Since returning from San Diego, I have been craving Mexican food. No joke. Despite my biases (as in Mexican food is not my favourite cuisine), when one gets to eat the real stuff, it can have a profound effect on one's perception. Emerging from the darkness of tater tots posing as "Mexi-Fries" and enough ground beef (if it is in fact meat...) to make one turn vegan, real Mexican food can be downright tasty. This desire for the real deal was somewhat satisfied with my visit to Taqueria Playa Tropical in New West not too long ago. Of course we have La Taqueria, but it only focuses on one thing (and in my opinion, does it well). So where to next? While perusing Urbanspoon (and Mary's blog), I noticed a place in Whalley that I must've passed many a time without even considering eating there. While most might find Taqueria Jalisco shady, for me it makes it more legit. C'mon, it's Mexican food here. No need for glitz or unnecessary frills thank you very much. Concentrate on the food!
And yes, as much as the outside is nothing to look at, the inside is pretty much the same. Part grocery story and part restaurant, it really is about the food here. We got off on a good start with the requisite complimentary Tortilla Chips with fresh pico de gallo, salsa verde and salsa roja. Right away, we knew this was legit since the sauces had a kick. I particularly liked the salsa verde since it had a crisp, clean taste to go with the spice. Mrs. Spray Bottle went with the Chimichanga and the darn thing was massive. Stuffed in the perfectly fried flour tortilla was big pieces of chicken breast, cheese and pico de gallo. Despite being deep-fried, the chimichanga was not greasy at all. The oil must've been at the perfect temperature since the tortilla did not absorb much of it. There was a good mix of ingredients inside that kept things moist without making the entire thing soggy. Hoops had the Enchilada and requested that it be topped with a fried egg. Apparently, he had it this way at a Mexican joint in Bellingham before. Well, egg or not, the Enchilada was topped with a lot of cheese and just the right amount of sauce.
We also tried their Barbacoa (Shredded Beef) Torta and man was it a steal for $5.50! The darn thing was huge. The roll (which looked like French bread) was crusty and crunchy where it stood up to the combination of pico de gallo, tender shredded beef, lettuce and cheese. Although the location has a lot to do with it, this torta at $5.50 makes the one at Las Tortas seem incredibly over-priced. On the topic of big, the Burrito de Salsa Roja was absolutely massive. If you look at the picture, that is a really large plate and the burrito took up almost all of it. With a generous amount of salsa roja, melted cheese and a dollop of pico de gallo, the darn thing looked enticing. Now, unlike many burritos, this was not packed with fillers. Yes, there was the usual rice and beans, but there was an equal amount of tender shredded beef and cheese. The wonderful beef really put it over the top because gave the burrito an "oomph" which was filling, yet eliminated that "starchy" fill-up-the-tummy phenomenon. With that being said, this would still be a challenge for someone to finish in one sitting. I must mention that none of the dishes we had were particularly spicy. In fact, they were quite mild which would appeal to most people. If you want spicy, add the provided sauces.
By default, we had to try some of their Tacos as well with one each of the Pollo and Carne Asada. Unfortunately, we weren't huge fans of the ones we had though. The carne asada (steak) was tough, chewy and dry. Flavour was okay though, as it was seasoned with some spice. The same could be said about the chicken as well. Of course being breast meat, it would be more likely to be dry. I wouldn't say it was incredibly dry though. At the very least, they didn't skimp on the meat. Something a bit different was the Cocktail de Camarones (or shrimp cocktail). If you were expecting a few cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce, think again. This resembled a gazpacho with shrimp more than anything else. Essentially a cold "soup" consisting of tomato juice, avocado, peppers, cilantro and onions with shrimp, this was a surprising hit. A touch sweet and refreshing, the plump, perfectly cooked shrimp added a nice snap and natural sweetness.
As for myself, I had eyes for one thing on the menu and that was the Menudo (tripe soup). I gotta say, it was "offally" good (sorry for the bad pun). The soup was accompanied by tortillas, onions & cilantro and dry oregano. Unlike the one I had at Taqueria Playa Tropical, the one here was much lighter and less salty. That is not to say there was no flavour though. In fact, it was tasty with a balance of flavours (with only a hint of spice) and since they had properly cleaned the tripe, it wasn't very gamy. The tripe itself was perfectly prepared. The pieces were of a good size, tender and as mentioned, cleaned properly. I liked how it was soft while still maintaining a bite. Now a tripe soup wouldn't be enough for lunch would it? So I added a Tamale for good measure. Similar to a Chinese "juong", this combination of masa and shredded pork was wrapped in corn husks then steamed. This was a very good tamale since the masa was moist and had a pleasant texture. I even liked it better than the ones I had in San Diego actually. I'm sure the texture had to do with the good amount of lard used in the masa mixture. Moreover, the meat in the middle was not dry and well-seasoned. I could've eaten a few more of these, but that would blow my caloric intake... Yes, that is an important consideration since tripe is high in cholesterol as well.
Lastly, for no other reason than variety, we had the Chicken Quesadilla. Again, this thing was big and chalk full of large chunks of seasoned chicken breast meat and cheese. Loved the preparation on the flat top which didn't rely on grease for its colour or texture. This was served with a side of fresh guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. The only complaint was that the chicken was slightly dry. Yet, there really wasn't a whole lot to complain about in general. The food was plentiful and well-priced. Furthermore, the food is authentic and made with care. Sure, the area might scare some people, but believe me, there is really nothing to be worried about. It is definitely worth visiting if you are ever in the area. This is a whole lot better than most of the Mexican stuff found in Vancouver proper.
- Good portions
- Friendly staff/owner
- It is a bit sketch for some people
- Some of the meats could've been cooked less or be more tender