Down in Texas, right on the border between El Paso and Juarez, there's a stand -- really nothing more than a shack --that sells the best tamales in the known universe. They're made by the hundreds every day, wrapped, then left in bowls inside this tin-roof tamale stand where they have all day to get good and funky. If they don't kill you, they are the best tamales you'll ever eat. And they're only slightly better than the much safer, significantly more hygienic, green-chile tamales sold every day at La Popular. These fat rolls of masa, chicken and whole chunks of fiery chile come freshly steamed and still wrapped in their husks for easy eating on the run.
There are three things we love about the little, often-overlooked Jalapeo Mexican Grill that squats on Leetsdale amid all the paint stores and mechanics. We love the patio, which is the ugliest patio in the city, with the worst view in the state. We love the fish tacos, which are basic, pedestrian and the closest thing to the real Juarez article you'll find off Federal Boulevard. And we love the La Jolla fish burrito -- as thick as a grown man's forearm and stuffed full, a California take on coastal-Mexican cuisine but much more complex than the simple fillet-salsa-tortilla wraps served on those Mexican beaches devoid of tourists. The La Jolla features the same fish as Jalapeo's tacos -- a firm-fleshed, mild whitefish sealed inside its chewy armor, rich enough to leak grease over everything -- along with rice, beans and a sweet pico de gallo that's much better than Jalapeo's weak salsa. Go with black beans over pinto; they're slightly firm, never gooey, and have a clean, almost meaty taste that lends extra bulk and flavor.
Things do not move fast at Jack-n-Grill. Actually, everything moves fast, but nothing happens quickly. Even with the expansion completed this winter, the wait for a table and the wait for your food can be extreme during peak hours. But should you find yourself in this situation, take a lesson from the regulars who sit with Zen-like indifference to the sweeping passage of the hands of the clock. Just wait, and you will be rewarded by something like the kitchen's vaquero tacos, which are so good that you might never want to eat anything else again. Four tortillas, fried in butter on the flat-top, come laid open on the plate like a taco autopsy, with all of their insides showing. Each one holds a dollop of tender, shredded beef soaked in an incredible smoky-sweet barbecue sauce so dark it's almost black; a sprinkling of diced tomatoes that pair up against the sweetness of the barbecue sauce better than peanut butter does with jelly; just enough melted cheese to weld everything together; and a dainty little curl of sour cream to top things off. It's taco perfection, and if you haven't tried one yet, you don't know Jack.
Long touted as mankind's only guaranteed cure for the common hangover, menudo is a hearty, spicy, slow-cooked stew made from hominy, chiles and tripe, feet, knuckles or any other unattractive cut requiring several hours of cooking to bring out its more subtle charms. On weekends at El Taco de México, these lowly ingredients are brought together into something far greater than the sum of their parts in one fine menudo. The kitchen is wise enough to use honeycomb tripe (the darker, more strongly flavored muscular lining from the cow's second stomach) along with the fattier first stomach, which gives the soup a strong, heavy flavor and reduces the greasiness you get from using only smooth tripe. The menudo is spicy enough that you'll work up a good sweat, but it comes with tortillas to cut the heat and little bowls bearing limes and a red-chile sauce in case you feel up to tinkering with the flavor.
La Popular
Danielle Lirette
Down in Texas, right on the border between El Paso and Juarez, there's a stand -- really nothing more than a shack --that sells the best tamales in the known universe. They're made by the hundreds every day, wrapped, then left in bowls inside this tin-roof tamale stand where they have all day to get good and funky. If they don't kill you, they are the best tamales you'll ever eat. And they're only slightly better than the much safer, significantly more hygienic, green-chile tamales sold every day at La Popular. These fat rolls of masa, chicken and whole chunks of fiery chile come freshly steamed and still wrapped in their husks for easy eating on the run.
