I am a born Texan, so I grew up from the time I was in womb eating Mexican cooking. Aside from Southern Louisiana Creole and Cajun fare, Mexican is my favorite. One of the biggest gripes I have food-wise living in Maryland is the limited selection of truly spicy food. By spicy, I don’t mean so blistering hot that your tastebuds fall off, so you cannot enjoy the flavor of your food. True Mexican and Cajun cuisine have a bite to them along with spices that enhance and compliment the flavor of the food. I have yet to find any good Cajun or Creole restaurant in the Maryland area, so I’ll stick to cooking that food myself at home.
While there are plenty of Mexican restaurants in the Frederick-Hagerstown area, there are very few that are truly any good. One popular, local Mexican restaurant is run completely by Indian and Pakistani individuals. Although I have nothing against them, they cannot cook good Mexican. I recall one visit to the restaurant in question where I could smell the curry off my burrito before it hit the table. In Mexican food, I’m looking for chilli powder, peppers, bay leaves and that most holy of spices – cumin. Other local Mexican selections really cater more to the Spanish taste, but most are Americanized versions of Mexican dishes. These watered-down restaurants feature authentic dishes but the flavor is too bland to truly be enjoyed.
For years, I’ve been enjoying the local chain – El Paso. When I moved to the region, El Paso had numerous locations. At their best, they had two locations in both Hagerstown and Frederick. Sadly, last year the last Frederick location closed, and all the remains is the lone restaurant on Route 40 Alternate in Hagerstown. The restaurant is located at 700 Dual Highway (also known as Route 40 Alternate). If you have the time, try taking the winding back road of Alternate 40 – enjoy the scenery and vestiges of a time gone by, maybe even stop for a round of mini-golf at the Family Recreation Park at 21036 National Pike (yet another name for Route 40 Alternate) in Boonsboro.
This past Saturday (June 20) was my birthday. Since dinner was my choice, I opted to go to El Paso and was not disappointed. Don’t expect grand or upscale. El Paso is very much a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but you’re here for the food anyway. The building is an old fast food joint that has been painted and decorated to feel like you are in Mexico. The staff is always friendly and efficient and mostly Mexican or South American.
On this particular visit, I ordered a Coke for my drink. The restaurant is the best I have found at mixing their sodas properly in the fountain. I will also occasionally order the Jarrito’s pineapple drink. They feature a wide selection of flavors from the Mexican soft drink maker. Chips and salsa are included with the meal free of charge. The chips were crispy and light, but not salted. If you like salt on your chips, there is salt on the table for doing so. The salsa is typically pretty spicy, and it was this time as well.
For dinner, I ordered the dinner chimichanga, which comes with beans and 2 chimichangas the way you want – beef or chicken, friend or soft. I ordered fried beef. In addition to my dinner selection, we ordered the queso blanco dip for the chips. The white cheese was smooth and warm and featured a mild variety of spices. The chimichangas arrived very quickly and were fresh and hot. The beef is shredded and features little to no fat. It is spiced just right and not too hot at all. The beef stuffed tortillas were fried to perfection and smothered in lettuce, queso blanco dip, guacamole, sour cream and topped with a tomato slice. The beans are plentiful and topped with more of the white cheese. The meal was absolutely delicious and the ever-attentive staff made sure we were never without refills. While dinning, one of my dinning companions mentioned that it was my birthday. Our server politely wished me a happy birthday.
At the meals end, the staff had a surprise for me. They brought out a single sopapilla (a fried tortilla smothered in butter, cinnamon sugar, and a touch of honey) topped with a 16 in whipped-cream. It was a nice touch to the end of the meal, even though it’s been some time since I was sixteen.
Be aware that most of the meal sizes are large and can easily be shared or have half brought home for another meal. Average meal prices is between $10.00 and $15.00. The portions are large, and you can opt to split a meal with one of your fellow dining companions. Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the items on the menu. Some other items that I can heartily recommend include: tacos, quesadillas, chilli relleno, chilli con queso, enchiladas and deserts like flan. All in all, you can’t go wrong with a trip up to El Paso in Hagerstown, Maryland, if you are looking for authentic Mexican food at decent prices.