Bittersweet burritos

The Jalapeno’s special is good with all the made-in-house salsas; however, beware the lip-stinging mango habanero.

The Jalapeno’s special is good with all the made-in-house salsas; however, beware the lip-stinging mango habanero.

Photo By David Robert

Jalapeno’s Fresh Express, a local chain, is the only restaurant that describes its flavors as “New West Mex,” so I’m off with my boyfriend, Brian, to sample the “uniquely marinated” meats and made-to-order hybrid Mexican wares. I’m not sure exactly what “New West Mex” cuisine entails, but I want to find out.

Although Jalapeno’s can be loosely described as fast food, the environment is far more upscale than most fast-food joints. The color scheme is harmonious with respect to the menu, and there’s plenty of room to sit and eat on nice bar stools. I stare at the overhead menu and decide on the Jalapeno’s Special ($6), a smaller version of the à la carte burrito, a regular drink and a smattering of freshly-made tortilla chips. I’m free to choose a number of salsas from the complimentary salsa bar, ranging from the mild pico de gallo to the hottest mango habanero salsa, all made in-house.

I choose the chicken breast burrito, adding guacamole and sour cream ($1.79). Brian totters between grilled mahi-mahi ($6.99) and the shredded steak burrito ($5.99), finally going with the steak. Grilled veggies and carnitas (braised and shredded pork) are available as fillings for the tacos, salads, burritos and quesadillas.

Black beans are the norm here, and everything is cooked to order, using fresh tortillas from local vendors. Lard or MSG won’t be found in your meal at Jalapeno’s.

We take a bit of every salsa and learn the mango habanero is for the serious salsa connoisseur only, since Brian almost chokes when he tries it. I enjoy the roasted tomato, which is hot enough but not too hot with a unique and scrumptious smoky roasted-tomato flavor. Brian likes the “rocket fuel,” a medium-hot green salsa.

Upon my first bite of burrito, I notice the chicken marinade is quite sweet and not spicy at all. By my fourth bite, I decide I don’t really like sugary marinades for my Mexican meats. The guacamole has the same sort of sugary flavor, and I’m not surprised to taste the steak burrito and find it to be quite sweet, too. The beans and rice in the burrito are hardly distinguishable from one another, like a sweet burrito soup. The juicy meat conquers the soft steamed flour tortilla, which starts to fall apart.

Soon I’m sopping up burrito soup with chips, which are crispy and delicious and nicely salted; Brian follows my lead. I start to wish I had gone with my first impulse and ordered the nachos ($6.59), since the cheese promised in my burrito seems to be missing, and I’m eating my meal like nachos anyway. Brian is also missing cheese, or at least failing to identify cheese in the burrito soup. The menu also offers a burrito in a bowl ($5.99), which might be the way to go in the future.

In the end, I’m not wild about my meal. Jalapeno’s Fresh Express doesn’t offer a flavor I anticipate craving in the future. The "New West Mex" style, which perhaps is charmingly new to some, is, in my mind, far too sugary for food that should be spicy.