhere else. The supply of vegetables comes from California, and items sold depend largely on what is in season. Since bok choy and other vegetables are not available all the time, this is one reason Chinese restaurants do not include them in dishes on their menus. Because of the vegetables available here and from other sources, though, restaurants can sometimes prepare special dishes. Oriental Imports is a good source for cooking ingredients such as oils and sauces needed for Chinese and other Asian cuisine. This is also the number one store I would check for any Asian cooking utensils that were needed.

Oriental Imports is inside Oriental Center on Gateway West

Hong's Blankets and Gift Shop at 2000 N. Lee Trevino specializes in Japanese groceries, but also has a good selection of fresh Chinese and other Asian vegetables (many are likely grown in California). I do not know vegetables well enough to compare the ones here with other stores, but they looked fresh to me. The store is also the best source in town for Japanese teas. I am not sure about the "blankets" but the store is mainly a grocery store with the typical Asian noodles and cooking ingredients. The store is a couple of doors south of Riyoma Japanese Restaurant.

Bonsai Japanese Restaurant at 225 Shadow Mountain Drive has a market attached to the restaurant that sells Asian goods. Bonsai used to be a Japanese and Korean restaurant, but now serves Japanese food exclusively. The market, however, seems to be primarily Korean and the owners of the restaurant and market are Korean. I would say it has items from a number of countries, however, and for those on the west side it is the only Asian grocery store to my knowledge. It has a small selection but it seems to be well stocked in the essential cooking needs for Chinese, Japanese, or other Asian foods.

Jeh-Il Asian Grocery and Gift Store at 8305 Dyer Street is my favorite store in town for the things that are really important (or at least important to me): Japanese rice cake and wheat cake cookies. These are not only the best cookies in town, I cannot even find the same ones in other cities I visit. Jeh-il is primarily a Korean grocery store, but the selection of Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients is substantial enough that I believe a large number of dishes could be prepared with the goods that are available here. I do not believe the store specializes in fresh vegetables, but I have not asked what they have available. There are more types of noodles here than I have seen anywhere else, and so many packaged goods with Korean and Japanese labels that I really wonder what they all are. Anyway, even if the main purpose of my trip is for desserts, I have a lot of fun looking at the other things.

Jeh-Il Asian Grocery and Gift Store at Dyer and Hercules

Jun. 24, 2007:  Roswell, NM. Finding Good Eats for the UFO Conference. There is only one recent review posted on this web site for Roswell, New Mexico, but past visits to the city have turned up some surprisingly good places to eat. This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the famous (but not fully documented) Roswell UFO crash, and there are expected to be large crowds to hear several speakers on the subject of extraterrestrial vistations as well as to enjoy some family fun on the weekend after July 4th. I went to the 50th Anniversary celebration in 1997, and I highly recommend going to the celebration this year, especially if you can attend one or more of the informative lectures.

During the conference ten years ago, some of the local residents recommended the Nuthin' Fancy Cafe at 2103 N. Main as a place for a good lunch. Actually it is also open for breakfast and dinner, and with the home cooked style food it serves, it would probably be good for any of these meals. It has undergone a change of owners since I ate there (actually I ate there on multiple occasions), but it seems to be as popular as ever. I enjoyed the bread, and I thought the main dishes pretty much lived up to the restaurant's claim of having home made food.

Nuthin' Fancy Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

One of the most interesting restaurants in town is A Taste of Europe at 1300 N. Main that would probably be easy to miss even though it is on the main highway near the Convention Center. I ate there a number of years ago while driving through town, and I do not remember much about it except that it was good. It also has a reputation for serving surprisingly good food that most people do not expect to find in southeastern New Mexico. I remember it having some pretty common Italian dishes, as well as some more unusual ones from eastern Europe. The fact that it is still in business after a number of years says quite a bit.

A Taste of Europe

The UFO Museum at 1st and Main has a permanent exhibit of UFO photos, information on crop circles, and a small book store and gift shop for the times you might be visiting when there is no conference. Nearby is El Toro Bravo Restaurant that has fairly decent Mexican food, although I would not compare it with Albuquerque or Las Cruces.

El Toro Bravo with IUFOMRC up the street

There are several other Mexican restaurants in town but I do not know how they compare to this one.

I enjoyed Pasta Cafe in Ruidoso, and there is one in Roswell also (this is a mini chain with 3 or 4 restaurants). Some of the entrees were mediocre, but I enjoyed the chicken cacciatore, and I thought the salad and wine were particularly good.

Jun. 14, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Rosa's Cantina. When the lyric "Out in the West Texas Town of El Paso" in the song by Marty Robbins comes to mind, one thinks about the events that might have transpired in Rosa's Cantina. Many may not realize, though, that there is a real Rosa's Cantina at 3454 Doniphan Drive near the Sunland Park Racetrack. I do not know how long it has been there but I know it has been more than twenty years (and perhaps predates Marty Robbins' song).

