Tag Archives: Mexican food

Jalapenos in The Alley

You don’t need to be Don Draper to know that “New” moves product. Most people who do not lobby the statehouse for a living (that is to say, most people with souls) are optimists at their core. Even if we’ve been hurt a hundred times before by something very similar, a few tweaks and the glimmer of possibility is often enough to get humans to buy or do something that they should know perfectly well will not turn out the way they hope. It was new. This is enough to explain, if not excuse, our decision to go to Jalapenos in the Alley for lunch.

The experience was equally unsavory for the fact that we were seated beneath a photo of an actual execution (a picture of a firing squad from what looked to be the Pancho Villa days) as it was for the fact that we were seated next to a table of cops bragging to each other about beating people up. Not the most appetizing of lunch settings to be looking at executions while hearing about police brutality.

But we were still determined to give the food a fair shake — and it was indeed terrible, perhaps even more terrible than the terrible atmosphere. People that think of Jalapenos as good Mexican food probably also think of Cinco de Mayo as an authentic Mexican holiday. To be fair, good fun can be had drinking beer on May 5. But nothing good can come out of eating the watery tomato swill that Jalapenos calls salsa.

The best thing that can be said about lunch at Jalapenos is that it doesn’t take very long. They whip the menus right at you and are ready to take your order before you have even glanced through items numbered 1 through 70, to say nothing of the 20-plus other items on the special lunch menu. They want to know what number you’re having. They don’t want you to try to pronounce it. They want the number. There are only about 100 numbers, and you need to pick a number right now. Are you ready yet?

Vegetarian items are helpfully set aside on the menu, and the pickings are slim. No, they can’t make the chile rellenos without meat because they are all pre-made. They are ready to bring them out to you now. Have you ordered yet? Have you picked a number?

Don’t get distracted by the Barbie doll wearing a bull fighter costume that has been affixed to the wall. That’s called culture. Don’t let the echo of the 1920s Mariachi music distract you from the surprising emptiness of the place during the lunch hour. That’s how you know what country your lunch recipes came from. It fulfills all of the official red-white-and-green flag criteria for Authentic USA Mexican Restaurant Incorporated. What number are you having?

Perhaps you have been slowed by the stale chips that have been slung at you, the plastic basket staring up at you like an accusation. You chose this fate. You have plugged into Jalapenos for lunch. Just as Jalapenos was plugged into an empty space in the city’s favorite economic development site — The Alley.

This restaurant used to be The Cantina. That restaurant was also terrible, famous for sticking frozen fish sticks in a tortilla and calling it a fish taco. Is this location cursed? No. People might be willing to eat lunch here even though parking is scare. But for that, the food would have to be good.

Look, nighttime might be another story. Conventioneers from out of town might not know any better. Jalapenos may do a brisk trade in watered-down sugar-syrup margaritas and Dos Equis. Those people may just be looking for something to fill the “dinner” slot in their evening agendas, just as Jalapenos throws some shredded iceberg lettuce onto your lunch plate to fill that extra space. It doesn’t matter what’s there. It’s just a thing to eat.

For people that have never had any better, this may be just fine. If someone grew up in Hayneville and had never had Mexican food before, Jalapenos might be a delightful treat on a trip to “the big city.” If they’re in for a convention and staying at the Renaissance, they may feel like they walked over and found a gem of a place to hit on Betsy from Accounting.

But we left Jalapeno’s talking about the nature of violence. Our guts were churning in hostile protest about the offense we had just committed against them. The grease was making vile claims. And the city’s favor towards The Alley as the crown jewel of downtown economic development seemed ever more like a farce: “Here’s a tax break. Look at these people drinking cheap beer. Open a business here and hire someone but please, for your own sake, don’t put any of this food in your mouth.”

Jalapenos is not the only restaurant in The Alley that sucks. But it is the only one that feels like someone’s revenge against the city where HB 56 was passed.

Los Cabos

Los Cabos frontWe have been looking for good Mexican food in Montgomery since we’ve lived here. Regular readers will remember that we gave a big “meh” to La Zona Rosa, an “ew, but good margaritas” to the Advertiser‘s Best in Montgomery Ixtapa, and a “hey, this place is good” to Los Vaqueros. We’re still trying to sort out what we think about El Rey’s, mostly because it’s so good but so expensive. And we have liked Cuco’s Express in the past as a downtown lunch option, but are a little more lukewarm on it at the moment, even though the enchilada plate is a pretty good bargain.

