MAYBE IF I HAD known more about the history of Mexico — or spent time talking to my neighbors — I would not have waited so long to try Mi Jalisco.
The restaurant on South Willow Street is named after the western Mexican state credited with being the birthplace of tequila (as well as mariachi music). Mi Jalisco has an extensive menu of tequila and margarita choices, numbered according to price.
For many years, the 300 South Willow St. site was the home of P.J. O’Sullivan’s, then La Fiesta.
Thanks to La Fiesta’s previous renovation, Mi Jalisco sports the trappings of a Mexican cantina; the Irish pub decor is long gone. The original cocktail lounge is paired with an adjoining dining room with a half-dozen booths and about as many tables.
On the night I visited with my Lovely Dining Companion, the lounge area was about as full as it could be under COVID-19 social distancing protocols, and the dining room was fairly busy, too.
Like many restaurants operating now, Mi Jaslisco has installed glass partitions between the booths. Unlike the beer sign shields we saw at a local sports bar, these blend in well and don’t remind you every moment that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
We ordered margaritas and enjoyed the complimentary chips and salsa so much we skipped out on appetizers, which included a selection of nachos, tacos, wings and dip.
The challenge for this OG when visiting ethnic restaurants is to find something on the menu that will offer something to distinguish it.
That was easy at Mi Jalisco when I spotted the Fajitas Mazatlan ($16.99.) I’d like to say I was tempted solely by the description — “Shrimp, scallops and chicken. Grilled with onions, tomatoes, pineapple, red, green and yellow peppers, rice, beans, guacamole salad & tortillas.” But I made my choice on something that was a first for me as a dining reviewer: I ordered based on the menu photo.
I made a good choice. The presentation was even more elaborate than depicted. When my sizzling platter arrived, I was pleased to see that the dish was served in a hollowed-out half of a fresh pineapple. The chunks of fresh pineapple mixed in with the seafood, chicken and vegetables definitely offered a flavor profile for Mexican food that I had yet to experience. The scallops and shrimp were cooked just right, though the chicken was a bit on the dry side.
The toppings on the side dish that came with the fajitas were also impressive. The guacamole salad included slices of fresh jalapeno, and the overall presentation of the plate had a touch of elegance you don’t normally see with a plate of rice and beans, sour cream and salad.
My Lovely Dining Companion chose the Fajita Quesadilla ($11.25), which comes with beef or chicken. She chose chicken, which was cooked with peppers and onions, and of course, cheese. It was served in a pan-fried tortilla that was served half-moon style, another nice touch. LDC said it tasted every bit as good as it looked.
While we were slow to discover Mi Jasico, we bumped into some neighbors there who have been making it part of their weekly routine for more than a year. While they visited with us at our booth, one of their buddies came by, someone they know only from hanging out at the restaurant.
They also shared with us an off-menu secret: Readers of Mi Jalisco’s Facebook page know you can order street tacos — mini steak, chicken, chorizo or carnitas tacos served with mild green and spicy red tomatillo sauces. Our neighbors like to hang at the bar and order a few tacos each.
On Taco Tuesdays, Mi Jalisco sells hard tacos for 99 cents and the street tacos for $1.99.
Mi Jalisco also has locations in Keene, Milford and Peterborough.
We enjoyed our experience at the Queen City spot. It’s always better when you bump into friends.