Taco Summer: Guadalajaran Salsa That's Made for Carne Asada
Carne asada tacos are ordered at Tacos Jalisco by the dozen — or very close to it.
In the hunt for the latest trendy restaurants, our spotlight often misses neighborhoods that are home to some of the Valley's best kitchens — including those making metro Phoenix's best tacos. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be guiding you toward the Valley’s tastiest tacos, and the taquerías that serve them. Welcome to Taco Summer.
31: Tacos Jalisco
Taquería: Tacos Jalisco
Open Since: 1996
Style: Influence comes from the foods of Guadalajara, the capital city of Jalisco, Mexico.
Signature Taco(s): Carne asada with everything (including the amazing red salsa)
There are a few secret dining gems in Old Town Scottsdale about which people are pretty tight-lipped. One of the most cherished is Tacos Jalisco.
Drive south down 68th Street from Indian School Road, just a minute or two, and your surroundings will rapidly change from spendy-looking modern apartment buildings to neighborhoods with older homes and significantly less landscaping.
Jalisco itself is situated next to an alleyway that leads into a section of the neighborhood. Next to it are a Circle K, a laundromat, and sports bar called the Closing Soon Saloon.
The big menu at Tacos Jalisco spans two walls, but the most popular order is the carne asada.
The family who runs the shop — Reyes Jr., his older sister, and his parents, Patricia Alvarez and Jose Reyes Sr. — originally are from Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. They immigrated to the U.S. in 1998, when Reyes Jr. was 7, and their nationality shows in dishes like their enchiladas, tortas ahogadas, fish dishes that represent their Catholic observation of Lent, and champurrado, a chocolate flavored drink made from grain that's served piping hot in the wintertime around the holidays.
Despite a big menu, the clear favorite is the carne asada. Reyes Jr. says the little shop cranks out more than 1,000 carne asada burritos every week, and the go-to order for most of their customers is a toss-up between the carne asada burrito and the carne asada tacos.
There is something special about the way this juicy, coarsely-chopped asada sings when bitten into.
That's because the Jalisco carne asada recipe calls for marinating and simmering the beef in the same spices the restaurant uses for their famous red adobo salsa.
See, even though the burritos are epic (just listen to New York chef Adam Schop wax poetic about them in First We Feast's ’16 Bucket List Burrito Shops to Try Before You Die,’ article from 2015), according to the owner, Patricia Alvarez, the real draw is the salsa bar.
The carne asada is being prepped in large batches for the evening's guaranteed dinner rush.
“The salsas, the jalapeños, and the pickled carrot mixture,” she says. That's what sets them apart.
Reyes Jr. says that you can go anywhere and find carne asada tacos and burritos in Phoenix.
“But I was discussing this with father yesterday, and he said that the salsa that goes on the meat is what truly sets us apart from everyone else," Reyes Jr. explains. Which is why it was the first thing he learned how to make from his parents when he returned from Colorado to learn the family business.
The salsa, which they make fresh every day, is smokey, tangy, and complex. It's a closely guarded family secret, made with 11 ingredients, only two of which Alvarez would give up.
When asked about the distinctive flavor, she's vague.
“It’s from chiles de arbol and tomatillos,” she says.
Owner Patricia Alvarez is proud of her house-made spicy pickled carrot mix, with cauliflower and jalapeño, that the staff mixes in large quantities using big plastic bins.
Another star of the salsa bar is the pickled vegetable mixture, which is also made from scratch. Made in house, brining sliced carrots, jalapeños, and cauliflower in large plastic buckets, theirs is a pickled vegetable mix that is tastier, and seemingly much spicier, than the sum of its parts. The family contends that other shops around town that offer similar mixes likely don’t make them from scratch. Either way, the proof is in the pickles — which need to be replenished after every meal service.
When the shop was first opened by Reyes Jr.'s uncle, just before his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1996, the now ubiquitous combination of meat, beans, and rice in burritos didn’t exist. Jalisco started serving their burritos that way in order to stand out, layering them with steak, pico de gallo, guacamole, and cabbage.
“It was weird,” Reyes Jr. says. In his parents' minds, “It wasn’t really the way it should have been.”
After the Reyes arrived, they made some adjustments to the burritos.
According to Alvarez, the trio of rice, beans, and carne asada was rare in the Valley when Tacos Jalisco first opened and started serving the combination as a way of standing out.
“We started mixing the beans and rice into the burrito and getting rid of the pico de gallo [and guacamole], and adding our own salsa. And for a good 10 years we were the only ones doing that.”
The carne asada and salsa, Reyes Jr. says, “are like twins.” Better together.
The family behind Tacos Jalisco. From left to right: Jose Reyes Jr., Jose Reyes Sr., Patricia Alvarez, and Stephanie Reyes.
Our Taco Summer picks so far:
50. Taqueria Don Beto
49. Kiss Pollos Estilo Sinaloa
48. Tacos Tijuana
47. El Burrito Grande
46. El Horseshoe Restaurant
45. Tacos Sahuaro
44. El Pollo Correteado
42. La Fiesta
41. Taqueria Lucy
40. Tortas Ahogadas George
39. Taqueria El Chino
38. Joe's Tacos
37. Taqueria El Gallo de Lagos
36. Tacos Huicho
35. Puffy Taco Shack
34. Ni De Aqui Ne De Alla
33. Mr. Mesquite
32. Senor Ozzy's
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