Rosa's serves Mexican food for lunch, and at night is a popular bar and cantina (I am not sure of the difference between the two--perhaps a cantina is required to serve Mexican beer). Since my lunch experiences predate the time I started writing reviews, I have not included it in the review section of the web site. If you are in the area, though, and you would like to get a cheap lunch, this is a good choice.

Rosa's Cantina was made famous by a Marty Robbins song

Jun. 14, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Special Cantonese Style Dishes at Oriental Cafe. Oriental Cafe is gradually introducing authentic Cantonese style dishes to the menu. The main problems seem to be that customers are not familiar with the food so that they want to order it, many of the ingredients are not available or are only occasionally available, and some of the food is more difficult to prepare than the standard stir-fried and deep fried dishes which are the big sellers at Oriental Cafe and other Chinese restaurants.

As a volunteer "test subject" I have been able to sample some of these dishes that I thought were as good as they were interesting. If there is enough interest with other customers, some of these might be made available on a more regular basis. Both of the owners of Oriental Cafe seem to be very good cooks. However, Winnie, the wife, has been particularly interested in experimenting with some of the same dishes that are served in the Cantonese style restaurants of California.

Pork ribs with black bean sauce made a tasty treat, and the vegetables made it more so. This type of meat takes a long time to cook, and is available in many west coast restaurants if you give them advance notice.

Slow cooked pork ribs with black bean sauce and mustard greens

Lettuce wraps with shrimp were delicious, and they were even better with a special dipping sauce that Winnie makes.

Lettuce wrap with shrimp and a special dipping sauce

Whole steamed fish with black bean sauce was one of the more delicious dishes I have tried.

Steamed fish with black bean sauce

A light soup with spinach and tofu does not take as long to prepare as some of the other soups, but the problem in El Paso is finding suitable vegetables. Some other types of vegetables can be substituted, such as mustard greens.

A light soup with spinach and tofu

The owners usually make a daily soup with whatever ingredients are avialable. This time it was carrots.

Chinese vegetable soup with carrots

Pepper beef is usually available to order. This was a different twist, though, with cabbage added as a vegetable.

Pepper beef with cabbage

I like anything made with lotus leaf, such as this chicken dish.

Chicken with lotus leaf

The dumpling with pork and preserved vegetables is sometimes served in the lunch buffet. It is a special treat, though, with the restaurant's home made dipping sauce.

Dumpling with pork and preserved vegetables

In hot weather cold soups are good, such as this soup made with seaweed that is cooked until it becoms soft. The soup is allowed to cool and served either for dessert or the last course in the meal.

Seaweed soup is served cold

This soup was named "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" because, as the story goes, Buddha smelled the soup cooking and it was so good he jumped over a wall to get it. Although he was a vegetarian, the soup had so many good ingredients that he could not resist this soup made with several kinds of meat. The ones in China include shark's fin, an ingredient that I do not think is available in El Paso. The soup I tried had a complex mixture of other ingredients, though, such as abalone, scallops, ginseng, and bamboo shoots. The soup takes about a day to cook, which explains why the owners do not have the urge to prepare it very often.

Buddha would have jumped over a wall for this soup

May 17, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Chinese Cold Soup at Oriental Cafe. Oriental Cafe, across from Franklin High School, has been preparing some very good employee meals of which I am able to partake when I give advanced notice or there is enough available to share. This has been an opportunity to try traditional Cantonese food that people would prepare in their own homes--sometimes it includes dishes that take hours to prepre, but mainly they are simple, flavorful dishes.

Since this blog focuses on reporting different types of food and opportunities for finding them, I was interested when I was served a soup I had never tried before. I do not know its name, but I was told it is popular in California. The soup is good hot when it is first prepared, but afterward is usually served cold, as it was to me. When served cold it is usually eaten after the meal, and its sweet flavor makes a good dessert. The swirly looking matter is yellow fungus that is packaged dry. Many Chinese dishes have an enhanced flavor by using dried ingredients that are then reconstituted when prepared, and I am sure this fungus would taste much different if eaten fresh. Dried fungus is an integral part of Chinese cooking, with black fungus being one of the most important ingredients in hot and sour soup. The cold soup pictured below was rounded out with some plums and mushrooms, for a very refreshing treat.

Cold soup with yellow fungus

May 5, 2007:  El Paso, TX. La Ideal Bakery. Part of the Mexican food scene in El Paso is the several very good bakeries that serve Mexican style pastries and baked goods. Bowie Bakery in South El Paso is probably the best known. From my experiences at quite a few business meetings, however, I found that the best treats came from La Ideal Bakery at 1700 Wyoming Ave., just off I-10 near Cotton Street.

La Ideal Bakery at the corner of Dallas and Wyoming

La Ideal serves traditional Mexican pastries that are always fresh.

Glass cases showcase the baked goods at La Ideal

Empanadas, shown on the top shelf of the following photo, are the standout item at La Ideal. These are made with sweetened fruit in a wrapping that reminds me somewhat of home made pie crust. It is impossible to tell from the outside what type of fruit is inside the empanada, but the employees will inform you which ones are available. I would recommend ordering the pineapple, and these seem to be the most popular with groups of people as well. Apple is usually available, and sometimes there will be other varieties such as pumpkin.

