In Mexican cuisine, I steer away from any food or drink that ends with the female diminutive suffix "ita." In general, anything-ita will be too small, too sweet or both. But the house margarita at Jalapeno's Bar and Grill is a welcome exception. It is only slightly sweetened, allowing the tequila to shine through. But best of all, it comes in a heavy, frosted beer mug, rather than a bowl on a stiletto.
My first visit to Jalapeno's for a late lunch was disappointing. The place was nearly empty and the kitchen smelled a bit funky. The Mexican fajita ($8.50) was a passable griddle of meats, bolstered by the chorizo, but contained no strong flavors and did not say "fresco." I ate most of it anyway, tucked away in a bland, processed flour tortilla with salsa and sour cream.
My wife's chile relleno, called Carmela's Combo ($7.99), tasted pre-made and a bit mushy.
We returned for dinner with a better attitude and a prelude shot of Tarantula Azul--a weak tequila with a manly name that should be changed to Tarantulita--and I changed my assessment. If you think of Jalapeno's as a family friendly steakhouse near the mall rather than an authentic Mexican joint, you will enjoy the place much more. Compare to chains like Shari's, Hooters and Olive Garden in the Franklin/Milwaukee vortex, rather than the nearby Cafe Ole, and you will be happier.
So I ordered the steak jalapeno ($15.99) and bit into an extremely tender, if thin, rib eye garnished with grilled jalapenos, shrimp, onion and tomato. The restaurant advertises Certified Angus Beef, and the steak was not too bad, pretty rare and served with a few piping hot flour tortillas and a side of refrieds and Spanish rice.
My people ordered straight Tex-Mex fare--tamales, hard shell tacos and chicken enchiladas--and did all right. The masa on the tamale was not quite right--perhaps too much water in the batter, robbing it of any tamale-like consistency. It was full of pork though. The enchilada was acceptable to the kids.
Jalapeno's has multiple spacious dining rooms with ample booth seating. The front of the restaurant features a fun-looking bar with a few dozen tequila options. The dinner crowd was fairly steady, though mostly gringo.
For dessert, we ordered the churros and discovered the house specialty. The cream-filled, star-shaped fried pastries came to the table fresh out of the fryer, topped with whipped cream and cherries.
If I go back a third time, I might make one more adjustment to my vantage point on this establishment. I plan to just sit at the bar and order grilled jalapenos for 49 cents a pop as I make my way through the tequila list.
--Nathaniel Hoffman hereby dubs tequila, triple sec and lime on ice and served in a beer stein a "margarante."
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Jalapeno's Bar and Grill.