Jalisco Grill is my neighborhood taqueria. Literally. It is less than five minutes by car from my home in Roseville, and less than ten on foot. It is at most five blocks away, and I can reach it without crossing a single major intersection. For the convenience factor and proximity alone, I find Jalisco Grill well worth a visit. But for me, convenience is hardly the most important factor when choosing a place to eat, as I would travel a great distance for exceptional food of any variety, and wouldn't be caught dead at a Denny's were it a mere block away. So, closeness aside, is Jalisco Grill a good place to eat? Most certainly.
When Jalisco Grill opened in 2006, situated in a small shopping center beside a bank, across the parking lot from a Dollar Tree, I was extremely skeptical. From the outside, the place simply looked too nice, too clean and commercial. I grew up on the San Mateo County Peninsula, a string of suburbs incorporated and developed in the early- to mid-twentieth century, and when I moved to Roseville in 2001 I was unprepared for its relative newness, the city having been extensively developed in the previous decade. In 2001, everything looked too nice, too clean and commercial compared to what I was used to.
As a newly transplanted Roseville resident, I was frustrated by the difficulty of finding an independent eatery - be it a taqueria, delicatessen, or barbecue joint - amongst the seemingly endless supply of casual dining restaurants such as T.G.I. Friday's, Red Robin and Applebee's. The closest thing to a taqueria that I could find was Baja Fresh. For someone like myself, the culinary landscape in Roseville in the early part of this decade was wholly unsatisfying.
To be fair, it's not as if there were no restaurants other than bland, corporate-owned chains such as the ones mentioned above. But during Roseville's economic boom, there was no way a mom-and-pop business could afford rent in one of the city's most trod-upon commercial areas. Finding independent eateries worthy of a visit was something of a scavenger hunt, a challenge not for the faint-hearted.
At first glance, Jalisco Grill seems a world apart from the taquerias where I ate in my youth. These were old and sometimes run-down buildings, frequently located in Latino neighborhoods, patronized by a largely Latino clientele. They might have been found in a quiet downtown area, or in a parking lot between a liquor store and a shoe repair establishment. They all served excellent food, prepared by people who knew what authentic Mexican food tasted like; most of them still do.
Though when I was younger I found a sort of badge of honor in seeking out the most authentic taquerias in the Bay Area, and thought it impossible that I could find a superior burrito in a gentrified neighborhood, the deciding factor is, and always has been, the food itself. While I believe that the tried-and-true taquerias of San Francisco's Mission District and San Mateo's Burrito Alley, most of which have been in business for decades, serve the best food, I try to keep an open mind about restaurants that don't fit this paradigm. At the same time, I am quick to cross off my list any restaurant that fails to make the grade.
Jalisco Grill is part of a recently-established retail area (i.e. strip mall). The building resembles something you'd see in Latin America, but only vaguely so; the architectural style seems forced, the sort of thing a white person might have his contractor build in order to emulate something he saw during a recent trip to Mexico. The restaurant's sign, proudly advertising "Fresh Authentic Mexican Cuisine" initially turned me off as well. From the outside, the whole thing screamed gringo to me.
After a few months of driving past its location, I gave Jalisco Grill a chance. I had heard through the proverbial grapevine that their food was good, even that it compared to some of the taquerias in the Mission. Such a bold statement begged - no, demanded - that I find out for myself. I don't remember what I ate during that first visit - common sense tells me that it must have been a burrito - but I distinctly remember being sorry that I hadn't stopped in when they first opened. Whether or not Jalisco Grill's burritos are in any way on par with the best of the Mission is up for conjecture, or at the very least a matter of personal opinion, but the food easily surpassed what I expected it to be.
One aspect of Jalisco Grill that makes it stand out above many of the taquerias I frequent when I'm in the Bay Area is the fact that I've yet to settle on one item or dish that I'd be content to order forever. Unlike San Mateo's Taqueria Pancho Villa, where the burrito rules over everything else; and the nearby Taqueria Tres Amigos, where I have been passing over their burritos in favor of crispy tacos since 1996, when I go to Jalisco Grill it's rare that I know exactly what I am going to order. It might be a super burrito, or I might decide on tacos. If I order tacos, they might be crispy, or they might not. Perhaps I will get something completely different, something I've never tried before. The only thing I know for certain is that the service will be more than efficient, accommodating substitutions or special orders with a smile; and that the food served hot and very delicious.
