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On our second stop, a man tried to interrupt the mariachis (seven of them play on Monday nights, and they do it beautifully, without traveling from table to table) in the middle of a song because he needed another drink -- proving, of course, that he really didn't. Another large family made such a horrific mess, not even pausing to consider whether they should do anything about it, that the server didn't know whether to clean it or set up a triage station. One more: The solo woman at the next table had a cell phone that she used as a dinner companion while taking care of all of her business, which wasn't even interesting enough to eavesdrop on.
Unfortunately, the food didn't do much to spark our interest, either. An order of carnitas de res ($9.95) contained more of that dry, chewy top sirloin mixed with large pieces of onion and green bell peppers, all of which tasted like onions. We avoided the refritos, opting instead for black beans that turned out to be just plain, but at least they'd been cooked through. On this visit, the cole slaw was cabbage and carrots that had been shredded and tossed in a black-pepper-studded vinegar. And it's a surprise that Tres Margaritas originated in Colorado -- the first one opened in Fort Collins nearly two years ago -- since no one there seems to know what green chile is. A chile verde did appear on the menu as a pork dish "braised in green sauce," but green chile wasn't listed anywhere else, not even as a smothering option on the burritos. I went ahead and ordered the pork burrito ($3.75) anyway and asked the waiter if I could have it with green chile. "Sure," he said, then brought a burrito that had been smothered in a greasy pinkish-orange sauce that tasted like the stuff on the first visit's chile relleno. A few chunks of pork floated in it, but they seemed to be an afterthought, although something must have contributed to the alarming amount of grease in the sauce. "Is that the green?" I asked. "Oh, yeah," he assured me.
4309 W. 38th Ave.
Denver, CO 80212
Region: Northwest Denver
Tacos Jalisco, 4309 West 38th Avenue, 303-458-1437. Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Closed Mondays.
There were a few things to recommend Tres Margaritas, however. The waiter who had so patiently allowed the woman to answer the phone instead of ordering wasn't an exception: Overall, the friendly, cheerful servers were some of the best I've encountered, with many runners backing up the main waitstaff, which meant that chips and salsa arrived promptly, plates were whisked away and drinks were brought quickly. And the atmosphere is lively and cheery, with dusty-rose and dark-green walls and brightly painted chairs.
This is the fifth Tres Margaritas in the state. "We're going to open two more soon," our waiter informed us.
Good. That means there'll be more room for non-idiots at places like Tacos Jalisco. There's not much English spoken at this smallish spot -- no complaints about that here. The decor is reminiscent of someone's paneled basement circa 1974, and there's no alcohol served (at least there's a bar across the street) -- but damn, the food is good. I've eaten there nearly a dozen times -- with not one cell phone or idiot in sight -- since I gave the place a Best Chiles Rellenos award this past June.
My advice? Get everything covered with green chile. Jalisco's is a searing-hot version filled with shredded, smoked pork, and it's just the right consistency for losing something in, like the chiles rellenos ($6), two soft egg-batter-coated Anaheims that had been perfectly roasted, peeled and stuffed to splitting with a runny, nebulous white cheese that oozed out all over the plate as soon as our forks hit the peppers. And the chimichangas ($5) were filled with salty, well-seasoned beef that was actually shredded. The pork burrito comes with green chile inside ($2.50) or smothered -- and they do mean smothered -- on the outside ($3), with a side of freshly made, oniony refried beans. The pork tripe burrito ($3) was excellent, too, and the tongue one, while chewy, had an intensely beefy flavor. For another fifty cents, the burritos come with shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.
A name like Tacos Jalisco raises expectations about their tacos, and I've never been disappointed. The soft ones come in eleven variations, four to an order, made with two corn tortillas each to keep all the fillings in. They all cost $5, and so far I've tried the barbacoa (barbecued cheek meat), the asada (which features tenderloin that's actually tenderloin), the al carbon (with tenderloin fried up with onions and tomatoes), and the birria (shredded lamb). Not a bad one in the bunch, although the al carbon, with its great grill grease and caramelized onion flavor, is my favorite.
Tacos Jalisco also specializes in soups, with a different one offered daily and each ample enough to serve as a meal. A large bowl of caldo de albondigas ($5) on a Tuesday brought seasoned meatballs floating in a beefy broth that tasted like it would cure anything. But it wasn't nearly as restorative-tasting as Wednesday's caldo de res ($5), made with beef bones whose marrow had leached into the broth and thickened it into a salty, heavenly mass. And on Sundays, the menudo ($4), that requisite hangover cure, was packed with tripe and pork and spicy enough to cast out our demons.
If only it could rid the world of idiots.
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