Zazon Guadalajara Grill
Zazon Guadalajara Grill2386 Fruitridge Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95822
Many Californians say they know Mexican food, but what we really know is a fairly Americanized version. Because with a country as big as Mexico, of course, there are a multitude of culinary styles that we barely come across here.
Zazon Guadalajara Grill offers a fun experience for learning more about foods native to the state of Jalisco, where the city of Guadalajara resides. The menu is extensive, though, and there are plenty of familiar dishes, too.
In fact, my dining companions and I first tried more familiar foods to better judge them against nearby restaurants. The al pastor burrito was a monster, even without the sour cream and cheese. Zazon’s pastor is more crumbly than others, but sports plenty of complex dried chili flavor. It was lost in the burrito and better featured in a taco.
In fact, the tacos are outstanding. The cabeza (beef cheeks) and barbacoa are the best fillings—both so tender they practically melted. The chicken tasted rich with dark meat and a subtle spice, while the carnitas are flavorful but tend toward dryness. Typical of Jalisco, there are also fried fish tacos on the menu.
The Guadalajaran influence shows in several shrimp dishes. We tried the grilled and garlic preparations, both served with buttery rice studded with corn, peas and carrots, and plenty of sautéed peppers and onions. We loved the slightly charred flavor of the grilled shrimp, while the garlic ones were marred by an off-flavor that indicated they were past their prime.
The beans that accompany many of the entrees are not the usual pinto or refried, but Jalisco-style peruanos. These little yellowish beans were perfectly al dente and served in their own flavorful broth alongside expertly cooked plain rice.
On another visit, we sampled the pozole, only available on weekends (along with birria and menudo). Zazon offers a small portion or the gargantuan size you see at most places. The broth was disappointingly bland, but once dressed with plenty of lime, hot sauce and cabbage, the soup came alive. It’s just not one of the best choices.
One confusing aspect of Zazon is that the print menu doesn’t include all of the items on the boards above and below the register. Leave yourself plenty of time to read everything.
The restaurant serves huaraches and tejuino, for example, which aren’t listed on the printed menu. The huaraches are served in little masa boats that can be topped with any of the featured meats plus tomatoes, cabbage and salsa. Tejuino is a fermented corn drink native to Jalisco, but we didn’t realize it was an option until after we had already ordered.
There are lots of other great beverages, though. Fruit and milk licuados are refreshing, and the horchata here is some of the smoothest and most flavorful any of us had tasted.
The desserts are another whole avenue of exploration. Flan, jericallas and bionicos are listed on the menu—the last two totally unfamiliar to any of us but specialties of Guadalajara. Jericallas are sometimes called Mexican crème brûlées, but are browned on top without extra sugar. Bionico is a fruit salad originally sold as street food but is now enjoyed widely as a dessert.
The latter was a wonderful mix of fresh fruit topped with a cream sauce (usually crema and condensed milk). Diners add additional toppings to order, such as granola, coconut, raisins, sprinkles or chocolate chips. It was fantastic.
The refrigerated case also offers rice pudding, a slew of sweet cakes mostly covered in whipped cream, cake pops and stunning gelatin desserts shaped like flowers. The ones we tried were good, but not great, although we hardly sampled them all.
Zazon is somewhat inconsistent in quality, but full of interesting flavors and friendly service. It requires several trips to sample even a small portion of its menu, but it’s worth it to discover some of the interesting dishes of Jalisco that aren’t at most Mexican restaurants.