Americans love Mexican food. According to the 2011 US Economic Census, there are no fewer than 38,000 Mexican restaurants in the United States – more than Chinese restaurants, seafood shacks or Italian bistros. Most people know that salsa has overtaken ketchup as America’s favorite condiment, but did you know that tortillas outsell hot dog buns or that tortilla chips trump potato chips? Rhode Island isn’t exactly part of the national trend, because we have more pizza places and hamburger spots than taco stands. In recent years, however, the trend is changing, and we’re not just talking about more Taco Bells and Chipotles. In Providence, El Rancho Grande and Tallulah’s Tacos have filled the Mexican void since Casa Lupita closed. Now, South County is joining the Mexican food bandwagon with Jalisco.
Jalisco is located in the former Friendly’s Restaurant on State Street (aka Route 1) in the heart of Westerly’s shopping district. The outside shape of the restaurant still bares the bone structure of Friendly’s, but inside, the restaurant has been transformed. The bright lights of the former ice cream shop have given way to a restaurant that evokes the feeling of dining in old Mexico. From the artwork on the walls to the soundtrack playing while I dined, I felt like I was back on one of my vacations south of the border. Instead of an ice cream counter, there’s a cozy seven-seat bar.
After taking a walk down Watch Hill’s East Beach on one of the first cold autumn afternoons, I visited Jalisco for a late lunch. As any good Mexican restaurant would have, Jalisco has a wide variety of margaritas and cervezas (beers) to pair with your food. Margaritas come in small (12 oz.), jumbo (18 oz.) or by the pitcher (60 oz.), and you can choose frozen or on the rocks. In addition to traditional lime, you can also try one of their flavored margaritas – strawberry, raspberry, mango, peach, banana or piña colada. My crew skipped the margaritas and ordered a round of Modelo Especials ($4.25). Along with our cervezas, we enjoyed the complimentary basket of warm tortilla chips and salsa. The chips were very good, and the salsa was on the mild side, so it would be fine for everyone, even if they’re not spicy food mavens like myself.
The menu at Jalisco is enormous and a bit overwhelming. We had to look over the menu for a long time before placing our order. To make sure we tried a variety of appetizers, we started with the Appetizer Jalisco ($11). The platter came with two taquitos, two jalapeño poppers, a cheese quesadilla and a tostada. We enjoyed everything on the platter. The taquitos (sometimes known as flautas) were good, stuffed with shredded beef and slightly overdone on the ends. I loved the jalapeño poppers and the cheese quesadilla because the cheese in each of them was exceptional. Rarely does a cheese quesadilla excite me, but because the cheese was so good, this quesadilla really stood out. The tostada was topped with seasoned ground beef and was very tasty. The whole platter was accompanied by guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
The entrée portion of the menu was broken down into House Specialties, Fajitas, Chicken Specialties, Steak Specialties, Seafood Specialties and a section where everything can be ordered a la carte. The Carnitas ($11.99) I ordered was a large portion of twice-cooked pork. The pork was well seasoned and not at all dry, as some carnitas can be. My mountain of pork was served with flour tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and diced tomatoes. I had enough pork for three meals – dinner, lunch the next day and a topping for nachos later in the week. As if I didn’t already have enough food, my entrée was accompanied by a side dish of Mexican rice and refried beans. One friend ordered the Yolandas ($10.25), which consisted of three chicken enchiladas topped with cheese and enchilada sauce, lettuce, sour cream and tomatoes. They were accompanied by Spanish rice and refried beans. It was a very large portion, and my friend loved the chicken. Two of my friends were in the mood for burritos ($3.75) and ordered them from the a la carte menu. The shredded chicken was better than the ground beef, but my friends were more than satisfied with their meals and commented for the price they weren’t expecting such a large burrito. Another friend also ordered from the la carte menu and chose the Steak Chimichanga. The ranchero sauce wasn’t spicy, and it was creamier than most ranchero sauces I’ve sampled and my friend found it to be quite delicious.
Jalisco is definitely a spot where families can feel comfortable. The atmosphere is casual, and they offer a $4.95 kids menu, which includes an entrée, side dish and drink. Best of all, if you go on Sunday, kids eat free (with the purchase of an adult meal).
Just like the rest of America, I love Mexican food. I love it so much I’ve been on vacation to Mexico eight times. Jalisco reminds me a lot of my time in Mexico, minus the fact that you can drink the water in Westerly! So, when a Mexican food craving strikes, instead of booking a flight to Cancun, head to Jalisco. When they ask if you want another margarita, say “por que, no?” as they do in Mexico. Why not? You can have a fiesta of your own.
Jalisco Mexican Restaurant
140 Franklin Street, Westerly