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Azafrán International Cuisine (Closed)

5411 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX

Azafran International Cuisine

Azafrán International Cuisine took over the space of the former Yum Balam in Peppertree Square on North Mesa, inheriting one of the most attractive décors in El Paso (consisting of a bar upstairs and the restaurant downstairs). This is where the similarity ends, however, with the introduction of an entirely new menu along with new chefs.

When I went in 2005 shortly after Azafrán opened I was disappointed with a couple of items I tried. Salmon, the main entrée, had a light pink color and tasted very much like farm raised Atlantic salmon. The Greek Salad was somewhat bland, but large enough to make a meal if you had a small appetite.

The complimentary rolls with sesame seeds on top, however, were excellent--some of the best I have ever experienced. This led me to believe that Azafrán suffered from the same problem found at many fine dining restaurants--there is excellent food if you order the right thing but too many dishes do not live up to the expectation.

In early 2006, though, the restaurant changed the menu, brought in a new chef, and as far as I can tell has begun to have a more consistent quality. I could not resist another salmon dish, so I tried the Penne Pasta with smoked salmon. This had large pieces of salmon with a good flavor, although it did not differ in color from the first salmon dish I ate. It was well prepared, though, and about as good as can be found in El Paso.

The other components of the Penne Pasta dish, however, made it truly remarkable. It came with a thick sauce that I do not know whether to describe as a thick cream or thin cheese--either way it was excellent. The menu describes the sauce as "tequila lime." Whoever thought up this combination of ingredients knew what they were doing because it was truly a delight, delivering the type of delicious and unusual food one would expect in a fine dining restaurant. If they could just find a way to bring in fresher salmon from the Pacific Northwest this would truly be a world class dish, but not even Matsuharu Japanese Restaurant, which I think serves some of the best fish in town, is able to match the freshness found on the west coast.

Having had great success with one pasta dish, I also tried the Shrimp and Prosciutto Linguini Tossed with Vodka Cream Sauce. This was another winner with another world class quality sauce, the feature that I think causes this dish to stand out. The cream sauce seemed to be a little thinner than the one used in the penne pasta, and I would not describe it as being close to the texture of a cheese sauce. Both sauces are equally good and provide the same type of memorable dining experience. I have a hard time getting excited about any type of ham, and I found the shrimp to be the best element of the meat portion of the dish. I trust the restaurant enough to believe they have experimented with different versions of each dish, and the way each is presented on the menu will be with the best possible flavor combination.

The theme of Azafrán is "International," and items on the new menu include Middle Eastern, Mexican, and foods from other regions. I think the strength of the restaurant is the chef's creativity in combining ingredients from different countries in ways that add to the original recipes.

The Sunday brunch, served from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., seems to be the most popular offering at the restaurant, and the price is not much higher than the average dinner entrée.

Lunch specials are now being served during the week, consisting of a sandwich and your choice of a soup or salad.

The prices at Azafrán run in quite a large range, with the meat entrées being the most expensive. Although Azafrán would have to be considered a "special occasion" restaurant because of the prices of many items, there are enough soup, salad, pasta, and less expensive entrées that diners can enjoy Azafrán's innovative cuisine on a more frequent basis without losing anything in terms of the restaurant's commitment to quality and interesting flavor combinations. With a truly international menu, I feel that I have only scratched the surface in my samplings so far.



Cuisine: International
Cost: $$$
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Most Recent Visit
Jun. 13, 2007

Number of Visits: 3

Best Items
Penne Pasta, Shrimp & Prosciutto Linguini

Special Ratings
Penne Pasta: with smoked salmon
Shrimp & Prosciutto Linguini:
Greek Salad:
Sesame Rolls: