Steve's Gastronomic Home Page

Azulejos Restaurant

101 S. El Paso St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 534-3020

Hotel Camino Real's lobby hosts an art exhibit

The Camino Real, located in the heart of downtown El Paso, is one of the city's premier hotels, and a popular spot for conventions and business meetings. Camino Real caters a substantial quantity of food for the various meetings it hosts, but the two restaurants in the hotel are also quite popular. The Dome Restaurant, the more expenive of the two, is one of the city's few fine dining establishments, with top quality chefs. Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy The Dome either because of the price, the fact that it gets booked by private parties, or they need to eat a lighter meal from time to time. For these occasions Azulejos, the Camino Real's casual restaurant, may fit the bill.

Both of Camino Real's restaurants are in close proximity to the bar (located under the hotel's tiffany glass dome), where high quality jazz music is frequently played and locals can intermingle as comfortably as out of town guests. The hotel hosts art exhibits and other items of interest in the lobby, and the restored Plaza Theatre across the street has become the popular place downtown for live performances.

Azulejos, named for Mexican blue tiles, tries to provide a variety of food with an emphasis on Mexican and Southwest cuisine. Most of my experiences with the restaurant have been for the lunch buffet or for catered meals at the professional meetings I have attended. Buffets almost never provide the best example of the local cuisine, nor have I thought that the Mexican food catered at business meetings was particularly impressive.

Tortilla soup
Tortilla soup is one of the best around

One outstanding feature, though, both on the buffet and from the menu, has been the Tortilla Soup. Made a spicy tomato base, crispy tortillas, avocado, and melted cheese, this provides a very flavorful and fresh example of the type of Mexican soup that is unlikely to be matched in areas farther from the border. No matter what else is ordered, I would think it would be worthwhile to include a bowl of this mildly spiced soup along with it.

Turkey Torta is an example of one of the Mexican style dishes served (the menu actually contains a large number of Mexican and American sandwiches). This torta is a large sandwich served on a Mexican bun with avocado and refried beans (it sounds strange, but it is pretty good). The Mexican toppings were all very good, but the turkey itself seemed to be the kind of processed smoked turkey that you would find in a grocery store deli--OK but nothing special.

Beef fajitas
Beef fajitas on a sizzling platter

Beef Fajitas are known as a Mexican dish, but this is actually an example of the restaurant's Southwest cuisine, with this style of meat having originated in the United States (or so I am told). There are actually several styles of preparation for fajita meat, including some in other parts of the U.S. that are little more than grilled meat. My favorite style, including an outstanding example of this dish served at Wyngs Restaurant in Ysleta, are marinated to the point that the meat has a satisfying flavor in itself, even before you get to the guacamole and other condiments. Unfortunately, the ones at Azulejos were grilled in a heavy oil without the marinated taste found at other places. The fajitas here were cooked well, and the onions, guacamole, beans, and toppings were all very good. The cooking method just did not make them as good as they could be, though, and on top of everything the meat was quite tough and gristly. I thought the dish was enjoyable, and was only disappointing compared to the way it would have been served in some other borderland restaurants. Still, I am not sure out of town visitors would want to spend their limited meals at Azulejos eating dishes that would be better in other restaurants.

I also thought it was strange that no salsa was served with the meal (nor does it seem to be served with any meal unless the customer pays extra for it). I can understand that Azulejos would want to charge for the chips, but almost every other restaurant of which I am familiar in El Paso provides complimentary salsa with Mexican or Southwest style meals (especially ones that are as expensive as the ones at this restaurant).

Over the years the hotel now known as Camino Real has had several owners, and the current incarnation of Azulejos seems to have had different chefs. The current executive chef has placed an emphasis on "Mexican American" food-- it is purposely not spicy, has a Southwest flavor, and offers a variety of both Mexican and American dishes, such as steaks and seafood. I was told by one of the staff people that much of the food has a California influence, as I noticed by the generous use of avocado in some of the dishes. I am calling the food "California style Mexican food," although it is really much like you would find in family style restaurants in Mexico such as Sanborn's. I think the large selection of sandwiches, meat dishes, and non-spicy items is in keeping with typical Mexican eating patterns. I cannot say that the food at Azulejos seems to be prepared with the same quality and care as as the Dome Restaurant, but it is nice to know that customers get more than the typical "tourist trap" food served at a large number of hotels.

Parking is usually a problem on the streets near the hotel, so it is best to use the Camino Real's underground parking garage. Every time I have gone the ticket has been "validated" so I did not have to pay for parking.

RESTAURANT DETAILS

RATING: 18

Cuisine: Mexican California
Cost: $$$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer, Wine
Special Features: Serves Breakfast & Sun. Brunch

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
May 25, 2007

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Item
Tortilla Soup

Special Ratings
Tortilla Soup:
Fajitas:
Turkey Torta:



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