Jaliscos y mariscos

No. 1: 966 Sacramento Avenue in West Sacramento, (916) 372-3432

No. 2: 900 Jefferson Boulevard, Suite 130 in West Sacramento; (916) 372-7116

There are three Taqueria Ay Jaliscos. The two in West Sacramento are identified appropriately enough as No. 1 and No. 2. Eat at No. 2. First, No. 1 is significantly smaller and somewhat cramped, although room has been found for two flat-screen TVs to blare soccer en español. If No. 1 handed out a free meal for every time the announcer says “pelota,” they’d soon go out of business. Second, No. 2 is what marketeers would call “freeway close.” Exit westbound Interstate 80 at Jefferson Boulevard. Turn left. Advance a few hundred yards to the stoplight. Look across the street, see the goal, turn left on Jefferson then turn right into the parking lot and bring an appetite through the front door.

Not quite so straightforward is the translation of Ay Jalisco. Depending on the Spanish-English dictionary used, ay can mean “alas,” or a kind of wistful or appreciative “aah.” Jalisco is one of Mexico’s 31 states. The official name is Estado Libre y Soberano de Jalisco, the “Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco.” Situated on the country’s Pacific coast, Jalisco’s capital is Guadalajara, the second largest metropolitan area in Mexico. The walls of No. 2 showcase a number of photos of the city’s impressive Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima. Puerto Vallarta is another city in Jalisco, which explains why mariscos are a major—y mejor—part of the food scene, as the banner at No. 2 attests. Jalisco is celebrated in a song, “Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes,” which speaks of the state’s beauty as embodied both in its women and Guadalajara. Most importantly, though, Jalisco is the home of tequila. If it ain’t from Jalisco, it’s merely mescal.

Aside from the significantly larger square footage, one of the most striking features of No. 2 is its varied salsa bar. There’s a mild salsa verde; a crisp pico de gallo; large—and dare one say it—succulent limes; radishes; sour cream and avocado salsas; a carrot-heavy, onion-light escabeche; and two hot salsas. One of the two calientes is chunky with plenty of onions and a hint of chocolate. The other, which is pureed, has a more forceful kick. Mixing the two is memorable. Chips are complimentary and a necessity, if only as vehicles to sample the salsa bar’s bounty. There is no salsa bar—small or large—at No. 1. Strike three.

Best at taquerias to start with tacos. A $1.75 a throw, a bargain. There are all the usual suspects: asada, pastor, carnitas, pollo, cabeza, lengua, tripa, chorizo, chile verde and buche—pork stomach. As tends to be the case in the south of Mexico, the soft 4-inch diameter tortillas are corn. There is a generous dusting of cilantro and a splash of medium-hot red sauce. A word on behalf of lengua—tongue. While spongy, as one might expect, lengua offers a benign and flavorful counterpoint to the vigorous afterburn of the chorizo. There’s a hint of citrus to the pastor—marinated pork—that remains even after laying on a goodly amount of salsa caliente. The sauce blanketing the enchiladas—a better complement to pollo than pastor or carnitas—jumps with a bright cinnamon tang.

The torta ahogada, a Jalisco sandwich staple, is stellar but messy. Among the special plates, which are all $10.49, is chile verde. The verde is more liquid and less substantive than expected. The pork is also a bit chilly. Only the frijoles are hot enough to prompt two emergency breath-in, breath-outs. For $1 more, there are 12 mariscos plates, including the generously portioned octopus in diablo sauce. There’s no doubt it’s octopus, because a few of the little suckers still have little suckers on them. Sure, it’s chewy, but cooked octopus is nowhere near as jaw-wrenching as an order of tako nigiri at a sushi joint. Regrettably, there isn’t a lot of devil in the diablo. It is sweetish like some ceviche sauces. Nothing a little salsa caliente can’t solve, however.

Service is friendly and efficient, despite having to order at the counter. Ay Jalisco delivers the goods.