On the Road: After Setting the Scene, Chihuahuan Cuisine in El Paso
My previous post on the Chihuahuas ended mid-narrative, but I had a good reason for ending it when I did. I didn’t want to bury the lede, and the lede is this:
The El Paso Chihuahuas have really, really good ballpark food. Like, really good, easily within the top five of the 110 or so ballparks that I’ve visited over the past five seasons. I learned this first-hand on April 29, the Chihuahuas second-ever home game, when Jeff Hanauer, general manager of Ovations food service at Southwest University Park, gave me a whirlwind tour of the team’s many concession offerings.
It’s all kind of a blur, but I’ll do my best to share with you what I remember….
Prior to meeting up with Hanauer, I’d snapped a few stray food-related shots. In keeping with the team’s “living the brand” philosophy, this concession stand is called the Rio Gr-r-r-r-r-rande Grill.
The thing to do with Chihuarrines is tear open the bag and douse with hot sauce (That’s what I was told, at least. The first ingredient was wheat flour, making it a no can do for a celiac such as myself).
Pre-packaged snack food aside, the Chihuahuas have adopted an “everything’s fresh” concessions philosophy. Items throughout the ballpark are made to order on the premises. “You’ll never see a pre-wrapped hot dog here,” Hanauer told me.
There are a series of food kiosks located along the third base concourse (many of them offering food from local vendors), and Hanauer and I began with a seafood taco stop. $10 is a bit pricey for a taco platter, but it’s a lot of food. (And gluten-free!)
One shrimp, one tilapia. I preferred the shrimp.
Hanauer told me that, in a market like El Paso, it would be foolhardy for the team to offer its own, quite possibly inauthentic, Mexican food. Why not just go straight to the source? The Chihuahuas have therefore partnered with Leo’s, a famous restaurant with several locations in the area. Here are the folks at Leo’s, doing their thing.
And that thing, in a word, is meat. Meat that has been cooked slowly throughout the day, for hours and hours and hours, so that by the time its served its exceedingly tender. The burritos are minimalist affairs — maybe a little sauce is added, but its pretty much just meat.
But these pork carnitas nachos were the star of the show, just amazingly good. The meat was so tender, yet crisp on the edges, and tasted amazing on its own along with the chips and queso. With all apologies to places in which I’ve had exemplary ballpark nachos (Memphis, Northwest Arkansas, Round Rock), these just might be the best.
Hanauer, watching me tear into these things, mentioned that he didn’t think they were gluten-free (as in, the chips had wheat flour). I should have asked about this right off the bat, but when these things appeared in front of me that part of my brain went off. I just started eating as if there was no tomorrow. (And who knows? There might not be.) In this particular instance I am at peace with my transgression. These nachos were just that good.
Anyhow, this is a picture of a margarita.
Why is this significant? Because the margarita was prepared using the Bottoms Up dispenser, in which the cup fills from the bottom. Bottoms Up took the industry by storm a few years back, but I had never seen it used for anything other than beer. (Unfortunately, my video of the margarita being filled up was plagued by technical glitches, so this is just one more thing that you’ll have to trust me on).
Speaking of technical glitches, this is one poorly lit photograph.
That there is the Flamethrower, a half-pound burger with ghost peppers, deep-fried jalapenos and jack cheese. Ghost peppers are the hottest peppers in the world, so they’re incorporated into the mix pretty sparingly — LEST SOMEONE DIES. Still, this thing packs some serious heat and just might be the spiciest hamburger in Minor League Baseball. Tell me it isn’t.
Here’s the Frito Pie, served up in a dog bowl. Absolutely fantastic, and gluten-free! I went at this one pretty hard for a minute.
I’m not sure if the Frito Pie is always served in a dog bowl, but these steak nachos definitely are. And these things did not skimp on the steak, as big tender chunks are distributed throughout.
Here we have a foot long hot dog with chili con carne:
Healthy options. They exist.
I don’t know exactly where I was at this point, except for “in the stadium.”
Men were at work.
And — what’s this? — eggs were on the grill.
Eggs are a key component of the Huevos Rancheros burger, a variation of the Mexican breakfast staple.
The burger is topped with egg, cheese and salsa verde, and if you stick a fork in it the egg yolk oozes out as a sort of bonus condiment. (I had one of these, sans bun, and it was probably better that way. I plan on making these at home.)
And then there was the Juarez dog, a variation of the Mexican street food classic.
That is an applewood bacon-wrapped beef hot dog topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, cole slaw and chicharrones. Think about that mix of flavors and textures for a second, it really is extraordinary.
Juarez dogs on the grill:
This one was firmly in the “look but don’t touch” category for me: Buffalo Chicken and Waffles:
Dessert Nachos, because too much is never enough.
But speaking of dessert — the Chihuahuas offer what is now MY FAVORITE DESSERT IN ALL OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
Here’s what I wrote over at MiLB.com: Quite simply the best dessert I’ve ever had at a Minor League ballpark. You could compare Raspas to a snow cone, but that would be like comparing Leo’s to Taco Bell. Shaved ice is topped with one of six fruit flavors, and a variety of condiments can be added to provide an additional kick of sweet, sour and/or spicy flavor.
The Raspas stand is run by local concessionaire Elizabeth Triejo, who has a true passion for this traditional Mexican dessert. I stopped by the next day and got another one.
There are two key elements that make Raspas so good. One is that all of the fruit flavors are made in small batches by Elizabeth, so everything is all natural and tastes that way. And then there are the condiments, such as Chamoy and Tajin, that deliver a customized mix of spicy, sweet and sour flavors.
So, yeah, if you’re ever at an El Paso Chihuahuas game then get a raspa. My adjectival accolade abilities are failing me, but they are almost certainly better than any ballpark dessert you’ve had before.