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    A cool blue interior belies the spicy fare served at this trendy taqueria. With 100 brands on hand, tequila is the aperitif of choice, but all good drinks lead to food, and the Tex-Mex dishes served here are done right. Chunky guacamole, the plato grande (a hungry man's dish of skirt steak, picadillo enchilada and a superb chicken tamale slathered in mole), and the pastel de piña are all recommended, as are reservations.


    Teaser: A cool blue interior belies the spicy fare served at this trendy taqueria. With 100 brands on hand, tequila is the aperitif of choice, but all good drinks lead to food, and the Tex-Mex dishes served here are done right. Chunky guacamole, the plato grande (a hungry man's dish of skirt steak, picadillo enchilada and a superb chicken tamale slathered in mole), and the pastel de piña are all recommended, as are reservations.

    Franchised Mexican restaurants tend to have lots of thematic architecture, lots of young preppy servers and lots of boring food. I've had my fill of chimichangas and fried ice cream.

    But I do like Jalapeño's, which advertises and delivers "home made" Mexican food. Here they offer traditional items like mole and menudo. The menu even includes lengua ("slices of beef tongue seasoned with our own spices") for $7.25.

    But I do like Jalapeño's, which advertises and delivers "home made" Mexican food. Here they offer traditional items like mole and menudo. The menu even includes lengua ("slices of beef tongue seasoned with our own spices") for $7.25.

    Of course they have tacos and fajitas, but the emphasis here seems to be on authenticity rather than marketing savvy.

    Of course they have tacos and fajitas, but the emphasis here seems to be on authenticity rather than marketing savvy.

    Great music more than made up for a modest interior decorated with bullfight ads, travel posters of Chichen Itza, glossy photos of Selena and other assorted art. Piñatas hang from the ceiling, and colorful blankets serve as tablecloths. We were quickly served chips and a fresh salsa with a pleasant hint of cilantro, and service remained good throughout.

    Great music more than made up for a modest interior decorated with bullfight ads, travel posters of Chichen Itza, glossy photos of Selena and other assorted art. Piñatas hang from the ceiling, and colorful blankets serve as tablecloths. We were quickly served chips and a fresh salsa with a pleasant hint of cilantro, and service remained good throughout.

    As an appetizer we enjoyed the sopes, three tortillalike shells -- half the size but twice as thick as usual -- topped with beans, beef, and chicken ( $4.25). There was plenty of food for two people to share. Among the other appetizers are nachos, melted cheese with pork sauce, and chicken or tortilla soup.

    As an appetizer we enjoyed the sopes, three tortillalike shells -- half the size but twice as thick as usual -- topped with beans, beef, and chicken ( $4.25). There was plenty of food for two people to share. Among the other appetizers are nachos, melted cheese with pork sauce, and chicken or tortilla soup.

    Our entrees were flautas de pollo ($5.50) and chile poblano ($7.95), which were both good. Each was served with refried beans, a scoop of mildly seasoned rice and shredded lettuce with dressing. The flautas were quite large, with shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas the texture of puff pastry. My large green chili was stuffed with cheese, battered, fried and served alongside an enchilada. Each item on our plates had a clear, fresh and distinct flavor.

    Our entrees were flautas de pollo ($5.50) and chile poblano ($7.95), which were both good. Each was served with refried beans, a scoop of mildly seasoned rice and shredded lettuce with dressing. The flautas were quite large, with shredded chicken wrapped in corn tortillas the texture of puff pastry. My large green chili was stuffed with cheese, battered, fried and served alongside an enchilada. Each item on our plates had a clear, fresh and distinct flavor.

    Other interesting options are carne asada a la Tampequina (grilled steak), camarones a la Veracruzana (sautéed shrimp with tomatoes) and Chicago-style burritos made with strips of steak. There are several combo platters as well as children's plates. Everything is affordable with the most expensive entree topping out at $8.95.

    Other interesting options are carne asada a la Tampequina (grilled steak), camarones a la Veracruzana (sautéed shrimp with tomatoes) and Chicago-style burritos made with strips of steak. There are several combo platters as well as children's plates. Everything is affordable with the most expensive entree topping out at $8.95.

    The menu includes margaritas, common Mexican beers and imported soft drinks. The prepared-to-order sangria ($1.95) was particularly good.

    The menu includes margaritas, common Mexican beers and imported soft drinks. The prepared-to-order sangria ($1.95) was particularly good.

    Jalapeño's is fun, cheap, and filling. It doesn't have the atmosphere and conviviality of the big chain restaurants, but it has a style of its own.

    When a Mexican restaurant pours nearly $1 million into its interior (a rare occurrence in this city, and even more so in Hunter’s Creek), you know the owners aren’t out to open your average taqueria. But after growing tired of entertaining business associates at “second-class Mexican restaurants,” owner Miguel Juarez and business partner Gerardo Salazar deemed it necessary to pour mucho pesos into Los Generales in order to lend it an air of higher-class authenticity.

