Steve's Gastronomic Home Page

Carnitas Querétaro

6516 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 584-9906

Carnitas Querétaro serves 'Autentica Comida Mexicana'

Carnitas Querétaro has three locations in El Paso, and each one is packed with extended families and groups of friends who come for "Mexican comfort food" that is filling and served as it would be found in a typical restaurant in Mexico. The emphasis at CQ is on meat--there are probably more types of Mexican meat dishes served here than at any other restaurant in El Paso, including lamb barbacoa, buche, and other specialties not usually found in the more Americanized Mexican restaurants.

Most of the meat items served are familiar to people, such as steaks, tacos, and burritos. It is definitely not necessary to "take a chance" on something new if you already have a favorite dish you would like to try.

The more adventurous dishes here have not been my favorites, but I suppose they may be to many people. The Lamb Barbacoa had a more "gamey" taste at Carnitas Querétaro than I remembered from eating it in Austin many years ago, but this may be the way it is supposed to be. I am probably not a very good judge of such things.

I think Carnitas Querétaro is better known for its specialties than some of the more generic Mexican food that is served at just about every restaurant. I would not say the cheese enchiladas, chiles rellenos, or combination plates are as good as the ones served at many other restaurants in El Paso. I would also pretty much forget about finding any exceptional vegetarian food here, since almost all the standout items I have tried have been meat items. The exception would be "Lent specials" served on Fridays before Easter (See the Lent Specials).

Chicken Mole and Melón drink
Carnitas Querétaro chicken mole dinner with canteloupe drink makes a great meal

Chicken Mole was once considered a rather exotic dish in El Paso, but is now found in most restaurants. Few do it as well, though, as Carnitas Querétaro. The mole has a more subtle flavor than at other places, and I would judge it to be one of the premier representations of this dish in El Paso. Although some first time eaters are apprehensive about the dish because one of its base ingredients is chocolate, the mole at Carnitas Querétaro is made from such a rich mixture of flavors the chocolate is not as readily discernible as in other versions.

The Chicken Mole Dinner is served with grilled chicken breast meat, in CQ's apparent attempt to serve a more upscale version of this entrée as is being done at Barrigas, Sombras del Pasado, and other restaurants. I wish they would stick with the more traditional shredded chicken that is served on occasion, although I cannot figure out any pattern as to when the shredded chicken is used as opposed to a chicken breast. To me the breast meat usually tastes dry, and the shredded chicken has a better flavor.Despite the variablility in the way the chicken mole dinner is made, it is always one of my top two or three favorite dishes at CQ (at least the variability indicates that each one is individually prepared by whatever chef is on duty at the time).

I think the mole dinner always goes better with a flour tortilla (they provide a corn tortilla unless you ask for the flour one). Certain drinks seem to go best as well, with my preference being the cantaloupe drink (melón).

The Mole Burrito is made with shredded chicken for the more traditional style of mole. The burrito is wrapped in the same flour tortilla that comes on the side with the dinner, and might be a preferred alternative to the larger dinner portion. It has all the flavors of the mole dinner, but in a different form.

Enmoladas with cheese, served with a special style of rice

Enmoladas are another form of a mole dinner, and are popular as a Lent meal (when no meat is eaten). "Enchiladas" are tortillas with chile and "Enmoladas" substitute mole for the chile as the topping. The menu offers either cheese or chicken inside, but personally I think if I want chicken the mole burritos are probably better. The enmoladas with cheese offer a good opportunity for a delicious non-meat meal (although some would argue the cheese does not really make this vegetarian).

Carnitas (pork) is the signature dish of this restaurant, with the recipe originating in Querétaro (the rest of the menu is Chihuahua style). I ordered some tortas with carnitas meat and found it to be somewhat dry with a disappointing flavor. I am not an expert on this dish, though, so I cannot say whether the ones here are really representative of the way they are made in Mexico. I just know that other people swear by the carnitas here.

A large bowl of pozole makes a meal

Pozole Tapatio, or hominy served with pork chunks and red chile, is one of the most flavorful versions of the dish I have tried. The yellow hominy might be an acquired taste for some, but mixed with the red chile and meat it offers another great opportunity to venture out from the mundane menu found at most restaurants. Several soups are on the menu but so far this is one of the best I have found.

