By: Zak Hansen
For more than 90 years, L&J Café—“The Old Place by the Graveyard”—has been satisfying El Pasoans’ cravings for Tex-Mex. Antonio and Juanita Flores opened the restaurant, as Tony’s Place, in 1927 on the then-outskirts of El Paso. Through the waning years of Prohibition, Tony’s Place served as a speakeasy, offering up “home cooking, homebrew and slot machines.” In 1968, Lilia Flores and husband John Duran took charge of the restaurant, renaming it L&J Café. In 1988, their son Leo and his wife Frances took charge, and today, L&J Café’s outlaw spirit continues to thrive under the management of Vanessa Duran—granddaughter of Antonio and Juanita. The now-centrally located L&J Café was voted the No. 1 Tex-Mex Restaurant in Texas in the 2018 USA Today 10 Best contest.
Founded in 1952 by father and son Evaristo and Guillermo Avila in the Toltec building on San Antonio Street under the Leo’s name. In 1962, the restaurant moved to the west side Coronado Shopping Center, bringing the total number of nearby restaurants to three. After 10 years, they moved to the current location on Mesa Street. Current owner Andy Avila has been at the restaurant full-time since 1975. In 1988, the restaurant rebranded as Avila’s, and today the family connection remains strong. Along with his sister, Annette Avila-Chavez and her husband Roldan Chavez, Andy’s staff includes his two sons, James and Tommy, as well as nephew Roldan Jr. Avila’s is very much a step back in time to “old El Paso,” kept alive by a family dedicated to tradition. It’s served them well.
With four full-time locations around town, you’re never far from a Lucy’s. Founded in 1978 by Lucinda “Lucy” Lepe, the Lucy’s family—Lucy’s Coffee Shop, Restaurant, Café West and Café North, along with a seasonal location at Sunland Park Racetrack—is now in its third generation. Lucy’s five children, Albert, Javier, Sandra, Gustavo and David, now steer the family of restaurants into its fourth decade. Known for its signature machaca and Tacos Antonia, Lucy’s has gained regional and national attention, landing on the pages of Texas Monthly magazine and featured on the Cooking Channel’s “Taco Trip,” hosted by El Paso chef Aaron Sanchez.
Tony’s The Pit Bar-B-Q
Tony Vargas Sr., his wife Lidia and their children opened the first The Pit Bar-B-Q on June 23, 1958, on Magoffin Avenue. After more than a decade, the Vargas family moved the restaurant to its current location on Myrtle Avenue. The Pit cemented its status as one of El Paso’s finest barbecue joints under Tony Jr. from 1970 until his retirement in 1995; grandson Bobby Vargas took over until 1999. For nearly 20 years, Christina Vargas has continued the work her grandfather started six decades ago. The Pit Bar-B-Q has had its share of press, landing on the pages of Texas Monthly twice—in the 2003 Top 50 BBQ issue, as well as a 2015 feature on its famous brisket hash—slow-cooked brisket trimmings with potatoes, peppers, onions and spices.
Julio’s Mexican Food
In 1944, Julio and Guadalupe Ramirez opened the first Julio’s restaurant in downtown Juárez. Tending to the small, four-table space, Julio greeted and served while Guadalupe worked in the kitchen cooking her family’s own recipes. Word began to spread about the small, neighborhood diner, known then as Café Corona, and soon, Julio’s made the necessary move to a larger space at Avenida 16 de Septiembre, near the Americas bridge, with its famous terrace and chinaco bar. In 1981, Julio’s Café Corona its Gateway Boulevard East location in El Paso and, later, its second, on Joe Battle Boulevard. With a west side location set to open fall 2018, Julio’s continues to serve Guadalupe’s family recipes, like mole and cochinita pibil, under the leadership of third-generation owner Francisco Orrantia.
Tamales Doña Lupita
For more than 30 years, Mundo Carrillo’s Tamales Lupita has been a fixture in Canutillo. Working with a recipe from his grandmother, Lupita Escarsega, Mundo’s traditional red chile pork tamales became a local favorite. Mundo’s son Gilberto Carrillo came to work with his father at 15 and, after more than a decade, decided to open up shop on the east side with Doña Tamales Lupita—its name a respectful nod to the generations before him. A third location, under Adrian Carrillo, opened at Alameda and Midway. Though they’re independently managed, Tamales Lupita keeps it all in the family, serving their signature chile con queso, chicken and green chile, red chile pork and sweet tamales to new generations of El Pasoans.