    In fact it took artisans in Michoacán six months to carve the beautiful wooden tables and chairs, which fit right into the restaurant’s rustic revolutionary theme, a paean to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Walls are festooned with an assortment of knickknacks (sombreros, horseshoes, framed photographs of Mexican movie stars), but the effect never crosses the tacky line. It’s not upscale or first-class, but it is a distinct notch above other Mexican joints in town, and chefs Jose Luis Flores and Walter Acosta (both of whom cooked for the governor of Nuevo León as well as ex-President Vicente Fox), show a refreshing lightness of touch in their kitchen creations.

    First off, the complimentary chips, dusted with chili powder and served with one roasted and one wickedly peppery salsa (both served warm), are absolutely habit-forming. You never want to fill up on chips, but it’s hard to stop at just one. A delicious caldo tlalpeño ($6.99) marries the basics – celery, carrots, rice, shredded chicken and a touch of chipotle – into a messy, though a tad salty, delight. A sliced avocado half serves to balance the flavors. I ordered gorditas con guacamole ($6.99), but got cascos de papa ($7.99) instead. The bacon- and mushroom-filled potato skins layered with cheese bordered on insipid, but the side of guac, heady with lime and cilantro, injected life into the starter.

    Corn tortillas are expertly prepared on the premises and make the tacos ($9.99) a must. Moist marinated pork, mild chorizo, grilled chicken and beef burst out of the soggy-proof shells, and a squeeze of lime serves to enhance the freshness. The “burrito 30-30” ($11.99), a reference to the rifle used by Mexican revolutionaries, is also worth a shot. Seasoned chunks of steak share space with onions, red and green bell peppers and melted Mexican cheese, sided with rice, pico de gallo and refried beans. Smother it with peppery salsa and you’ll open fire.

    Other properly executed renditions include chilaquiles con pollo ($9.99), cut-up fried tortilla and strips of chicken reddened with tangy ranchero sauce, and the deep-fried comfort of the un-Mexican chimichanga ($10.99) which doesn’t suffer from that glommy texture. The heat underpins the chili-cocoa balance of the mole poblano ($10.99) poured over a succulent chicken breast, while the fajita sampler ($14.99), with chicken, shrimp and steak, offers enough savory sizzle for two.

    Quantity supersedes quality in the heavily marbled and oil-glazed Los Generales Cowboy ($25.95), a flavorful 20-ounce bone-in porterhouse far too unctuous to endorse. Furthermore, the hot plate keeps the temperature of the steak and veggies elevated, necessitating a longer-than-average wait before the food cools to an edible temperature.

    Holding up the sweet end of the bargain is arroz con leche ($4.99), studded with raisins, powdered with cinnamon and served slightly warm. Avoiding typical slip-ups, the pudding was not overly sweet and the rice didn’t degrade to mush.

    There’s no doubt Juarez and Salazar have a good thing going – let’s hope their menu maintains current levels of authenticity, innovation and “Mexi”-free labeling. Who knows, the trend could catch and start a revolution in this city.

    Top-shelf tequila and thumping music makes this Dr. Phillips taqueria more bar than restaurant, but there are pockets of goodness to be found on the mostly Tex-Mex menu. Tableside-prepared guac is tasty (though overpriced); chorizo, spicy beef and mushroom tacos and chomp-worthy; cheesy corn on the cob and pulled pork enchiladas warrant a try. You'll relish every bite of the freshly fried churros.

    The first mall food experience I remember is slurping down an Orange Julius after buying my very first pair of pegged, zipper-on-the-bottom jeans. My obsession with the jeans didn't last, but I can't say the same for the fabulous string of selections I discovered thereafter at the mall: bubblegum-flavored popcorn, See's gourmet lollipops, bourbon chicken … the list goes on.

    Nothing, however, compares to what's cooking in a corner of the Florida Mall: Salsa Taqueria and Tequila bar. Here, I sipped my very first glass of amaretto-infused tequila for dessert, which blew the pineapple Julius away for best beverage at the mall.

    But let's rewind. Before I even entered the colorful and cavernous restaurant, I sampled the chips the hostess was giving out at the entrance. Hungry shoppers were lured in by the dozens, and I could see why. As the homemade chips delicately crackled between my teeth, I knew I had to have more – a lot more. In fact, I didn't stop until three bowls of guacamole ($3.95) were polished off. It was creamier than usual and tingled the tongue with fresh lime, serrano pepper and hints of cilantro.