The pozole comes with tortillas on the side, limes for flavoring, and cabbage to put into the soup if you desire. With all the side dishes that are served, I find the large bowl to be enough for a meal. I also think it is a big reason I enjoy the pozole here so much.

Aztec soup
Aztec soup is more flavorful than the typical tortilla soup

Aztec Soup is Carnitas Queretaro's version of tortilla soup, with crispy tortillas that have been made soft by floating in the soup. The white meat chicken and avocado were good, and I liked the Mexican style cheese even better. I thought the best feature, though, was the flavor of the broth. This was not quite the best version of tortilla soup I have ever eaten, but it was close.

The Chile Relleno has a flavorful chile that is very hot because of leaving the seeds inside, a good cheese, and a ranchero sauce that covers it with large chunks of tomato and chiles (chiles on top of another chile!). It may be a little more greasy than other versions though.

Flautas with guacamole and sour cream
Flautas with puréed guacamole on top and regular guacamole on the side

Flautas have the same high quality as most of the other dishes, with the customary guacamole and sour cream (or at least this is customary in the more authentic Mexican restaurants). The chicken version comes with meat that is tender and flavorful. The guacamole that covers the flauta is puréed, but customers can also request the more chunky variety on the side as in the photo.

Green chicken enchiladas with sour cream
Green chicken enchiladas with sour cream served in the style of "Enchiladas Suizas"

Green Enchiladas are puréed and more flavorful than the norm for El Paso, but are even better when turned into Enchiladas Suizas (served with white meat chicken inside and sour cream on top). The green chile seems to be a rather spicy Mexican variety, and is similar to the type I have eaten in Sanborn's and other restaurants in Mexico. It has a more sour taste than the typical New Mexico green chile, most likely because of the other ingredients mixed in. As a chile lover I still think the New Mexico version is best, but the one here is a "must try" for the mixture of flavors that that make these special enchiladas (despite the name, I doubt if they can be found in Switzerland).

Chicken tampiqueña
Chicken tampiqueña

If the Chicken Tampiqueña is considered "generic" Mexican food, then it would be an exception to my statement about not ordering this type of dish at Carnitas Querétaro. In fact, I believe that most Mexican restaurants do not serve this dish, and of the ones I have tried, I thought the one here was one of the better ones. The red enchilada by itself would not be a standout item, but the chicken breast topped with green chile strips and Mexican style cheese was quite good. The rice and beans were a definite enhancement to the dish.

Rice and beans are above average, but I do not care much for the chips and salsa (the Pico de Gallo is better than the regular salsa).

One of the best features of Carnitas Querétaro is the variety of Aguas Frescas that are served. While many restaurants in El Paso can compete for the best food, serving these authentic Mexican drinks plays a large part in the overall experience, and surprisingly few restaurants do it as well as Carnitas Querétaro.

Horchata is the traditional drink with lent specials (at least it is traditional with me), and the one here has a good cinnamon flavor.

Melón (canteloupe) is usually my favorite of the aguas frescas, and while it has traditionally been available only during the harvest season in the Pecos Valley or in California, I believe the availability of the fruit now lasts a large part of the year.

The Lemonade at CQ rivals the other drinks for quality and enjoyment.

The aguas frescas are almost like a wine in that patrons can pair their meals with the proper drink just as they would at a fine dining restaurant. Personally I get just about as much enjoyment out of the drinks at Carnitas Querétaro as I would with a fine wine.

Carnitas Querétaro Lent Specials

There is also a special Lent menu, available all day Fridays during Lent, that is worth checking out. All the traditional "lent special" items are available such as Fish Fillet, mashed potatoes, Lentejas (lentil soup), and Capirotada (bread pudding) that are some of the best I have tasted. Every year, though, they seem to either expand the menu or add specials for a greater variety of items.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Lent Specials (Comida de Cuaresma)



Cuisine: Mexican Chihuahua
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Additional Locations: 9077 Gateway West, 10801 Pebble Hills
Smoking: No Smoking

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
Mar. 5, 2010

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Chicken Mole, Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Tampiqueña, Pozole, Aztec Soup, Lent Specials, Aguas Frescas

Special Ratings
Chicken Mole:
Green Enchiladas: cheese
Green Enchiladas: enchiladas suizas
Red Enchiladas:
Chicken Tampiqueña:
Chiles Rellenos:
Lamb Barbacoa:
Pico de Gallo:
Pozole Tapatio:
Aztec Soup: