Update late 2009: Jalapenos is open, and better than ever!
Update (2009029): Jalapeno's will reopen, since the Mythos restaurant wasn't working out. Due to open in October 2009.
Update (20080718): Jalapeno's has closed.
I've been known to moan and whine about the lack of authentic Mexican restaurants in New Jersey...and the rest of the country for that matter. Aside from taquerias in some areas with a big Mexican population, you're not going to find much in the way of Mexican or even Southwestern flavors in New Jersey. Jose Tejas and any place with the same menu do not count. That includes you, Chili's, that "Fresh Mex" place, Don Pablo's, any rustic looking place with "Roadhouse" in the name, and, of course, all of you local places that serve cheddar cheese-laden crap...you know who you are.
Here's my rant, which has gone through my head more than I can remember and out of my mouth more times than those within earshot cared to hear. The menus at these restaurants contain basically the same deal: tacos, burritos, nachos, sizzling platters of fajitas, shredded lettuce, unripe tomatoes, guacamole that comes out of a bag, sour cream, some version of chimichanga, white meat chicken everywhere, a token salmon dish, refried beans, rice. It's the all-too-typical case of you and me being able to make anything these restaurants offer with food from cans (yes, I know Chevy's has "no cans" in the kitchen, but they might as well), bags, and with the ingredients from even the most uninteresting white bread supermarket, although you'd very rarely want to.
And don't get me started on the margaritas these places make, which despite your not getting me started, I will right now. I'm sure that margaritas are one of the most popular cocktails served in the US, and there's nothing wrong with people sucking down cheap sweetened tequila and high fructose corn syrup mixers. It's just that I have a preference for non-gloppy-sweet margaritas, made with nothing but Tequila (100% Blue Agave), a non-crap orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice (and maybe a bit of simple syrup or OJ. Maybe). Let me stress again: FRESH LIME JUICE. And no, fresh lime juice can't be substituted with Rose's neon green high fructose corn syrup water stuff. That's not lime juice. So restaurants, please don't list "lime juice" on your drink menu if you actually mean "Rose's neon green high fructose corn syrup water stuff." That just throws me all the hell off. Or, God forbid, that sour mix stuff that comes out of the gun. Oh Jesus no.
And try to ask a bartender to make a margarita "without sweet and sour mix or Rose's"!??! You'll likely get a look of confusion and horror, a look of horror matched only by the look of horror on my face when I get a mouth full of synthetic sugar product when I'm actually expecting the magical combination of a Reposado, Cointreau, and lime juice.
Show me a place in New Jersey that makes a margarita like God intended it and I'll be on the road in minutes. Englewood's Mama Mexico? Nein. Bloomfield's Senoritas? Nicht. Norwood's Jose O'Reilly's? Nuh-uh. In fact the best margarita that I've had in New Jersey was at Ridgewood's multi-level meat market Blend, of all places. And this was due probably entirely to the excellent bartender Steve, with whom I had an educational discussion on and tasting of tequilas a while back. I'm not even sure if Steve still works there, but if you're there, and he does, have him make you a margarita with fresh lime juice. Accept no less.
But that's not why I called you to this meeting today.
Given my clear and now well-documented disdain for these types of places, who market this nasty food on us Americans with claims of "authentic" and "Mexican", it comes as no surprise that Jalapeno's in Glen Rock has not escaped my criticism, even though it's a local joint. My meals here come only after craving that "Tex-Mex" flavor that I think that I like, and they're almost always mediocre.
My recent quick meal, however, was quite successful, and it's the reason I opened this browser to begin with. In order to achieve this level of success, I essentially studied the menu for something, anything, that looked like it contained simple, somewhat interesting ingredients. I decided on a dish of grilled chicken with poblano chilis.
The dish was as simple as it sounds: grilled chicken (breast, of course), sautéed onions and poblanos. It wasn't covered in cheese. It was served with gratuitous shredded lettuce. It wasn't too salty. It wasn't too sweet. In fact the bit of sauce that came in the dish was likely due purely to the onions and peppers reducing. It came with a side of rice and refried beans, which I didn't bother with. Thankfully they were on a separate plate, so they didn't mess with my peppers. I doused the dish with some of the bottled hot sauce that they have and was quite impressed with the whole thing. All-in-all it was a good dish dish that sated my craving for something, anything, Mexican or Southwestern.
Bobby, the bartender, who is always always always there and has been
since I can remember, will do his best to avoid the Rose's and the gun if asked,
but it's a bit of a sales job to get him to keep his hands off of the
stuff. As you might imagine, fresh lime juice is not prepared in bulk
and behind the bar (contrast with Zarela in NYC), and having him go to
the kitchen, grab a lime, bring it back, and squeeze it with his hands,
seems a bit too much to ask, especially if you're, um, "thirsty." On this night I asked Bobby to go easy on the sweet stuff in the margarita and he did his best, even though he clearly did not agree with my approach. "You don't want Cointreau then," Bobby pointed out. I started to explain that I didn't mind *that* kind of sweet stuff, but stopped. The margarita was passable, but could have used about 7 more shakes. I like my margarita cold, well-shaken, and with ice chips. But that's for the next rant I suppose.
Jalapeno's is a family friendly restaurant with a bar that's usually filled with locals and regulars. You may find yourself surrounded by 6 people all playing along to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy on the big flat panel. On this night one of the puzzles on the Wheel (those in the know refer to it as "the Wheel"), which stumped the whole bar down to the very end, read like this: "Friendly neighborhood _ub". Six people sitting there at this friendly neighborhood bar, and none of us could put it together. Probably had Bobby to thank for that.
Jalapeno's : 930 Prospect St (Next to Bottle King) : Glen Rock, NJ : 201.689.6800