On weekends, El Paso del Norte lays out an excelente Mexican breakfast spread

Ever since I had my last blowout Sunday brunch at the Terrace Buffet at the Argosy Casino, I’ve tried to keep a discreet distance from the all-you-can-eat arena. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not a good thing to overindulge at the dessert bar or the penny slots. So I decided to take a sabbatical from the world of buffets.

But then my friend Jeff told me about a different kind of breakfast spread. It’s offered only on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at El Paso del Norte Restaurante at 3430 Independence Avenue, right upstairs — and it’s a long flight of stairs, mi amigo — from the excellent El Paso del Norte Panaderia at street level.

Early last Sunday morning, I met Jeff and Judy at the restaurant (it’s across the street from the Auto Zone store, if you need a landmark), and we hoofed it up the wooden steps to a spacious banquet hall on the second floor.

It’s not fancy, but at $5.99 a person, you sure get a lot of bang for the peso — especially if you like to start the morning with traditional Mexican cuisine. The buffet includes a big bowl of steaming menudo, which can be dressed up here with lots of fresh-squeezed lime, onions and chiles. It’s supposedly a legendary hangover cure, and there were at least two tables of bleary-eyed males who looked as if they were using the tripe soup for exactly that purpose. The same soup eaters were also drinking green bottles of imported Sangria soda which is, our host Isidro Tagle assured us, alcohol-free. It just tastes like sangria. (There’s American soda, too.)

Judy and I just wanted coffee, so the cheery Isidro brought each of us a mug of hot water, two spoons and a jar of instant Nescafé. OK, so it wasn’t freshly brewed, but it still jolted me awake. I was so charged up, in fact, that I greedily heaped my plate with rice, frijoles, shredded bisteca, pork in chili verde, pork in chili Colorado and spicy ground beef picadillo. The meal is served with warm corn or flour tortillas, and everything was wonderful.

There was no dessert bar, alas, but after breakfast, we went downstairs to the bakery, where I stared longingly at the array of beautifully iced tres leches cake, flan, cookies and pastries. For that, I’ll sneak back later this week.

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