El Jalapeños looks like it’s always celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
It is the bright orange building with splashes of turquoise and giant sombrero-wearing mustachioed chiles painted on the outside — located on the east side of W. 117th between Clifton and Detroit avenues.
The interior is, surprisingly, more subdued and earthy — with natural wood-toned tables and chairs, some kitschy Mexican memorabilia, beautiful hand-painted pottery lamps and loud festive music.
It is everything a cantina should be, right?
My first kitchen experience was in a family-owned Mexican restaurant in Boulder, Colorado — it had a long menu and great service … so the owner caught one whiff of my being a New Englander and required me to work in the kitchen before he would let me wait on his customers. He wanted me to understand his food and learn about it from the ground up.
I learned all right — and it created an indelible mark on my mental palate using ingredients that were fresh, colorful and exotic.
El Jalapeños does not have ceviche or ingredients like jicama, tomatillos, nopales (prickly pear cactus leaves) or even fresh cilantro, but it does have that reliable Mexican bean-y and cheesy comfort that we Americans love.
It may not be a culinary odyssey going to El Jalapeños but the food is consistent and tasty, the margaritas are limey and the service is ridiculously fast and accommodating.
Right after we placed our order we watched the waiters put together a table for 16 and were relieved to have ordered before the whole party arrived. Well, they were served as expediently as we were- no one missed a beat. I cannot say enough about the quality of the service in this place — it is a well-oiled machine and everyone is friendly.
It may not be like dining in Guadalajara, but I will go there again and again. The tortilla chips are warm, the margaritas are huge and the prices are totally reasonable.
There is a large parking lot in the rear and along the north side of the building. Credit cards accepted.
1313 West 117th St.
Monday - Thursday 11am to 10pm
Friday 11am to 10:30pm
Saturday Noon to 10:30pm
Sunday Noon to 9pm