‘The Sun City’ offers modern and historical delights
By Teresa K. Traverse
Roughly 420 miles from Phoenix, El Paso lies on the borders of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico and is brimming with multicultural diversity. Expect to find American and Mexican influences woven throughout the cuisine and sites. Visitors can look forward to a free and engaging art museum, a historical and famed cemetery and culinary delights when they visit this border town.
Where to Stay
Housed in the 100-year old former home of Roger’s Furniture Building, Stanton House (stantonhouse.wpengine.com) is downtown El Paso’s newest hotel (slated to open in November). Although the exterior mostly retains its original historical architecture, the interior is modern and sleek with warm gray and white tones throughout. Guests can look forward to a 42-room art-centric hotel—think an image of rapper Pharrell in a bright pink hat and Adidas jacket hanging above the bed or a colorful image of a bottle of iconic Chanel No. 5 on the wall of the bathroom. The hotel is slated to house 125 pieces of art total.
Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth popping into the lobby to see the art installation Shylights—a moving light sculpture hung from the ceiling that rises and falls and opens like white flower petals—in the hotel’s multi-story Light Well. Notable Chef Oscar Herrera—who runs the kitchens at some of the region’s top restaurants—will head up the kitchen at the hotel’s on-site fine dining restaurant, Taft Diaz. The eatery is intended to reflect the diversity of the area and is slated to feature a mix of Mexican, European and American influences. Diners can feast on Quesadilla Tlayuda (beans, quesillo, roasted mushrooms, short rib and salsa verde) or a variety of gourmet tacos including soft shell crab and octopus and pork confit tacos.
Where to Play
Head to the fifth-floor sleek open-air bar of downtown’s Hotel Indigo Circa 1963 (circa1963ep.com) for drinks and a fun atmosphere. If the weather’s good, the sliding glass doors will be open so you can take in views of downtown El Paso, the neighboring mountains and the hotel’s glittering pool. Highlights here include customizable 10-inch wood-fired pizzas like the braised pear and pecan. Guests can order beer, wine or cocktails to complement their pies. If you book a room at Hotel Indigo, be prepared to hear music from the lounge on the weekends. Ask for a room on the opposite side of the lounge to reduce the chances of noise.
International (no website) is another downtown hot spot. Dance the night away on the lively bar/restaurant’s patio, indoors on the first floor or on the open-air rooftop that overlooks one of El Paso’s main squares, San Jacinto Plaza. Expect loud music and a packed bar serving beer and cocktails.
Where to Eat
Housed in a shipping container that’s decked out in colorful graffiti, Coffee Box (elpasocoffeebox.com) pours premium roasted coffee from around the world. Sip your beverage on this hip spot’s rooftop for a bird’s-eye view of the nearby plaza. Patrons can order trendy drinks like the activated charcoal latte and fresh pastries.
Located in West El Paso on Mesa Street—often referred to as the “heart” of El Paso—Block Table & Tap (facebook.com/blocktnt) is an industrial chic haunt complete with wooden tables and chairs and garage door-style windows. And locals love this fun spot. Diners can dig into a variety of hearty entrees like the Bar Nachos with beer-braised short rib, tostadas, beer cheese sauce, fresh pico, avocado and sour cream or the Crispy & Spicy Chicken Sandwich — fried chicken breast, Sriracha, lemon buttermilk slaw and pickles served on a toasted brioche bun. Patrons also can order cocktails, wine and a variety of craft beers on tap.
Opened in 2013, DeadBeach Brewery (deadbeach.com) offers four core craft beers and a plethora of seasonal rotating beers. The outdoor patio is the place to be at this downtown brewery. Craft beer fans can sit on long wooden tables while they listen to musicians on the elevated stage nearby. Customers can enjoy the Abuela Stout, a chocolate Imperial stout of a Bonnie Brown Ale. Some current rotating picks include the Peachbreaker Peach Berliner Weisse and the Supa Friek sour red ale. Food highlights include pizzas like The Gentlemen topped with ruby red house sauce, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, spinach and pine nuts all covered with a local honey drizzle.
What to See
Even if you’re not into art, the El Paso Museum of Art (epma.art) is worth a visit. Best of all, admission is free. The downtown museum is noteworthy for its collection of European, Mexican, contemporary, American and early West Texas art. On the ground floor, you can find Western landscape paintings in addition to taxidermy animals typical of the Southwest (hello, Diamondback snakes). Upstairs, you’ll find rotating exhibits alongside the museum’s collection of European art. This museum has about 2,000 retablos or small devotional paintings commonly depicting scenes of Catholic Church art—the second largest collection in the United States.
Located just outside the entrance of the El Paso Museum of History, the 3-D Digital Wall is worth looking at. The giant touchscreen gives users the chance to literally scroll through the city’s diverse history with their fingertips. See images of John F. Kennedy and other famous individuals who have come through town. Even if you’re not into history, this interactive display will keep you entertained.
If you can get over the macabre aspect of swinging by a graveyard, 52-acre Concordia Cemetery (concordiacemetery.org) is a noteworthy site. The cemetery is a history lesson and reflects El Paso’s diversity. Many notorious gunslingers rest here. Arguably the most famous of the bunch is John Wesley (Wes) Hardin. Hardin was a notorious Old West outlaw who allegedly claimed to have killed 40 men. His grave is surrounded by a fence to prevent visitors from digging up his body.
El Paso is known as one of the only cities in Texas with mountains. And you can explore the area’s natural beauty at Franklin Mountains State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/franklin-mountains). Hike, bike or rock climb on more than 100 miles of trails at the largest urban park in the country at just more than 26,000 acres within the limits of El Paso. Take in vistas of the mountains and natural flora and fauna when you’re just steps away from the bustling city. If you don’t feel up for exercise, you can just do a driving tour.