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Category Archives: Mexican

Los Tarascos Mexican Restaurant

Forget about a clever introduction. No need to bury the lede. Los Tarascos is the best Mexican-American restaurant in Tuscaloosa. I feel quite confident in this assessment. At bare minimum it satisfies my need for Mexican flavors, and it frequently goes beyond the minimum.

Los Tarascos is like every other Mexican-American or Tex-Mex place in so many ways: same faux roof shingles extending from the walls; same yellow & red & green & tan color scheme; same hardwood booths that feel like church pews; same simple beer selection of Bud & Miller & Corona & Dos Equis & Modelo; same chips; same salsa.

The menu, with over 100 numbered order options, initially seems like the same ol’ same ol’, until you read some of the more obscure sounding items. Los Tarascos makes a staggering variety of burritos, filled with all manner of peppers, vegetables, meats, sauces, cheeses. They make fresh takes on some staple items; the guacamole salad, for instance, contains carrots, onions, and pickled bell peppers.


The menu moves from pretty standard fajitas and burritos to Mexican City-style alambres dishes (lots of savory meats and stringy, melted Chihuahua cheese. Then you start to notice the fish and shrimp dishes, some in garlic-based sauces that don’t sound typically “Mexican,” that are reminiscent of Jalisco cuisine. Then you see the roast quail. Seriously.

If you are very hungry then order a burrito. They are the size of an entire plate, specifically the size of the giant novelty plates that Los Tarascos seems to prefer. And they are generously filled. They are basically Man vs Food style challenges. Take for example the Burrito Brava: steak, pablano peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, chipotle ranchero sauce, optional sour cream. All of that is wrapped up in a giant flour tortilla and covered in cheese and enchilada sauce. It is a lot to handle, but it is really good. A spicy, earthy example of what Mexican-American food can be.

My favorite reason to come to Los Tarascos is for the dish that Tuscaloosa is in such short supply of ever since Taqueria Jaripeo got wiped out in the tornado: the humble taco. True authentic Tacos Mexicanos are some kind of meat served in a small tortilla (preferably corn tortillas), topped simply with onion and cilantro. That’s it. America took the taco and created this bastard child topped with tomatoes and lettuce and shredded cheddar and ugh. The traditional taco is one of Earth’s perfect dishes. All of that is to say that Los Tarascos serves authentic tacos! Before you get your hopes up too much, they only serve asada and pollo tacos. No cabeza or lengua or tripa or cachete to be found. But Los Tarascos excels at their skillet-cooked and grilled meats, so these standard tacos taste pretty good. They come with a roasted chile hot sauce (sometimes served on the side, sometimes added to the taco for you) that adds a lovely smoky character to the steak taco.

Los Tarascos dares to create interesting, complex flavor combinations in a restaurant genre where homogeneity is the norm. They excel at both the basic fare and the stranger, more region-specific dishes. If only El Rincon would take some cues from Los Tarascos. Quality matters, especially here.

[barry]

This Los Tarascos is located at 1759 Skyland Boulevard E, Tuscaloosa (right by America’s Thrift). They have a second location (pictured above) at 3380 Mcfarland Blvd Ste 18, Northport (in the stretch of storefronts between Popeye’s and the Northport Civic Center).

Mon – Thu:11:00 am-9:30 pm
Fri – Sat:11:00 am-10:00 pm
Sun:11:00 am-9:00 pm

Fernando’s Mexican Grill

My roommate recently had a discussion with a physician about where to eat Mexican food in this town now that Taqueria Jaripeo was totaled by the tornado. Two places came up in the positive: Jalapeno’s and Fernando’s Mexican Grill. Sure enough, Fernando’s is pretty solid.

Nothing about Fernando’s aesthetic gives me an indication that it is any different than the likes of an El Rincon. There are statues of Mariachi musicians standing out in front. The walls inside are a hodgepodge of light browns and yellows and reds and greens. Gimmick light fixtures and neon abound. It is over-the-top.

Service at Fernando’s is quick and efficient. You are seated, with drink orders taken, in a flash. Those last two sentences are very restaurant-review-cliché, aren’t they? Well, there’s a lot about Fernando’s that is cliché. But cliché works sometimes. It is something of a cliché to the idea that if a server keeps your water glass filled without your having to ask then the service must be good. But there’s truth there, and Fernando’s keeps those glasses full.

I was hoping to find some authenticity on the menu, but Fernando’s only offers the core essentials that you find in seemingly every family-owned-and-operated Mexican-American restaurant all across the country. Chips and salsa that isn’t so much spicy as it is a tastier, more robust alternative to ketchup. Combo plates and quesadillas and $11 fajita dishes served in a sizzling, personal-sized skillet. Rice and refried beans and guacamole salads on the side. Not a real taco or torta to be found.

