The idea behind this series is fairly simple: My girlfriend and I will go out to eat at a Chattanooga-area restaurant and then describe our dining experience there. Keep in mind that this is not a food review per se, but instead an attempt to relate to readers our single, one-time experience at a restaurant. It just is what it is, as they say. There will also be pictures. Lots of pictures.
What: Taqueria Jalisco
Where: 1634 Rossville Ave.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
For more information: Click here
I am a 30-year-old voracious eater of anything weird, while my girlfriend, age 24, is the complete opposite. This makes dining for us a strange affair. I enjoy a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity, but her M.O. is "simple, no frills." These dining adventures will test both of us at various restaurants around Chattanooga. The one "hidden gem" that everybody keeps talking about is Taqueria Jalisco on Rossville Avenue. It had been several years since I’d had dinner there (it was just a truck the last time), so I was excited to see how much had changed. Lauren had never been.
Opened almost seven years ago, the restaurant was originally built as an extension to their Main Street grocery store. Maria Parra began cooking her style of Mexican street food out of the truck, which became an immediate hit on the gentrified Main Street. Since then, the Parra family has expanded with a tiny storefront and outside seating on Rossville Avenue. Maria’s son, Jorge, now serves as proprietor. He’s about the friendliest guy in the universe, it seems. We didn’t pry, but from our vantage point it seemed that most, if not all, of the cooking is still done inside the original truck. We chose to sit inside because of the pungent odor wafting out of the chicken processing plant. Inside, the seating is limited to a few booths and tables. We sidled into a booth and were greeted by Maria herself, who helped guide us through a delicious meal of authentic Mexican food.
I’ve never been to Mexico, but I imagine there exists many restaurants similar to Taqueria Jalisco there. Lana Del Rey was thumping on the sound system, and Maria brought us our menus. The ambience felt very rustic and simple, but I would also be comfortable having a first date here. Nothing about the restaurant felt as cheap as the prices indicated. I would describe Taqueria Jalisco as inviting. Lauren and I both commented how "at home" we felt. I’ve experienced this at several different restaurants that I call my "favorites"; it’s a sense that they were waiting on you and were excited you finally showed up.
Lauren is always overjoyed when a restaurant offers Pure Sodaworks in a bottle. Taqueria Jalisco did. As for other drinks, they offer a variety of aguas frescas (mango, horchata, tamarind, pineapple), bottled Jarritos and Mexican Coca-Cola (a wonderful pairing with cigars because of the high sugar content). I ordered a horchata, which is rice water with cinnamon. It reminded me of my late grandmother’s rice pudding but in liquid form. For appetizers, we each (mistakenly) ordered sopes with spicy chicken—a mistake not because they weren’t delicious (they were) but because they were WAY too much food for an appetizer. Our fault. Sopes are considered street fare in Mexico. They feature a handmade corn shell with beans, lettuce, pico, queso fresco, sour cream and a choice of meat. For about $5, one of these and a soda would make a heck of a lunch. Return trips are necessary and forthcoming for us. Just the appetizers alone are worth working your way through. I love a good papusa (cornmeal tortillas stuffed with cheese), tostadas and tamales.
Again, there was so much on the menu that it was difficult to make a decision. If you ask the diehard fans what to order, you’ll hear the burritos are a highlight, as are the tortas (traditional Mexican sandwiches). Maria mentioned the flautas were good, so we ordered those. Lauren, ever the carnivore, ordered carne asada. Our food arrived fresh from the truck, and we dove in. Maria was correct about the flautas; they were delicious. The plate came with three flautas (fried and stuffed tortilla rolls) piled high with lettuce, queso fresco, sour cream, and plenty of avocados and tomatoes. I made it through two before I white-flagged the situation. Lauren’s carne asada was a healthy portion of skirt steak topped with grilled onions and served with scalding flour tortillas. It wasn’t the traditional approach, but she decided to forgo the tortillas and just eat the steak with knife and fork. Lauren had her leftovers at work the next day, and I ate the rest of mine while watching the season finale of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." I don’t know why I told you that.
Jorge arrived and greeted us with a friendly hello as if we were old friends. We tried to order dessert, but he apologized and told us they didn’t have their famous tres leches cake. There were no other desserts, but I’ve heard the cake alone is worth coming back for.
Would we go back?
After our dinner, I want to take one day a week and just go through the menu. The food at Taqueria Jalisco is easily the most authentic Mexican food in the city. There are no flashy displays, and the portions are reasonable for our American-sized appetites. Having said that, I think Taqueria Jalisco may be a better lunch option than dinner. There’s something about eating traditional Mexican food in the midday heat outside of a truck that appeals to my inner foodie. We’ll see you next week, Taqueria Jalisco. Keep up the good work.
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