Packin’ heat

Cook Alely Alevado and manager Mario A. Jimenez during a weekday lunch at Tacos Jalisco Grill & Cantina.

Cook Alely Alevado and manager Mario A. Jimenez during a weekday lunch at Tacos Jalisco Grill & Cantina.

Photo/Allison Young

Tacos Jalisco Grill & Cantina is open Mon day through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

In the Mexican state of Jalisco, there’s a popular cocktail known as “Cazuela Guadalajara.” Really more of a punch, this fruity, fizzy concoction of citrus juices, tequila, grapefruit soda and large chunks of fruit is served in a wide, earthenware bowl, i.e., cazuela (Spanish for casserole or cooking pot). You can try one for yourself at Tacos Jalisco Grill & Cantina in Lemmon Valley, a best kept secret the locals have been enjoying for just over a year. Thanks to a tip from one of those folks, my wife and a family friend headed up the highway in search of spicy sustenance.

Just down the road from two churches and a feed store, this stand-alone building is not much to look at yet seems larger on the inside, with plenty of color and decoration. Though busy with more than one large table of customers, the staff was quick to seat us, take drink orders, and provide a basket of chips with chunky salsa. After a few salsa-laden chips, I was grateful for that big bowl of a cocktail ($12). ¡Muy picante! This was not your average “keep it tame for the gringos” chip dip. My wife and I love spicy food, and we knew we’d come to the right place.

The menu includes a number of seafood dishes and plenty of traditional favorites found on any Mexican-American menu. However, it also features an interesting combination of non-traditional items (french fries dressed like nachos) along with meat preparations you’re more apt to find in a taqueria (lengua, buche, cabeza, etc.). This made it hard for me to decide, so I punted and ordered a chile relleno plate (with rice and refried beans, $10.29). My buddy ordered tacos carnitas (two for $3.99), and my wife ordered fajitas pollo with corn tortillas ($11.99). A shared order of tostadas de ceviche de camarón rounded things out (five for $9.99).

My wife really enjoyed her meal and I agreed the chicken was well-seasoned and as good as any plate of fajitas I’ve tried. I was impressed by the plate of “fixins” included to dress her tortillas. There were enough beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream and veggies to make a meal even if the chicken got lost on the way from the kitchen.

Our friend let me try a bite of taco, and it was pretty good. The pork was a little dry, but the flavor was solid. My beans and rice were pretty standard. Nothing special, but they played the part. However, the stuffed pasilla was the best I’ve been served in recent memory. I’ve suffered through some pretty awful chiles relleno, and though this still wasn’t “The One,” it was pretty good. Plenty of hot, melted queso fresco, a decent fried coating, and a sauce that was a lot bolder than the bland tomato sauce I’ve so often been disappointed by. I practically licked the plate clean.

The menu describes the shrimp tostadas as “mini,” so I expected small bites that would be a nice change-up from the heavier foods. If those were mini I’d hate to see what they consider large. The fried tortillas were about 4 inches in diameter and piled high with tasty shrimp and pico de gallo. We could have ordered just that plate and left happy.

Though already full, we still ordered one serving of flan to share ($4.99). Unfortunately, this was the one thing we didn’t love. The texture was very stiff, much like firm tofu or a dry cheesecake. Instead of caramel sauce, black molasses with a hint of vanilla was drizzled all over the plate. Even as drizzle, the full-flavor molasses completely overpowered the dessert. Next time I’ll skip dessert, order another cocktail, and bask in the heat of that fantastic salsa.