Pearl of Queré­taro

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Pa­tri­cia Sauthoff I For The New Mex­i­can

Hid­den away in dark cor­ners of sub­ur­bia, culi­nary trea­sures can of­ten be found. Th­ese restau­rants, which typ­i­cally serve gen­uine eth­nic fare, bring much needed fla­vor to the ur­ban land­scape and of­fer eaters myr­iad wel­come ben­e­fits. Th­ese in­clude un­used bike racks, am­ple park­ing, and avail­able ta­bles, even dur­ing peak din­ing hours. In the cities I fre­quent, I al­ways seek out one of th­ese eater­ies. In Den­ver, it’s a lit­tle Thai place called Pearl of Siam; in Austin, Drakula— a Ro­ma­nian schnitzel and cab­bage joint smashed be­tween a karate stu­dio and a hitch shop. Un­til now, Santa Fe hasn’t re­ally of­fered quite what I’m looking for; or rather, it hasn’t since Guadala­jara Grill on Cer­ril­los Road called it quits a few years ago.

Tucked in an easy-to-miss space around the cor­ner from Al­bert­sons on St. Fran­cis Drive and Zia Road is Jalapeño’s, an al­ter­na­tive to the typ­i­cal down­town eatery. Jalapeño’s— which also man­ages bur­rito carts on Air­port and Cer­ril­los roads— has sim­ple, straight­for­ward Mex­i­can food (the recipes hail from the cen­tral town of Queré­taro, Mex­ico) with a dash of seafood of­fer­ings. From tostadas to bur­ri­tos to que­sadil­las, there’s a lot to work with; Jalapeño’s al­lows cus­tomers to spruce up their dish of choice with one or more from a list of 13 meat selections, as well as one veg­gie of­fer­ing. Pork fans get the most use of their free will by choos­ing one of five piggy op­tions. But un­ad­ven­tur­ous fans of chicken and beef need not fear; th­ese selections are also on the menu— along­side the less typ­i­cal beef tripe and tongue.

The only thing on the menu that’s un­ap­peal­ing is the choice of font— it’s one of those oddly shaped types that can be dif­fi­cult to read from a dis­tance, es­pe­cially on the big, col­or­ful, wall-mounted menu boards. Do your­self a fa­vor: grab one of the to-go menus off the counter when you walk in and let your mouth wa­ter, rather than force your eyes into a squint. On a re­cent visit, I was told the menu is be­ing reprinted, and in the next few weeks, more seafood will be avail­able.

Af­ter bing­ing on a plate of shrimp fa­ji­tas, I must con­firm that this is a fan­tas­tic idea. Jalapeño’s owner Raul Aboytes knows how to cook up sea crit­ters right. Rest­ing on a bed of green and yel­low pep­pers and onions, the shrimp were dusted with red chile pow­der, giv­ing them a gen­tle spice that was just tangy enough to keep my gi­ant glass of agua fresca (a tra­di­tional Mex­i­can cold bev­er­age— mine was thick with cin­na­mon and a touch of straw­berry) from be­ing drained out of ne­ces­sity. Once I added a lit­tle of the ha­banero salsa to the fa­ji­tas, my agua fresca dis­ap­peared, and the full fla­vor of the shrimp re­vealed it­self.

Since it opened in its present lo­ca­tion early last spring (af­ter pro­vid­ing food in­side the now-closed WilLee’s Blues Club), Jalapeño’s has been my own lit­tle re­ward for a good bike ride down the Rail Trail af­ter a trip to the Santa Fe Farm­ers Mar­ket. I, like most reg­u­lar eaters, found some­thing I loved— ta­cos al pas­tor (mar­i­nated pork and pineap­ple)— and du­ti­fully stuck with them. Fear­ing dis­ap­point­ment, de­spite al­ways en­joy­ing the lit­tle stolen bites from the plates of oth­ers, it took courage to de­vi­ate from the al pas­tor. Now, how­ever, that the stuffed que­sadilla has crossed my lips, my re­la­tion­ship with those ta­cos may have to re­main an open one. With just a tiny bit of cheese and a ton of meat— in this case juicy, slow­cooked bar­ba­coa (bar­be­cued lamb and beef)— the que­sadil­las barely needed the gar­nish of sour cream and fresh gua­camole that ac­com­pa­nies them.

While the ta­cos and que­sadil­las have stolen my heart, the bur­ri­tos and en­chi­ladas (go for the chicken with mole— that lit­tle taste of chocolate is a dream) could eas­ily vie for a place in the ro­ta­tion. As with ev­ery­thing else on the menu, there’s noth­ing out of the or­di­nary about the bur­ri­tos; they’re solid and con­sis­tent. Packed with car­ni­tas (or whichever of the meats you fancy), rice, and beans, the bur­rito is per­fect for the on-the-go lunch, though by or­der­ing it, you might miss out on some of the fun of Jalapeño’s, like hear­ing Aboytes chitchat with cus­tomers above the piped-in reg­gae or Span­ish hiphop in a brightly col­ored room be­decked with skulls of all kinds. It’s a fun mix of Hot Topic goth and beach­front-like vi­brancy with a touch of kitsch — and a whole lot of fla­vor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.