Happy Fiesta Meals
Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant is an irrepressibly cheery place, the walls sunshine yellow, the rest of the room festively splashed with vibrant colors. The menu is bright and glossy as well, with the three dozen offerings constituting a sort of Mexican "happy meals" program for gringos: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas ...
Oh, sorry, I dozed off. Fact is, I'm one of those gringos who gets bored with such Americanized selections. I don't deny Guadalajara's cuisine is much better than that served at typical Tex-Mex margarita mills; I'd recommend this place over any of those. Still, I would have appreciated something more challenging than chicken mole -- which, incidentally, was quite a good deal, juicy chicken leg and thigh bathed in boldly spiced sauce and plated with rice and four tortillas for just $6.95.
All the meals here offer plenty of bang for the buck, the most expensive entrée a $12.25 Guadalajara platter with chili relleno, tamal, and enchilada huddled together under a blanket of melted cheese; a tostada and taco arrived on a separate plate. Rice and refried pintos also crammed their way onto the platter -- the beans, flavored with jalapeños and pork rinds, were better than most.
Fajitas also were a cut above the rest, the strips of flank steak alluringly seasoned with chilis, an accompanying pico de gallo made with effervescent red tomatoes. Maybe owner Cesar Berrones ships these in from the farms of Homestead, where since 1987 he's owned the popular Mexican restaurant Casita Tejas; there's a second Tejas about twenty blocks south of Guadalajara (which opened fourteen months ago).
Just a few seafood options, most of which were pleasantly piquant -- the only exception being a boringly basic grilled shrimp à la Mexicana, meaning sided with slices of fresh jalapeño, tomato, and onion. Camarones al ajil were a great deal more flavorful, the eight large shrimp marinated in garlic and chili guajillo before getting grilled. Tilapia ceviche, served over crisp tostadas, was fresh and properly perky, and one would be hard-pressed to find a finer seafood entrée for under $10 than Guadalajara's whole fried red snapper with French fries, rice, and salad ($9.95).
I've always had difficulty differentiating between appetizers and main courses at Mexican restaurants. A dinner of tacos is described here as "three folded soft corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of seasoned chicken, shredded or ground beef, or pork. Topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese -- $6.25"; a nachos "appetizer" as "tortilla chips topped with refried beans and ground beef, shredded beef, or chicken. Topped with melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, jalapeño, and sour cream -- $6.95." Apparently the kitchen also has trouble distinguishing between the two, as entrées arrived while we were still in the midst of our starters. We were sharing everything, so it made little difference, but it does serve to illuminate the informality of service.
The best appetizer was a pair of gorditas, a gordita being a quarter-inch-thick corn tortilla that gets fried and traditionally topped with ground pork or chorizo, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and cheese; here they come with beans and choice of chicken or ground beef.
It's not just the caliber of cuisine that differentiates Guadalajara from the aforementioned margarita mills: Guadalajara doesn't serve margaritas. They do place a wedge of lime on top of the Corona bottles though, and the atmosphere is nonetheless festive. I may not be personally titillated by the formulaic menu selections, but fresh, solidly prepared Mexican food, served in an upbeat environment at low-scale prices, is enough to make a drive south of the (Miami) border worthwhile.
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