    Queso fundido ($6.50), a rich blend of manchego, asadero and Monterey Jack cheeses, was swaddled in fresh handmade flour tortillas and was proof that bread and cheese is a universally adored pairing. Tortilla soup ($4.95), creamy from the blending of corn tortillas with hearty chicken broth, was bright and refreshing. Among the flavors to shine in this soup were guajillo chiles, a common dried pepper in Mexico, but a difficult-to-find ingredient in American markets.

    The taco sampler ($10.95) was an array of flavor and texture. If one were eating a spectrum of color, this is what it would taste like; it started with a light citrus-marinated chicken, then moved through marinated beef, roasted pork with pineapple and sweet onions, grouper with fruity pico de gallo and slaw, roasted mushrooms, and poblano peppers with queso fresco. I was overwhelmed with the mixture of surprise as the tastes ran from sweet and fruity to fragrantly spicy to pleasantly mellow to creamy and back again.

    One of the best things about Salsa Taqueria is the just representation of capsicums on the menu. Look no further to expand your knowledge of peppers: bell, smoked jalape'o, chipotle, serrano, guajillo and poblano, to name a few.

    The Mexico City enchiladas ($11.95) are a mix-and-match of choices: There's chicken, beef or shrimp, but also be prepared to choose from yellow, poblano, guajillo or tomatillo mole, all spectacularly delicious. My favorite, the guajillo, seemed heavy at first, but woke the mouth with a little zing and a lot of tang after the first bite. Among three sandwich selections, we tried "torta Havana" ($8.50), thinly sliced pork loin, ham and avocado on pleasantly light, toasted bread. The addition of chipotle sauce made the flavors come alive.

    For dessert we ordered the tres leches ($3.95), of course. Tres leches is one of my current kitchen experiments, and I made one the other day that looked like a deflated balloon. Luckily, Salsa Taqueria's fared better, but was more like a tiramisu drenched in fruit puree than the silky, milk-soaked genoise that captures my recent affections. (Note: I invite … no, beg those with good tres leches recipes to please step forward and share.) So, after our delicious meal, I was ready to go try on some jeans – no zippers on the bottom this time.

    You won't find a neighborhood cantina with the sort of loyal patronage and longevity of Paco's in Winter Park, but Tacos El Rancho, as clean, bright and simply accoutered a taqueria as you'll find, has certainly laid a foundation for a healthy future (if not for its patrons, then certainly for itself). Locals in Conway seem to like their eatery's low-profile status ' I even ran into a couple of acquaintances at the counter, both of whom happened to live in the area, and listened to them reservedly extolling the virtues of the kitchen. After sampling the fare, it's easy to see why they'd want this little taqueria all to themselves.

    Offering the established canon of Tex-Mex staples ' burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and specialty tacos ' the restaurant appears focused on doing those items right, even if some items, like lengua tacos ($2.25) may turn off diners. But tongue isn't as repulsive as it may sound. The buttery cubes of beef lick the palate softly, with onions, cilantro, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream layered atop two soft flour tortillas providing the textured tang. All soft tacos are doubled up in a similar fashion (you'll go solo with hard-shells); if you're on a tight budget, a couple of soft tacos and a drink will fill you up without emptying your wallet.

    For six bits more, you can splurge on the fish tacos ($3). The nicely seasoned mahi fillets weren't fishy-smelling in the least ' always a determining factor in the quality of a good stuffed-to-the-gills fish taco. Aromatic tacos al pastor ($2.25) are done Mexico City'style, with the pork capturing its essence from a pineapple marinade. Those who like their ground beef minced fine will enjoy every bite of the tacos molida ($2.25). Tacos asada ($3) weren't as tender as the tongue, but
    the steak packed plenty of flavor nonetheless.

    Ground beef burritos ($5.50), crammed with rice and a choice of black, pinto or refried beans, offer a more substantial meal, but aren't as substantial as the bulbous gold chimichanga ($6.99). The deep-fried burrito, simultaneously crisp and soft, is an effort to finish in one seating, but the spicy chicken, splashed with a smooth green sauce and a snappy red, is only improved by an ample ladling of tangy queso on top. That cheesy sauce was a hit with all parties at the table ' the chimi may have been too much to finish, but that sauce was lapped clean. I've always thought of guacamole as being essential to enjoying a Tex-Mex meal, and the tub ($1.60) offered here does just that. Accompanying tortilla chips ($0.75) are properly warm and subtly oily.

    They were out of tres leches cake, but milky horchata ($1.60), a rice-based beverage flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, simulates the cake's flavors, though it was a little too sweet. I enjoyed the sizable slab of flan ($2), redolent with the essence of vanilla.

    The mood is pleasantly festive here, with a steady stream of patrons chatting away beneath sombreros dangling on terracotta-colored walls. Just beware of any prodding sticks on your way out ' you're likely to be mistaken for a stuffed piñata.

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