One expects a few things of a Mexican restaurant. Generally speaking, these expectations include stomach-stretching portions, spicy meats and puddles of queso. It is refreshing to see a more authentic take on Latin cuisine, as is offered at Los Jarachos.
The restaurant is located next to the Crossroads gas station and food market, an unassuming venue that is easily missed. Such a location removes it from the standard “college town” atmosphere, creating a relaxed space free of pretense. Though not in Montevallo proper, it lies only a few minutes beyond the city limits, allowing interested diners an easy trip.
Entering the establishment, diners find themselves in a small room crowded with old wooden tables. A television plays Spanish dramas in the corner. The expected adornments are completely absent; there are no posters advertising tequila or beer and no ostentatious colors or loud mariachi music. The patrons are, encouragingly, almost entirely of Hispanic descent. The impression is clear: this will be authentic Mexican cuisine. We were seated quickly, and our waitress was kind and attentive to our needs.
Immediately, we received the standard appetizer of chips and salsa. I found the chips to be slightly stale, though certainly palatable. The salsa itself was unique. Instead of lambasting the palate with bright acidity, it focused on earthier, sweeter flavors. This would be a theme with all of the food served to us.
An important, yet often overlooked, standby of good Mexican restaurants is the table sauce. Much like a house wine, the sauce must be selected to compliment the food offered. While many simply buy a supermarket sauce such as Tapatio, Los Jarachos had a homemade offering. Made of either orange or red habaneros, the sauce was fiery and assertive. Used sparingly, it brought an enjoyable kick to all the foods served to our party.
The chicken tacos were a standout. Served open faced with onion and cilantro, they were devoid of the heavy guacamole and sour cream that American palates expect. Instead, the focus was on the smokiness of the chicken and the freshness of the herbs. The only weakness of the dish was a slight dryness that was encountered after several bites. It seems that this could be avoided with a little pico de gallo or salsa, though this is a matter of personal taste.
The chicken burrito was equally as good. Served with a delicious jalapeño rice, the burrito was topped with lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream. Like the taco, it focused on the simple flavors of the chicken and vegetables instead of heavy sauces. One criticism of the dish is the stinginess with the chicken. The very large burrito may have contained a few ounces of chicken, and it was filled primarily with rice.
The only truly negative experience came from the dish our waitress first recommended. Campechana is a traditional seafood cocktail served with shellfish, baby octopus and squid. The expected flavors are a slight sweetness from the tomato and chile broth, with a delicate brininess from the seafood. I ordered an oyster and shrimp campechana and found myself regretting it. The shrimp were fine, though I get the distinct impression that they were bought pre-cooked. The oysters were very disappointing, tasting as if they had simply been poured from a can into the cocktail glass. The broth was cloyingly sweet and did little to accentuate the flavor of the seafood. It was shocking that a restaurant that had taken such care with their other dishes had put forth an effort that could only be described as lazy.
Los Jarachos is not your standard Tex-Mex restaurant, and it is plain that they have no intention of ever being such. From the unassuming decor and location to the simply-made food that focuses on the freshness of the ingredients, it was a brand new experience for me.
Though not perfect, those looking for an authentic taste of Mexico could do much worse than Los Jarachos.