You should be able to get a great Mexican meal for a good price in this town, and now we have a new favorite for exactly that: Los Cabos Cantina, out on the Boulevard in the same lot as the new bowling alley. I ordered the vegetarian fajitas, which were great. Really, really great. They were not greasy, and boasted a bunch of different kinds of vegetables including spinach (and, oddly, peas and corn). There is enough for at least two, maybe three people to share. We took it home and had a great lunch the next day.

Also at our table were the huevos rancheros, which were fantastic. The eggs had that nice little crisp on the fringes, but remained soft in the middle. They came well-dressed (but not smothered in) a spicy ranchero sauce and were plated with perfect amounts of beans and rice. The tortillas were hot and soft. There was also an outstanding cheese and spinach quesadilla that we ordered as a side simply because we were SO hungry when we got there. And it was outstanding.

The salsa is a little on the watery-tomato side, and the guac is not at the level of El Rey’s for sure – still too pureed and needs some salt and/or lime. But it’s pretty good. They have something on the menu called “top shelf” for guac, and we’ll definitely get that next time.

The atmosphere is nothing remarkable. It seems like there is the usual fare: fake decorations to make White people feel “festive,” soccer on two giant plasma TVs, big wide booths. The most remarkable thing is the unbelievable picture on the front door of the place: a drunken sombrero-d man in a hammock sleeping next to a hot bikini-d woman. Is this what Mexico is like? No? Is that even the right question to ask? No? Then why are so many establishments devoted to promoting this awful image of Mexico (for an especially horrifying example, check out this recent trip to an establishment called South of the Border)? I wish this image was not everywhere at Los Cabos.

The service was quite good: very attentive without being overbearing, lots of drink refills and such.

Prices were quite fair. We look forward to checking out the margaritas and other menu offerings.

All in all, we have a new favorite place for Mexican food in town.

Thanks to LiM regular Jay Croft for the tip!

La Zona Rosa

I have been to La Zona Rosa a great many times. Well, that should be qualified somewhat. Yes, I have had a ton of meals there — but only lunches. I can’t speak to what the supper experience is like at all. So this review may not have full bearing on whether it is the second best Mexican restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama.

Lunch at La Zona Rosa (2838 Zelda Rd) is one of those experiences where you can tell they are making a ton of money simply by being efficient. It is a well-practiced martial exercise is bringing vast quantities of food to huge crowds in a short amount of time. At noon, they are slammed. By 1:30, the place really clears out.

The service is fast and efficient. The wait staff really works hard for the notoriously bad Montgomery tips. Mexican places have a particular burden in this regard because not only are business lunch crowds impatient, there is the whole business of chips (leading to chip crumbs and salsa spills) and the higher propensity for alcohol to be served.

La Zona Rosa likely draws these huge lunch crowds not just because they are efficient at serving, but also because they have a specialized lunch menu touting low prices and maximum flexibility. There is an a la carte section of the menu, where 15 or 20 items are listed and prices range from $4.95 for two of the items up to a bit more if you want three or four things. Each item is a reasonable size, but not each is meal-worthy on its own. For example, sure, there is a burrito listed, but one of the items is “sauteed onions and mushrooms” and one is “refried beans.”

The entire menu can be seen here. People like making choices and likely feel quite empowered by their ability to pick and choose from the available options. Today tamale. Tomorrow flauta. Maybe both. Wheee!

My problem with this La Zone lunch experience¬† is that it seems like you are going to get in and out for a fairly cheap and efficient meal of decent-enough Mexican food. Even if you aren’t ordering off of the “create your own lunch” menu, you can grab some tasty huevos rancheros for $6. Seems reasonable, right?

If you’re ordering a mere two items from the “create your own” or a cheap item like the huevos, you might think you can get out of there for cheap. Maybe not as cheap as I remember from living in Texas, but pretty good by Montgomery standards. However, once you add in a soft drink ($1.35) (because my last attempt to order horchata there resulting in them telling me that they don’t have it) plus tax and tip, you are looking at $12 or so.

The way I explained this experience is this: Every single time I have been there for lunch, I end up feeling like the pricetag is greater than the sum of the meal parts. A guac taco and a meatless chalupa should not cost $5. Plus a drink and a tip and you are left wondering what happened. You pretty much ordered two sides and a drink and you’re dropping double digits for a quick lunch. This is particularly galling when you consider that it would have been easier, faster and probably tastier to have just brought some beans, tortillas and cheese and zapped them in the office microwave. Total cost: $0.70.