But this classic sort of menu is just fine when well-executed, and Fernando’s executes. The quesadillas here – filling and balanced and seasoned — are a far cry from El Rincon’s sad lumps (El Rincon, being on The Strip, is always my point of reference for these kinds of restaurants). There was an inlet menu with what appeared to be specials, and the carnitas were calling my name. These pork tips were served no-frills: meaty cubes of pig with plenty of moderately-cooked onions. The pork was cooked through to well-done, which isn’t ideal, but the earthy seasoning blend made up for it. The small, quite round steamed tortillas were durable enough to hold plenty of pork for the impromptu tacos I made. Everything that I saw on other tables that came from the grill looked and smelled tasty.

As far as sides go, Fernando’s rice sticks out amongst Tuscaloosa competition for being somewhat Spanish-influenced. A Spanish-Mexican hybrid rice (that could have used some saffron) that matched up nicely with the earthy flavor of my carnitas. The refried beans, by comparison, were very standard-issue.

If you live in Northport, give Fernando’s a chance. It is leagues ahead of the likes of Pepitos and El Rincon. What I had there was quite solid, and I feel that their menu warrants further exploration.

[barry]

Fernando’s Mexican Grill is located at 824 McFarland Blvd W in Northport, across the street from Cici’s Pizza.

Mon – Thu:11:00 am-9:00 pm
Fri – Sat:11:00 am-10:00 pm
Sun:11:00 am-9:00 pm

Jalapeño’s Mexican Grill

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.

[natalie]

Jalapeño’s is located at 1845 New Watermelon Road, just across the street from the Publix shopping center at North River.

Sunday-Thursday: 11am-9:30pm
Friday: 11am-10:30pm
Saturday: 11:30am-10:30pm

Iguana Grill

The ambiance of Iguana Grill in Midtown Village (can anyone tell me why there are Swedish flags on the Midtown Village sign?) is hard to beat. The restaurant is both spacious and beautifully decorated, most notably by the hundreds of lamps hanging from every inch of the ceiling, but despite the elegance of the decor, Iguana Grill is comfortably casual. My cousin and I met for dinner at 5:30, so the pre-dinner-rush atmosphere was quiet and relaxed. Everything was comfortable, especially the cushions of our booth.

The chips and salsa arrived almost as soon as we sat down. As the first thing anyone is going to eat at a Mexican restaurant, chips and salsa set the tone for the meal. IG’s were warm and not too salty (I’d much rather salt my own chips than have them arrive with too much already on them). I caught the taste of a stale chip on occasion but none of the terrible texture everyone knows and hates. These were perfectly crunchy. The salsa was delicious—a little thinner than I prefer, but spicy without being off-putting to even the mildest taste buds. The queso I ordered was cheap and pretty standard—good taste, temperature, and texture.

The service was prompt and friendly. Our food took a little longer than I’ve come to expect from other Mexican restaurants in town, but certainly didn’t take long. I ordered the enchilada and chile relleno combination. I forgot to specify chicken, so I wound up with perfectly acceptable but less desirable beef versions of both. The enchilada and relleno were both pretty standard. They were good, but didn’t strike me as anything I couldn’t get from another restaurant in town. I’m not really a fan of anyone’s refried beans, but the rice that accompanied my dish was better than most—the perfect consistency and flavor, which complimented the entrée perfectly.

When it comes to the prices at Iguana Grill, I find myself in an interesting position. The restaurant looks and feels fancy, so I’m initially surprised at the reasonable prices on the menu, but the quality of the food has never struck me as anything beyond standard Mexican fare, so the prices aren’t quite the bargain they first appear to be. Our tab before tip was $37, which seemed neither high nor low for a meal including queso, two amply sized entrees, a tea, a margarita, and dessert.

And speaking of the last two items on that list, I’ll conclude my review with my favorite parts of any meal—the booze and sugar. The margarita (lime and on the rocks, always) was a good size for the price ($5, I think) but was a bit too salty (even without the salted rim). For dessert, we split the chimichanga cheesecake, which looked so delicious I forgot to take a picture of it before diving in. The cheesecake filling and cinnamon-covered fried tortilla crust were perfect, but the chocolate sauce drizzled over it overpowered the otherwise delicate tastes. My cousin suggested (to me, not the waiter) that exchanging the chocolate for ice cream would really send the dish over the top, and I couldn’t agree more. The texture and temperature of a scoop of vanilla is exactly what the warm filling and crispy shell needed.

Iguana Grill isn’t my favorite Mexican restaurant in town (I’m sure I’ll have a review of Jalapeno’s up soon enough), but I set my fork down at the end of my meal and said “Well, that was good,” which certainly counts for something. If you ask me, the restaurant’s elegant décor is both a strength and weakness. It allows them to stand out among the dozens of Mexican restaurants in town and offers a beautiful dining experience, but such a beautiful first impression isn’t consistent with the good-but-not-great food that follows. If you want Mexican food in Tuscaloosa, there’s no reason not go to Iguana Grill, but the best reason to eat there is their décor, which probably isn’t your first concern when you’re deciding what’s for dinner.

[natalie]

Iguana Grill is located at 1800 Mcfarland Blvd E # 430 in Tuscaloosa’s Midtown Village. (205) 752-5895

Sunday-Thursday: 11am-9:45pm
Friday & Saturday: 11am-10:45pm