East of downtown El Paso and just a couple of blocks from the tangle of highways that funnel into the Bridge of the Americas sits a small, easy-to-miss Mexican diner. Nothing in its English, aggressively anodyne name or its industrial park facade would suggest that Good Luck Cafe has been a mainstay here for more than half a century.

Considered by locals to serve the best menudo in the city, Good Luck is as humble as that traditional tripe-and-hominy soup (and purported hangover antidote). Inside, the booths and tables, like the bowls and plates, are plastic; the fluorescent lights and beige tile floor don’t exactly scream ambience. And yet a line forms out the door every day. 

There is an undeniable feeling of comfort at Good Luck, even before the menudo—pungent, with a red-chile broth and properly chewy tripe—is delivered to seemingly every table, bowl after bowl coming out of the kitchen at a fast clip. The staff appear to know everyone by name, impressive given the number of customers passing through. The manager, Ruben Puentes, whom I initially took to be one of the waiters—he was dressed just like them—recognized me on my second visit. As if I were a longtime regular, he gave me a fist bump as he passed the small booth where I was eating breakfast (which is served all day, as it should be everywhere). The sizzling griddle behind the counter, plus the ebb and flow of Spanish from almost every table, evoked a regular scene from my childhood, when I’d sit at our too-small kitchen table with my cousins and listen to my tía gossip and joke with my mom. Somehow they could prepare four things at once and still be able to carry on a conversation and eavesdrop on the kids. 

An order of pancakes.
An order of pancakes. Photograph by Wynn Myers
Server Maria Duran.
Server Maria Duran. Photograph by Wynn Myers

That feeling, of being in your favorite relative’s cocina (as well as the menudo, served every day), has made Good Luck a weekly stop for many El Pasoans, and a daily stop for some. Crowded into booths were gray-haired folks in even grayer cardigans, workers wearing mud-caked Ariat boots, a couple of sharply dressed young women in suits. At one table, some hipsters in black jeans, hoodies, and sunglasses sat with one of their abuelos; the older man, clad in a plaid shirt and a cabby hat, looked fondly at his grandson, who was cutting an enchilada for him. El Paso was in the house.

While I was enjoying my chilaquiles (fried eggs on top of tortilla strips that were, crucially, still crispy and smothered in a bright-red chile sauce) and a short stack of pancakes straight out of central casting, I saw Puentes (whose father, Joe Ruben Puentes, opened the restaurant in 1968) stop by a table occupied by two friends, Juan Stockmeyer and Mark Zimmerman. The men told me they’d been coming to Good Luck for the better part of four decades, since they were high schoolers. “I see this gordo,” Puentes said, grabbing Zimmerman’s broad shoulders, “and I just see ka-ching, ka-ching.” The buddies remember when Good Luck was known as a late-night spot for teenagers and inebriated college kids returning from Juárez, back when the city across the border was pretty much an extension of El Paso. “It’s just a great place, just reliable,” Stockmeyer said. “This is our favorite.” 

Consistency also applies to the prices, which appear to be immune to inflation: a large menudo, which comes in what looks like a half-gallon portion, costs $8.10; a plate of huevos rancheros costs $9. My hefty breakfast came out to less than $20. “I actually kind of wish they would raise their prices,” Stockmeyer said. “Might mean lower wait times.”

Good Luck no longer serves as the last port of call for young El Pasoans enjoying a late night out. The place closes at 7 p.m. Juárez has become less of a party town, and so has El Paso, or at least the partying has moved away from the border. Times have changed, but Good Luck remains, as does the menudo that sustains laborers, brings grandparents and grandkids together, and, at least for a couple of generations, summons memories of heady nights crisscrossing the Rio Grande.  

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Sun City’s Tonic.” Subscribe today.