Again, the service is great. The atmosphere is decent (not a huge fan of flat screen TVs, but since they are catering to a news-addicted work lunch crowd and probably do some soccer and stuff at night, I understand). There is a balcony patio, which seems good until you remember that it’s 100 degrees outside and it really just overlooks a strip mall parking lot.

But my bottom line on this place is that it very simply isn’t worth the money. I’d go back since it’s popular with people at my office and that requires putting aside some prejudices (unless we are talking about the wretched Marina). But if I’m picking lunch joints, there are better options than La Zona Rosa.

Ixtapa

Ixtapa1We had to go to the mall to get new glasses. Rather than hang out and play the bad terrible games in the arcade there, we decided to get some food at Ixtapa, voted Best in Montgomery for Mexican food by the readers of Grandma Advertiser. This was not the best decision we ever made. But we were celebrating multiple legal victories and needed margaritas. After the disappointment of East China, which was voted by the the best Chinese food in Montgomery by the same scam poll, we should have known better.

First, the good news. The service is terrific. The menu has a vegetarian section, offering a few combo plates for around $8.25. The margaritas ($2.50 on happy hour special) are good and strong enough that you know they have tequila in them. The guacamole is a little too pureed for our taste, but pretty fair. We prefer slightly chunkier avocados, with perhaps a tomato cube or two. Then again, we have spent a ton of time in Texas and are very particular about our guac.

The decor isn’t the horrifying minstrel show Mexican you get in some places. We thought it was at least a promising start. We got the #19 and #20 combos – both with a cheese enchilada and veggie & cheese quesadilla. #19 included with a cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, while #20 rounded it out with a bean & salad-type tostada.

Both plates were kind of a cheese explosion, with the poblano item really drenching the bottom Ixtapa2of the plate in grease. We tried to capture the unappetizing image of the grease dripping off the fork, but this was the best we could do. While the golden torrents of liquid don’t quite show up, you can get a generalized idea of the “fill the entire plate with boiling cheese-bean-grease” technique.

We haven’t eaten that much Mexican food in Montgomery, but Los Vaqueros and La Zona Rosa are definitely better than Ixtapa. The idea that it is the best Mexican food in Montgomery is absurd, as we are finding the Advertiser food “awards” to generally be.

Los Vaqueros

We were hungry. Hungry and broke. Looking to try something new, we headed out to the boulevard (the Eastern bit) to try Los Vaqueros, a place that had been on our list ever since our failed encounter at the nearby Saigon Deli. Both of us love Mexican food, and both of us have pretty high standards for such, having lived in parts of the country where good Mexican food is plentiful and cheap.

Even though it was half an hour before the place was schedule to close, we were welcomed and seated quickly. There were a number of vegetarian options to choose from – we got the vegetarian fajitas and a combo plate that featured a guacamole taco, a quesadilla, beans, and rice. We just got iced tea (one sweet, one unsweet) to drink, but the place definitely has a gigantic full bar with a lot of drink specials including $1.99 margaritas on Wednesdays and Sundays, and a steal on buckets of Coronas (9 for $6.00 – what a good deal) on Sundays. The latter seems appealing in that there are a bunch of TVs in the place tuned to Univision, which means they probably watch soccer and get lively in there at various times.

Food was fast and good. Not great, you understand, but solidly good. The fajitas were sizzling, not too oily, and not entirely composed of onions the way some veggie fajitas can be. Guac was tasty, but buried in a taco so we can’t comment on it as a dip. Everything had good flavor, and there was a good amount of food – we didn’t leave hungry, but also didn’t feel like they were trying to Americanize the portions. We also liked that they didn’t overdo it – something as simple as a cheese and onion quesadilla felt just as it should be, and not fancified. It’s clearly a place that is run by, and caters to, Montgomery’s Latino population. Everyone was super nice, refreshingly not offering the kind of phony scrawled-name-on-tablecloth Macaroni Grill service available at some other places on the Boulevard.

It was quite affordable. The veggie fajitas could be enough for two people, and were only $7.75 – a far cry from the $10-plus you’ll pay for a burrito at El Rey’s (even though we DO love us some El Rey’s); this and the combo and two drinks and tip got us out under $20. Great. We’ll definitely be back.