Empanadas are the standout item at La Ideal, but the other pastries should be sampled as well.

I have not noticed whether La Ideal bakes loaves of bread or other non-pastry items. I know that they provide the rolls served at Amigos Restaurant a few blocks away, and these are some of the best in El Paso. I am also extremely impressed with the pumpkin pie sold before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Apr. 22, 2007:  Mesilla, NM. La Posta Restaurant. I have been disappointed at the way La Posta has removed much of the chile heat, covered everything with yellow cheese or sour cream, and done everything it can to serve the type of mild "tourist food" that can be found just about anywhere in the U.S. Just about all the other restaurants in Mesilla serve much better New Mexican food, including the one I went to on the same visit to Mesilla: Los Mariachis. Still, tourists flock to La Posta, and a big reason has to be the historic building in which it is located (I am sure that many people also like the food at La Posta, it is just that I do not consider it to be authentic New Mexican food). It is worth showing some pictures of La Posta, and I believe it is worth a visit if you are in the area, even if you do not plan a meal there. The sopaipillas, appetizers, desserts, etc. may be good even if you go elsewhere for a meal. For the previous review I did on La Posta see the following: La Posta.

This is a view of La Posta from the historic plaza in Mesilla, just southwest of Las Cruces, and about a mile from the I-10 exit:

La Posta on the Plaza in Mesilla

The entrance to La Posta is on the east side, opposite of the previous picture:

La Posta de Mesilla Entrance

There are several stores and gift shops, including this one that sells some pretty good salsa from the restaurant:

La Posta Gift Shop

In the lobby is a large bird cage with quite a few inhabitants, including this friendly guy:

La Posta's Aviary

The kitchen has to be almost a mass production facility to keep up with the number of orders it has to get out to customers:

La Posta's kitchen makes the restaurant look very tempting

The food looks good and is good; I just do not think it is the best representation of authentic New Mexican cuisine:

A variety of La Posta's offerings

Feb. 23, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Lent Specials at Carnitas Querétaro. With the start of Lent several restaurants offer Comida de Cuaresma, either fish or vegetarian meals on Fridays until Easter. I started the season at Carnitas Querétaro, a place normally known for its meat dishes, but which also offers traditional Lent specials. A report with photos is shown on a separete page: Carnitas Querétaro Comida de Cuaresma

Feb. 18, 2007:  El Paso, TX. Chinese New Year. I am still trying to learn the food and customs of Chinese New Year, and fortunately it is getting easier to do so in the United States. The Chinese community in El Paso has a celebration every year, this year being at the Hong Kong Buffet. I was told they had a whole pig to celebrate the Year of the Pig, whole chickens, fish, and other types of traditional food. I was also told that the room was just about filled to capacity, so it is doubtful that they are anxious to have a large number of additional people join the party next year.

I was also told that the Taiwanese community had a separate celebration at a different restaurant. The New Year is all about celebrating and getting together with family, so both of these gatherings were much more than just a place to eat good food.

For those of us who either were not invited or chose not to go to these celebrations (they actually had a cover charge and I suspect were open to anybody) it took a little creativity to find traditional New Year's food. I had my first success on New Year's eve (Saturday) at Oriental Cafe at 931 N. Resler Drive across from Franklin High School. This small restaurant has new owners and I have been enjoying traditional Chinese meals on a regular basis. For the New Year they had prepared a traditional vegetarian dish Silken Tofu and Lilly Flowers that was served with snow peas, fungus, and a specially cooked tofu. The lilly flowers were mixed into clear noodles so that it almost seemed like a "clear" or transparent food, fitting in with the theme of eating vegetables for the purpose of cleansing the body. I thought it was a taste sensation that I hope to be able to enjoy in the future.

Silken Tofu and Lilly Flowers with Beef on 
the side served at Oriental Cafe in El Paso

For the Sunday dinner on New Year's day my party went to Sam's Chinese Restaurant at 1501 E. Yandell Drive near downtown El Paso. Let me warn people that if you plan to go on a Sunday or on special occasions, it may be quite difficult to get a table, and the individual orders that are cooked may take a while to prepare. The special at Sam's was a whole Steamed Chicken with ginger, representing prosperity and good fortune for the new year.

Whole Steamed Chicken from 
Sam's Restaurant in El Paso

I will have to say that even in all my west coast dining I have rarely encountered anything as delicious as this dish. This was a special chicken shipped in from California (I have been told that the ones sold in the local markets are too large and do not taste right for a steamed dish). The cooking methold was slow, but made the chicken fall off the bones. The ginger and other flavors permeated everything, and this food was truly worthy of a special celebration. Bob, one of the owners of Sam's Restaurant, had ordered a limited number of chickens. I suspect that he can order more next year if people let him know ahead of time that they will come in for it.

I want to give my thanks to both restaurants for not only providing excellent meals, but also sharing some of the traditions that are celebrated in a large part of the world.

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