When restaurateur Michael Vilim closed Streat earlier this year, he told me the lease for the space would probably be taken over by a couple who have a Tex-Mex and hamburger drive-in on Airport called Jalapeno Joes, and that he planned to share Streat's popular churro recipe with the new tenants. Turns out I had interviewed Jalapeno Joes' owners, Ernest and Grace Duran, when they took over the old-school Alonzo's burger drive-in back in 2004. They slowly added Tex-Mex dishes to the menu at the blue-collar Airport mainstay but kept the popular burgers, fries, and luxurious milkshakes produced in an ancient Tastee-Freez machine. I was immediately curious to see what the Durans would do with a casual indoor restaurant in the convenient Red River space.
The newest Jalapeno Joes opened this fall and has been steadily building a loyal clientele of UT students, hospital and medical personnel, families from the neighborhood, and area businesspeople such as my Chronicle colleagues and myself. We're drawn there by consistently reliable, authentic Tex-Mex dishes that are affordable and served up by a friendly, accommodating staff. The "bar" part of the operation has yet to materialize, but the Durans have applied for a liquor license and plan to add beer and margaritas to the menu in the new year.
Breakfast all day is a big attraction at Jalapeno Joes, with two- ($1.35), three- ($1.70), or four-item ($2.05) breakfast tacos that can be ordered on flour, white corn, or yellow corn tortillas. I'm partial to the migas plate ($4.89) – perfectly scrambled eggs seasoned with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and crisply fried tortilla strips under grated cheese, paired with flavorful pinto beans and cottage-fried potatoes. To make it an even heartier meal, some days I'll add a carne guisada taco ($2) or a bowl of Joes' fiery chile con queso ($1.99) to drizzle over the whole plate or use as a dip for my own handmade migas tacos.
Both Joes' house red and green salsas are made fresh daily and offer a healthy dose of jalapeño fire, as does the chile con queso. The chips here are not as thin and crisp as the ones I like at Chuy's or Vivo's Lake Creek location, but that truly is a personal preference. I've been slowly working my way through the rest of the menu, and I have yet to find any losers, although I do have some seasoning issues. While the carne guisada is lean and free of grease, I don't detect much comino, and it could use a dash of salt. (I'm curious about Joes' house version of Frito Pie made with its carne guisada, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.) I've recently settled on the flauta plate ($4.89) as my go-to lunch entrée – three tubes of savory chicken in red-chile-corn tortillas, served with the house rice and beans and a scoop of plain guacamole that could use a little pizzazz, possibly lime, peppers, and salt, or some of each. The Durans have wisely included some burgers and fries from the Airport location on the Red River menu, and they can be augmented with cheese, bacon, chili, or guacamole for a nominal charge. Now the only thing missing is those churros.
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