When in East Salinas, it's salsa and beans all around.
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Family Affair: Sunday''s a big day at the Campos family''s Taqueria Jalisco.
I''mquite certain Sundays were created with the word "tradition" in mind. They''re all about barbecues, sporting events, and family time. For me as a kid in a Southern California town, it meant my parents dragging the family to 11 o''clock mass where we were cleansed of the previous week''s sins, then could begin anew with a generous helping of gluttony at our favorite Mexican restaurant.
Recently I convinced a couple of friends, Sisters Mary and Catherine, to join me in a stroll down memory lane. First we cleansed; then we sped east to Taqueria Jalisco.
Walking into the huge dining room through a little screened side door, we thought we''d crashed a private party. The place was packed. When Cath spotted an empty booth in the back, we politely barged our way through the crowd to it.
The menu on the wall read like a novella. For the bilingually challenged among us, there were pictures of pretty much all the selections. Cath and I took our place in line at the counter to order while Mare guarded our table. When we returned to wait for our food, a basket of warm chips and a heaping dish of fresh salsa greeted us. They were mutually addictive.
I''d chosen chorizo and eggs, rice and beans. Mare settled on huevos rancheros, rice and beans. Cath was the holdout and went for lunch instead, a carne asada burrito, rice and beans. No Mexican Sunday brunch would be complete without menudo, so we opted to share a bowl.
My first impression after taking a moment at the table to take it all in, was that the dining room was lacking attention. Used napkins littered the floor. We inadvertently kicked more than a couple of spent crab claws under the table. Though it all seemed quite forgivable given that the place was busting at the seams, I wondered if a couple of extra staff members might cure the problem.
Table service was downright quick, so quick that we were disappointed to have to desert the chips and salsa so soon. But our meals were huge, and there wasn''t any room left on the table to indulge in the basket anymore. So we sacrificed it, but held on to the delicious salsa.
I quickly declared my breakfast the best. Too often, restaurants drown eggs in so much chorizo that they end up lost in the robust Mexican sausage. Not here. The balance was impeccable. There were actually eggs to be had in this dish. The refried beans were doused in cheese, just the way I like them.
The rice is always the kicker for me. I cook it a lot, and am pretty darn good at it if you ask me, so I''m always the skeptic when it comes to restaurant rice. While it pains me to admit it, Jalisco''s fluffy rice is much better than mine.
Mary''s salsa-covered eggs and tortillas smelled great, but I minded my manners and kept my fork to myself. She loved it and couldn''t stop cooing over it. Cath, ever the subdued one, finally offered up an ultimatum: "Give us a bite or be quiet." Much to our delight, Mare forked some over. I promptly decided that her cooing had been justified.
I''m not sure how you can mess up a carne asada burrito, but Jalisco''s was exceptionally good. It was huge, stuffed with oodles of beef, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and enough cilantro to keep it interesting.
About midway through our meal, a server paraded by with a metal bucket packed with half a dozen Coronas on ice. The top was off of each one, and a shrimp was stuffed into the mouths where you might normally find a lime. She handed the bucket to a couple of guys sitting in the next booth, and silence fell over our table. None of us is normally a beer drinker, but we somehow felt our coffees and juices were sadly lacking. A bucket of iced Coronas it had to be, and Mary made it so.
Menudo isn''t menudo without a helping of cilantro, onions, and a squeeze or two of lime. So when it was time to dig into our bowl, I took it upon myself to load up on the condiments at a nifty little mid-restaurant bar. This was to be the good part of our meal, the crowning glory. To our disappointment, it was the opposite.
Depending on tradition and where in Mexico the chef gets his recipe, menudo either has tripe and hominy or no hominy at all. I prefer the former, but it''s hard to come by in these parts. Jalisco''s menudo was just the tripe, which would have been fine, but the broth was the victim of what must have been an overzealous chef with a pound or so of chili powder looking for a home. The tripe didn''t smell or taste fresh, so we let it be after a couple of bites.
The beauty of Jalisco, besides the great dishes, is the family that runs it and the locals who depend on them. Raul and Fabiola Campos are at the helm, their three sons Efrain, Alex and Tony never far behind. They make it their business to know their customers by name, some of whom are there most every day.
I commented to Alex on how busy the place was. He chuckled and remarked, "Check back in a couple of weeks when the regulars are back up from Yuma. That''s when we really get busy."