Thursday, February 25, 2010

El Jaripeo

It turns out that maybe two-year-olds do better at restaurants than I have been inclined to give them credit for doing. It might well be less-than-two-year-olds who are the real troublemakers. It’s also possible that going from high chair to booster seat or just sitting there in the booth with Mommy was the turning point between going out to dinner being an intolerable situation and its being a fairly pleasant one. Whatever the reason, we managed to have another meal out tonight, pretty much on a whim. We headed out to the far east side to try out the “new” El Jaripeo, near Washington Square - “new” because it moved into a different building basically across the street from where it used to be on East Washington Street, roughly halfway between Mitthoeffer and German Church Roads.

The interior is more desert southwest and considerably more open than the cramped, kitschy space it occupied before. Never fear, though - this is still the east side, so you’ll definitely have the chance to sit in a booth adjacent to a trio of obese gringos who send their meals back three times because they don’t know how to order what they want correctly and who clearly belong at Taco Bell and not at a place where there is table service. But then the chips and salsa came out, and everything was okay.

Like most everything we tried tonight, the chips and salsa were fresh and bright with flavor - the chips crispy and warm (apart from that one wayward chip that ends up in every basket - the one that’s soggy with oil and has the consistency of leather if you happen to grab it and start chewing without looking at the chip) and the salsa that just-right consistency between too thin and too thick, and just spicy enough to give it some character. Speaking of spicy, have you ever seen a two-year-old eat something that’s a little too spicy for them? It’s kind of hilarious. Jackson has developed quite the taste for chips and salsa, and his grabby little hands went right for the chips when they arrived. He dunked a chip and chomped down and started chewing, and then his eyes started to water a little bit and he sucked in air, making a sound not unlike the sound Hannibal Lecter made when he told Clarice about the census taker and the fava beans. Then he went right for his cup of lemonade, and you could just about see the relief on his face as the sugar in the drink started to unlock the taste buds that had gone into panic mode because of the capsaicin in the peppers that were in the salsa.

Amy had chicken fajitas, which did not come out sizzling and steaming the way they do at pretty much every other place where she has ordered them (and that would be practically every Mexican restaurant she has been to, ever). The accoutrements (sans tortillas) for the fajitas came out well before the plate of meat, peppers, and onions; and the non-sizzling fajita plate came out a couple of minutes ahead of my Burrito Pablos. She pronounced them delightful and was very pleased with the restaurant overall, deciding that it’s probably the best place to get Mexican food on the east side (other than El Sol de Tala).

I agree with that sentiment. My Burrito Pablos contained chicken, steak, chorizo, onions, beans, lettuce, guacamole, and pico de gallo in a tortilla topped with sour cream and cheese and tomatillo sauces. I was sort of astonished when it was set down in front of me. I’ve never seen a burrito that big, even at La Bamba at three in the morning. I suppose I should have taken a picture of it, but what are you going to do? Despite the vast array of ingredients inside the tarpaulin-sized tortilla, most of those individual flavors were easily detectable, apart from the chorizo. Other than the telltale greasy orange tint of the spicy Mexican sausage, it could well have been ground anything; La Bamba remains the place to go for chorizo in your burritos or tacos. Other than that, it was a very good burrito - the pico de gallo inside seemed to lighten up every bite and helped keep the meats and beans from making it feel too heavy.

Best place to get Mexican on the east side, other than El Sol de Tala? Yep. That said, though, it still doesn’t equal the version of Casa Miguel’s in Greenwood that was run by Mike and Angie Lee back in the day. That restaurant was situated in a rickety old house near the intersection of Madison Avenue and Main Street (I might be wrong about that location - I haven’t been that far down into stars-and-bars country in awhile), and it had a really great mix of ambience and great food. The food maybe wasn’t authentic, but it was very good and most of it was covered by lots of very melty cheese; and the salsas (four different kinds, at various levels of heat) were simply the best ever. After the Lees closed up, someone else re-opened it as Casa Miguel’s, but it wasn’t the same - it wasn’t even close. Every Mexican place I eat at is measured against Casa Miguel’s and is invariably found wanting.

El Jaripeo might as well be the Steward of Gondor until or unless this deposed king returns. Until I checked their website just now, I wasn’t aware that they were as much of a chain as they are. The restaurant we ate at tonight was the first of them, but they have now expanded to two other states. Doesn’t really matter, though. Apart from Casa Miguel’s and El Sol de Tala, Mexican is Mexican is Mexican. This place is a notch or two above average, and that’s probably the best that can be expected.

10417 East Washington Street

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