Fresh, fast, flavorful

Photo by David Robert

Frankly, I had driven by Jalapeno Fresh Express several times and not paid it much attention. Tucked away in a little strip that contains a fast-food joint and a gas station, it doesn’t exactly scream “cuisine.” But here is a place that churns out some tasty, fresh food without requiring a big investment of either time or cash.

When Tony and I rolled up early on a Wednesday evening, there were just a few families with kids present. The smallish dining room is lined with tables and stools that are bolted to the floor. There is also seating along a short counter that overlooks the small but clean and efficient-looking kitchen. One side is an open passage that allows access to the convenience store next door. The whole arrangement is set up for people who want to pay for their gas and grab a really good mahi mahi burrito without having to leave the same air-conditioned space.

Orders are placed at the counter, so we stood gawking at the menu board that hangs from the ceiling. The menu itself is somewhat limited, but it contains a smattering of items that everyone is sure to like. At least, there is nothing that would offend or raise concerns among picky eaters and kids. Nachos and tacos give way to burritos and salads. Since the kitchen is open, you can watch your food being prepared or observe, as we did, as one of the cooks tends to a rather large pot of boiling black beans with a paddle that resembles a boat oar.

Tony, as usual, decided right away and ordered a steak and black bean burrito ($5.25). It comes with rice and cheese inside, but he made his extra plump by asking for guacamole and sour cream (additional items cost a bit more). The burrito came with a side of fresh corn chips and an invitation to the salsa bar. There were only three types of salsa, but they all tasted fresh and were chunky with vegetables and fragrant with cilantro. The mild salsa was super wimpy for confirmed gringos, the medium was my favorite—and was almost green from all the cilantro—and the hot stuff had a nice chile flavor without being too overpowering.

Inside the burrito, the grilled steak was juicy and tender, and the ingredients blended nicely. The guacamole was chunky with fresh avocado and had a nice flavor. Avocadoes have such a nice texture; I wish more restaurants wouldn’t blend them into oblivion.

I had the tostada taco salad with chicken ($5.95). Instead of the commonly used fried shell, this salad came atop a plain, warm flour tortilla. Even though it was presented flat, the plate was still plenty tall, piled up as it was. All the chicken, rice and beans were at the bottom, so I had to excavate the load of mixed greens to get to the goodies below.

Still, it was a good way to keep the lettuce from wilting, so I didn’t mind digging around. The salad dressing was supposedly “southwest vinaigrette,” and as such, I guess I was expecting a bit more fresh lime flavor or something. It tasted fine but was just a bit bland. No problem; just dump some more salsa on it and make a real messy, tasty plate.

The service was friendly, and they brought our food to us much faster than we anticipated. Cheerful, tasty and inexpensive? That works for everyone. This definitely works as a more healthful alternative to the super-greasy fast food that most people on the run will settle for.

If you are planning to get there for dinner, either go early or call ahead to take it to go before they close at 8 p.m. And don’t forget the salsa.