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At El Paso’s La Rosita Cafe, Pipián Sauce Is King

A visit to one restaurant, hidden in plain sight, where everyone feels at home

I was taken to lunch at La Rosita Cafe by El Paso’s most famous artist, James Magee. I met Mr. Magee a few years ago, when we were both featured in a book about American artists titled Art Studio America. Since our first meeting, I was drawn to Mr. Magee, his work, and his story, so I started traveling to El Paso, Texas to photograph and chronicle him. We work hard, but always make sure we stop and share great meals. La Rosita Cafe was our most recent lunch stop.

Tucked away next to highway eight miles from downtown, the red painted brick building looks like a simple Mexican cafe. Upon entering and through the dim light, we spotted an attractive woman — who jumped up from the table where she was holding court with some local patrons — and who rushed over to embrace Mr. Magee. This was Rosita, the owner and chef. Mr. Magee and Rosita have known each other for decades, but no one would confirm exactly how many years. The cafe opened in 1986 by Rosita herself, when she was just 15 years old. The original building was down the street, but when that was condemned, she moved the restaurant over to its current location.

Moments after we sat, jumbo-sized ice teas with crushed ice landed in front of us. Rosita decided that we were to order one dish of lomo en pipián and one pollo en pipián. Rosita’s special pipián sauce, a cousin to molé, is legendary — and worshipped — in the community. To prepare it, she grinds together pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds, serrano chile, cilantro, and corn, and adds them to pork or chicken that have been simmering on the stove for an hour. My first bite was heavenly: The chicken had a buttery texture that melted in the mouth, then the rich kick of the chile pepper revealed itself, and a gentle tear in my eyes started to form.

I noticed tucked away on the wall, behind a little American flag, an original Annabel Livermore painting. Ms. Livermore is a local renowned Texas painter that the locals have never caught sight of, because she is a recluse. I compliment Rosa on the painting, but she only smiled and gave Mr. Magee a knowing look.

La Rosita Cafe
3100 Gateway Boulevard E, El Paso, Texas 79905
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
$: Main dishes range from $7 to $9 and burritos are only $3
Cash only

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