Though not as customizable as those served at Pancho Villa, the burritos at Jalisco Grill are very filling, stuffed with meat, rice, beans, salsa, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Their menu lists carne asada, chicken, carnitas, al pastor and chile verde as meat choices, though tacos can be prepared with chorizo, cabeza (beef head) and lengua (tongue) as well. I usually order my burrito with carne asada or chicken, but today I was craving carnitas.
It had been some time - easily a year or more - since I'd ordered a burrito with carnitas. I'm not sure why this is; I have nothing against pork and frequently order my tacos with barbecued pork. Perhaps I was simply too hooked on Jalisco Grill's carne asada, or maybe it was the word "fried" that kept me away, though that doesn't seem likely. At any rate, the taste of the deliciously-seasoned pork is still on my tongue, and will remain there until I have more. At $6.49, it is comparable price-wise with the burritos sold at other Northern California taquerias: The excellent super burrito at Taqueria Pancho Villa is slightly closer to the $7.00 mark, while Sacramento's Vaqueros Taqueria sells a super burrito that, as of this writing will set you back $5.75 but is slightly smaller.
The tacos at Jalisco Grill are worth ordering as well. Listed on the menu as "small tacos", their plain soft tacos are an exercise in simplicity. They consist of meat, onion, cilantro and salsa, piled atop two corn tortillas for $2.10 each. Though not the most inexpensive taco you'll find, they're delicious. Seen here are, clockwise from top, carne asada, chicken, and carnitas.
If I am ordering tacos, however, it is more likely that I am having the crispy tacos. These contain copious amounts of meat within a crispy-fried corn tortilla. They are topped with shredded cheese and served with sour cream, guacamole and lettuce on the side. The crispy tacos are $2.49 each, and wholly satisfying. From left to right we have chicken, carne asada and al pastor.
I will occasionally order their Super Nachos when I am in the mood for something different, or if I want to share an entree. This enormous dish includes meat, beans, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa and, of course, chips. I like the way the colors of the sour cream, guacamole and salsa mimic the colors of the Mexican flag, albeit backwards as I photographed the nachos upside down.
Once again, the end product is the main factor that determines how much I enjoy eating at any given taqueria, more than the price, more than the location, more even than the general upkeep of the restaurant. But I admit that my opinion may be swayed by whether or not the restaurant features self-serve tortilla chips and salsa, and a soda fountain. Many of the authentic Bay Area taquerias I earlier heralded cannot boast these things. Though I am used to buying Coke by the can or the bottle when I eat at certain establishments, or having my tortilla chips and salsa doled out by the staff, I am always relieved when I walk into a new taqueria and see that the soda fountain and the salsa bar are accessible to customers. Given how relatively inexpensive chips, salsa, and soda are in the grand scheme of things, being able to have as much as I want goes a long way toward impressing me. Jalisco Grill has both, and earns bonus points for always having Cherry Coke (my favorite soda) in the fountain, and a wide array of salsas, hot sauces and condiments in the salsa bar.
More than anything else, Jalisco Grill represents two things to me: The dawn of a new era in Roseville cuisine, as prior to its opening I found myself traveling to nearby Citrus Heights and Sacramento for taqueria-style burritos; and a reminder not to judge a book by its cover. In spite of all outward appearances, Jalisco Grill measures up nicely to taquerias like El Super Burrito in San Bruno, California; and Taqueria El Faro in South San Francisco, both of which were amongst the first taquerias I ate at as a child. The menu is extensive, with a diverse selection of delicious and authentic dishes beyond the requisite burritos and tacos. I try not to wait very long between visits.
Jalisco Grill is located at 5180 Foothills Blvd #150, Roseville, CA 95747, and 9050 Fairway Drive #155, Roseville, CA 95678. Their website is www.jaliscogrill.com.
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