Tacos El Jalisciense
Holy Cow Guts: Tacos El Jalisciense gives old Seaside taco spot new owner, new flavor, Jalisco-style.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
The Spanish-channel telenovela Amorcito Corazon (or “Lovey Heart”) drips heartbreak on a lineup of beautiful Latinos on the flatscreen in the corner of the little restaurant. In the jukebox, four songs are $1, and Equiel Peña looks every bit of the Orgullo Ranchero (proud rancher) the cover of his CD proclaims him to be, given the earnest look in his eyes and flawless rooster in his arms. His most promising sounding song – “Mujer Te Sigo Amando Locamente” (“Woman I’ll Keep Loving You Like Crazy”) – delivers with smooth horns and rough tales of the heart.
The accompanying tripas sopes and carnitas tacos are the real deal at cheap prices – not too greasy, with a nice citrusy zing and just enough crispiness – served on paper plates with moist roasted jalapeños and dry sliced carrots. Ordering without speaking Español can get interesting, but gracias a Dios there are photographs of the limited menu – a chile relleno plate ($7), huarache ($3.50), carne asada with rice and beans ($7.50) and ceviche ($3.50) – though one apparently out-of-stock item’s pic is covered with tape and a receipt.
In other words, why spend all that on airfare and lodging to get a Spanish language immersion experience when you can head over to Tacos El Jalisciense on Palm Avenue in Seaside? They’re even open late (11pm), a rarity in the area.
The joint was resurrected four months ago as an authentic Mexican spot after enduring a stint as an Herbalife shop. Taqueria La Cabana closed shop on its Oaxaqueño-flavored foods in late 2009 but the same small open grill remains. There’s a sliding-door cooler stocked with Fanta and Jarritos ($1.50) – there are also aguas frescas ($1.50-$3) – the jukebox in the opposite corner and a spartan ambiance to match the plastic flatware.
The order of business is more value and traditional tastes than setting. The quality tops that of most food trucks and you can leave the restaurant with a sense of accomplishment that you contributed to the circumference of your waistline without losing much weight from your wallet. Take the super burrito ($4.50), available with a choice of meats including carne asada, carnitas and chicken (as are all the tacos, tortas and sopes). Wadded up with homemade stewed beans, rice, onions, lettuce, fresh-shredded cotija cheese and Mexican-style sour cream, or crema, it weighs in at 1 pound, 2 ounces. All it’s missing is avocado (particularly for the vegetarian version – here’s hoping they were just running low).
Sturdy, straightforward tortas ($3.75), sopes ($1.50), big quesadillas ($4), tacos ($1.45) and the smaller (non-super) burritos ($3) represent similarly strong deals, though you can assume they’re not sourcing from the most pristine places.
It’s the tripas, though, which provide a transportational experience on their own, particularly for the uninitiated. Tripitas are a common dish in Jalisco, Mexico, the same region from which owner Juan Llamas derived the name of the restaurant. The recipe calls for cow intestines to be boiled, grilled and chopped, and the rich result is an earthy, delicious delicacy, slightly chewy with a crispness that goes great with, say, the lettuce crunch and soothing sour cream on the sope. While Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto and other snout-to-tail operations celebrate the use of whole animals, at least some authentic-eating Mexicans have to be wondering what the offal fuss is all about – they’ve been doing it all along.
Llamas says he puts his mother’s own secret selection of spices, which was passed down to him when he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 years old, into all his recipes. The targeted customer is of the same immigrant population he is proud to say he’s a part of. One of the most popular dishes in his restaurant that his Spanish-speaking clientele flock to is the birria de chivo ($8), known to gringos and gabachos as goat stew.
Llamas special orders a weekly supply of goat from a specialized meat provider in Modesto. The goat stew is then prepared starting Friday for Saturday and Sunday feasts, enlivened with oregano, bell peppers, chilis, black and cayenne pepper, sesame seeds, garlic and red-wine vinegar and slow simmered to incredibly tender. With the cayenne pepper added to the broth, the stew has a slight hum, and more-than-slight yum.
Llamas plans to expand his newborn restaurant with a to-go menu designed to increase his customer base while not needing to expand the small seating area. The restaurant has also ventured outside its own walls by dedicating part of their business plan to catering events. He believes that he can handle large crowds by offering services like a taco bar with four types of meat to choose from; prices for catering events average around $7 a person. Currently El Jalisciense handles two parties each month.
Llamas has owned a restaurant in Gonzales also named Taco El Jalisciense for five years and hopes to expand again soon. This ambition comes from a bit of sibling rivalry, perhaps: Duarte has six brothers who all own their own restaurants in Hollister, Salinas, Gilroy and Greenfield. And it doesn’t get more authentic than family.
TACOS EL JALISCIENSE 400 Palm Ave., Seaside • 8am-11pm daily. • 794-5598.