You’ve heard of going out for dinner and a movie?
In El Paso, I recommend going out for dinner and a cemetery … or maybe lunch and a cemetery.
Breakfast and a cemetery is just a little too weird, don’t you think? Or maybe not….in the heat of a summer day, it’s probably the smartest move.
One of the ways to really “eat local” in El Paso is to grab a meal at either the H&H Car Wash (yes, a car wash – it’s one of my favorite unique local places to eat in Texas) or the L&J Cafe, which advertises itself with the tagline, “The Old Place by the Graveyard.”
Opened in 1927, the L&J is an El Paso institution, family-run for four generations.
Street parking is available in the surrounding residential blocks, and there is often a line waiting outside, so try to avoid peak hours if you can.
There are benches all around the building – the smart folks grab one on whichever side is out of the blazing Chihuahuan desert sun.
Inside is full of energy and color….
All sorts of people eat at the L&J – families, bikers, military folks from nearby Fort Bliss, various singles and couples at the bar – and the waitstaff is friendly and accommodating. My enchiladas verdes were very good, as was the cinnamon-flavored Mexican coffee (café de olla.)
Either before or after your meal, take some time to stroll around the Concordia Cemetery across the street, which advertises itself as “El Paso’s Boot Hill.”
It’s BIG – over 60,000 people are buried there.
There’s a fenced-in marker for famous Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin….a killer who studied law while in jail for murder, and came to El Paso a lawyer before his temper got him shot in the head….but the most interesting feature of the cemetery is all of the different sections where different communities of people are buried. There are Masonic, Jewish, Catholic, and Mormon sections, plus one oddly labeled “French” (which is a family plot, not one for French people in general.)
You might be surprised to see a Chinese section….
Chinese immigrants came to this part of far west Texas as workers for the railroads that were building up in the 1880’s.
As a Navy veteran myself, I was touched by this gravestone of a Chinese vet from the Vietnam era….
The African-American Buffalo Soldiers buried here are also remembered for their dedicated service on the western frontier….
Concordia is not a pretty property in the conventional sense of the word. There are a few trees here and there, but this is stark, dry, desert country ringed by the Franklin Mountains. The harsh sun beats down on everyone, alive or dead, and the windblown paths around the graves are crunchy-dusty.
You may have to look around for a clear map of the different burial sections. Despite a little overhang built on top to protect it, this cemetery map is so weather-beaten that you can’t decipher much….
A helpful staff groundskeeper pointed us in the right direction whenever signage didn’t help.
For those who like such things, there are Concordia Cemetery ghost tours with the Paso Del Norte Paranormal Society.
When you finish walking around, there’s something comforting about still being alive to walk back across the street and enjoy life in the L&J. ¡Salud!
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