Spiced up

Tostada nachos at Jalapeño’s Mexican Food are served with chicken and three different salsas.

Tostada nachos at Jalapeño’s Mexican Food are served with chicken and three different salsas.

PHOTO/ALLISON YOUNG

Jalapeño’s Mexican Food is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant offers a 40 percent discount on food on the first Wednesday of every month.

Jalapeño’s Mexican Food is a small family taqueria with a sizeable menu of classic dishes and modern favorites. Burritos, quesadillas, tortas, sopes, molcajetes and tacos are available with a choice of meats—pollo (chicken), al pastor (spicy spit-roasted pork with pineapple), chorizo (sausage), carnitas (slow-cooked pork), asada (steak), molida (ground beef), desebrada (shredded beef), and lengua (diced beef tongue). I hadn’t eaten all day, so I ordered eight little tacos ($1.50 each) to give them all a try.

The first tacos I ever had were made by my auburn-haired, Idaho farmgirl mom. She grilled corn tortillas and served them with seasoned ground beef, whole beans, onion, avocado, veggies, cheese and muy picante sauce. They weren’t necessarily authentic, but they were damn good. I encountered my first “gringo taco” as part of a school lunch—a cold, crunchy yellow corn tortilla with bland hamburger and yellow cheese. The latter is definitely not what I think of as a “taco.”

Jalapeño’s tacos are classic “street style,” just a couple of small, white corn tortillas loaded with meat, onion and cilantro. They’re served nice and hot. I enjoyed all of them, though the lengua and al pastor stood out for flavor. The asada and pollo were moist and tender, and the spicy chorizo had a subtle, sweet note. The one low point was the shredded beef, which was pretty dry, rendering the simply spiced ground beef superior by comparison. The carnitas were good, though a little crunchy. Four housemade salsas—smooth mild; medium; hot; and a chunky, mild cilantro—each had plenty of flavor. The hot stuff had a sharp kick on the first bite that settled into a flavorful blaze.

A tostada de ceviche ($3.50) was piled so high with lime-cured shrimp, onion and cilantro I decided to eat it with a fork. It was zesty and delicious. Next were plates of asada fries ($6.99), tostada nachos ($6.50) and camarones momias ($8.50), which translates to shrimp mummies. These bacon-wrapped shrimp were served with rice and fries. The fries were crinkle cut and crispy. On the asada fries plate, they were beneath a pile of melted cheese, guacamole, sour cream and marinated chopped steak. The nachos’ white corn chips were individually layered with refried beans, shredded chicken, cheese, sour cream, onion and cilantro, and served with plenty of guacamole and pico de gallo. Hereon, this is the only way I want nachos. Mexican menus with bacon wrapped shrimp usually indicate a cheese and/or jalapeño stuffing. These camarones were unstuffed, though pretty satisfying in their crispy snuggle of bacon and mild dipping sauce. The starch double-down of fries and rice was a little much, though; maybe a little ensalada instead?

A sizzling platter of chicken fajitas ($9.25) was a little smaller than some, but it came with a hefty plate of very good rice, beans, guacamole, pico do gallo and sour cream. The meat was tender and moist, the veggies done just right. Equally good was a combo plate ($7.99) of rice, beans and salad accompanying a huge chile relleno and a crispy chicken taco I can only describe as “best of both worlds.” The stuffed pepper was fine, and the sauce was really good, but the taco was sort of a Mexican take on the gringo variety. A five-inch white corn tortilla was filled with meat, folded in half and grilled before being topped with lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole and Jack cheese. It was delicious, proving there’s room for more than one interpretation of “taco,” even from a single kitchen.