It's papadum, not tortillas, and the salsa isn't a cruda or a fresca, but a spicy-sweet tomato chutney. And it's served in a Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant, not a storefront dive on Federal. Still, the chips and salsa at Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant are deserving of not only this prize, but many others. For starters, they're free; there's been a disturbing trend lately of some places charging for their chips and salsa, which, in our world, is tantamount to a dive bar charging for bowls of stale pretzels. Second, they're good. The papadum are crisp, light and nutty, and the broken-up pieces fill a generous-sized basket; the salsa is smoky-hot, complex in flavor, and layered with an underlying sweetness that makes it absolutely addictive. And third, the world is changing. So let Sherpa's award be the clarion call. Cuisines are no longer as distinct and insular as they once were, and those Mexican joints that used to be the sole purveyors of the chips, salsa and three-beer lunch are now in contention with comers from around the globe.
Things do not move fast at Jack-n-Grill. Actually, everything moves fast, but nothing happens quickly. Even with the expansion completed this winter, the wait for a table and the wait for your food can be extreme during peak hours. But should you find yourself in this situation, take a lesson from the regulars who sit with Zen-like indifference to the sweeping passage of the hands of the clock. Just wait, and you will be rewarded by something like the kitchen's vaquero tacos, which are so good that you might never want to eat anything else again. Four tortillas, fried in butter on the flat-top, come laid open on the plate like a taco autopsy, with all of their insides showing. Each one holds a dollop of tender, shredded beef soaked in an incredible smoky-sweet barbecue sauce so dark it's almost black; a sprinkling of diced tomatoes that pair up against the sweetness of the barbecue sauce better than peanut butter does with jelly; just enough melted cheese to weld everything together; and a dainty little curl of sour cream to top things off. It's taco perfection, and if you haven't tried one yet, you don't know Jack.
Jack Martinez is the green-chile king, and until someone comes along who knows his pods better and loves them more, Martinez's Jack-n-Grill will wear the green-chile crown. At Jack-n-Grill, the Martinez family treats beautiful Socorro green chiles with the sort of reverence the Italians have for tomatoes or the French for cheese. They're brought in by the truckload from deep in southern New Mexico, used whole, used chopped, used in sauces and on burritos, and -- in season -- roasted right on the premises in big, gas-fired tumblers and sold by the pound to chile-heads who sometimes line up down the block for their shot at a bag of Jack's green gold. There's nothing quite like the smoky-sweet smell of the place during roasting season, no sound more beloved among the faithful than the scratchy pop and afterburner roar of the roaster going full blast, and no place we know to get green done better than at Jack-n-Grill.
El Taco De Mexico
Courtesy El Taco de Mexico Facebook
Long touted as mankind's only guaranteed cure for the common hangover, menudo is a hearty, spicy, slow-cooked stew made from hominy, chiles and tripe, feet, knuckles or any other unattractive cut requiring several hours of cooking to bring out its more subtle charms. On weekends at El Taco de México, these lowly ingredients are brought together into something far greater than the sum of their parts in one fine menudo. The kitchen is wise enough to use honeycomb tripe (the darker, more strongly flavored muscular lining from the cow's second stomach) along with the fattier first stomach, which gives the soup a strong, heavy flavor and reduces the greasiness you get from using only smooth tripe. The menudo is spicy enough that you'll work up a good sweat, but it comes with tortillas to cut the heat and little bowls bearing limes and a red-chile sauce in case you feel up to tinkering with the flavor.
Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant and Bar
Courtesy Sherpa's Adventure Restaurant & Bar Facebook
It's papadum, not tortillas, and the salsa isn't a cruda or a fresca, but a spicy-sweet tomato chutney. And it's served in a Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant, not a storefront dive on Federal. Still, the chips and salsa at Sherpa's Adventurers Restaurant are deserving of not only this prize, but many others. For starters, they're free; there's been a disturbing trend lately of some places charging for their chips and salsa, which, in our world, is tantamount to a dive bar charging for bowls of stale pretzels. Second, they're good. The papadum are crisp, light and nutty, and the broken-up pieces fill a generous-sized basket; the salsa is smoky-hot, complex in flavor, and layered with an underlying sweetness that makes it absolutely addictive. And third, the world is changing. So let Sherpa's award be the clarion call. Cuisines are no longer as distinct and insular as they once were, and those Mexican joints that used to be the sole purveyors of the chips, salsa and three-beer lunch are now in contention with comers from around the globe.

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