In his review of Takamoz, my fellow reviewer Barry made the bold claim that Tuscaloosa’s “only great Mexican restaurant” was destroyed in the tornado. I’ll assume, Barry, that you aren’t counting North River as “Tuscaloosa” and that this oversight is why Jalapeño’s didn’t top your list of Mexican restaurants. It’s the best by far. What restaurant were you talking about anyway?
Jalapeño’s is a little out of the way for those who don’t live near North River or in Northport, but its combination of service, prices, margaritas, entrees, and desserts is well worth ten- or fifteen-minute drive.
The first thing you need to know about Jalapeño’s is that the parking lot is too small. This isn’t a huge problem, as you can easily park across the street along the side of the North River shopping center, but I mentioned it so that you won’t be scared away by the sometimes overflowing lot. I have arrived many times to the sight of SUVs hopping curbs and compact cars attempting to create spaces out of nothing and feared that the wait for a table would be way too long. I’ve never had to wait though. I’ve eaten there for Cinco de Mayo and for graduation, and while it was crowded both times, the restaurant’s three-dining-room setup almost guarantees that a table will be available.
The next thing to know is to order a margarita pitcher. Eight ounce glasses are $5, but a 32-ounce pitcher (for the mathematically challenged, that’s four glasses) are only $8!! Plus, their margaritas are my favorite in town—maybe my favorite anywhere, with the exception of Chuy’s Tex-Mex. I can’t speak for their frozen ones, but their ‘ritas on the rocks are a perfect balance of tequila and lime and don’t fall into the “this tastes like orange instead of lime” category that many lower-quality margaritas do (say, at El Rincon).
The chips and salsa are pretty standard. They’re solid but won’t blow you away. As for the entrees, I haven’t found one I didn’t like. I get the chimichanga dinner a lot (pictured above) and am always pleased with the plate full of chimichanga, lettuce, tomato, cheese sauce, rice, and refried beans. I’ve also had the Monterey chicken, which is more of a specialty dish and was WAY too much food for one sitting (although it was quite good and unlike what I’m used to getting at a Mexican restaurant). My new favorite dish is one that I didn’t notice on the menu for a while: fajita gumbo (pictured below). It’s labeled as Jalepeno’s “signature dish,” but its special inset on the top left side of the menu makes it easy to miss (or it did for me, at least). This “gumbo” is a bowl full of chicken, steak, and shrimp (yes, that’s an “and” not an “or”), plus cheese sauce and pico de gallo. I usually eat it like a soup and occasionally munch on the tortillas that come with it, though I suppose a more involved process of actually making fajitas out of it would also work. This gumbo, on first glance, doesn’t look like it will be very filling, and it’s just a little more expensive than the standard entrees (I think most of the dishes run around $7-8; the gumbo and Monterey chicken might be $9). The three meats and cheese sauce, however, make this an excellent value and a lot more filling than it appears. I’m yet to finish a bowl.
Another thing you need to know about Jalapeño’s: order dessert. I usually skip the queso at the beginning of the meal to save room for dessert at the end. If you want the cheapest and simplest (but still delicious) dessert, get the sopapilla: a deep-fried tortilla is dusted in cinnamon and topped with whipped cream. If you want to step it up a notch (for only about a dollar more, making it $3), order the fried ice cream. You get the same whipped cream topped sopapilla but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream covered in crunchy, honey-covered flakes, all drizzled with chocolate sauce. Yum!
One of my favorite things about Jalapeño’s is their consistency. By the time we leave (the last thing you need to know, by the way, is that you pay your check up front), the margaritas, gumbo, and fried ice cream (along with the reasonable prices and friendly service) have combined to create a wonderful meal that I know will be just as good when I come back. And I always come back. I don’t know about Barry, but when I want Mexican food, I’m going to Jalapeño’s. No question.
Jalapeño’s is located at 1845 New Watermelon Road, just across the street from the Publix shopping center at North River.