Steve's Gastronomic Home Page

La Norteña Cafe (Closed)

212 W. Overland Ave.
El Paso, TX

La Norteña Cafe is the kind of place tourists might overlook while visiting downtown El Paso, and I think it is mostly the local population who keep it in business. Located in a historic neighborhood with interesting architecture, the area becomes somewhat forlorn after the 5 p.m. rush hour. La Norteña is the type of bar and restaurant in which a large number of customers come for the drinks, seeming to constitute the life of the neighborhood after dark. The fact that La Norteña is always busy, though, seems to make it more attractive for dining patrons who otherwise would seldom venture downtown at night.

In the early days I found La Norteña much too loud to have a comfortable meal, with a greater popularity of the bar than the restaurant. Now it seems to have evolved into a sports bar type establishment with wide screen televisions turned on, but at a comfortable volume for conversation.

Unlike some establishments that rely heavily on selling drinks, the food at La Norteña is not relegated to second class status. La Norteña Cafe has always been home to above average border style Mexican food, and in fact could be said to be one of the best examples of "El Paso style" food. I define this cuisine as being similar to New Mexico style Mexican food, but not as spicy and with local adaptations that have become the custom in the Sun City. I do not think there is such a thing as a single restaurant that serves the best El Paso style food, but La Norteña is one of the ones I would point to as preparing this style of food very well.

Combination plate at La Nortena
Shredded beef taco, enchilada, and chile relleno on a combination plate

A combination plate is a good way to sample the food at La Norteña Cafe (and in fact at most El Paso style Mexican restaurants). Red Enchiladas are probably the "must try" item at any such restaurant, and the ones at La Norteña are about as good as any in the city. The red sauce is spicy but not to the level that it would be difficult to handle for those not used to hot Mexican food. The flavor is very good, with above average cheese.

I enjoyed the Chile Relleno just about as much as the enchilada, with a medium spicy chile covered with an egg batter and red chile sauce on top. Most chiles rellenos are not items I like so much I would order a plate of them, but I do like them on a combination plate with a variety of items. The relleno might be a little spicier than the enchilada, and this is one reason I like to order other items with it (especially tacos or other meat items).

The Shredded Beef Taco at La Norteña is especially good, with a flavorful meat that is matched at few other restaurants. One thing that surprised me was the light cooking oil used for the taco shell and the subsequent lack of greasy texture. One of the waitresses suggested several meat items as the restaurant's best dishes, with the shredded beef taco among them. Even though the other items on the combination plate were excellent, the exceptional nature of the taco indicated that the meat items suggested are the "must try" dishes at La Norteña.

On my last visist to La Norteña the food was just as good as I remembered from the time soon after the restaurant opened, and it is somewhat unusual for a restaurant to maintain its quality as this one has. The fact that the place is not as noisy as before is even better. One of the best features of La Norteña, though, is that it does not close when the office workers go home, offering one of the few examples of downtown El Paso "night life." I think it is well worth visiting any time of day.



Cuisine: Mexican El Paso
Cost: $$
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: Beer

Chile Index:

Most Recent Visit
Apr. 7, 2008

Number of Visits: 6

Best Item
Shredded Beef Taco

Special Ratings
Shredded Beef Taco:
Chile Relleno: