In San Antonio, and probably other parts of Texas there is an abundance of “Jalisco style” Mexican restaurants.
Jalisco is a large and heavily populated Mexican state. It includes Guadalajara (Mexico’s 2nd biggest city) as well as Puerto Vallarta on the coast. In my travels there, the best regional food came from “campestre” style restaurants. These are huge restaurants that seat hundreds, even thousands of people on Sundays for family dinners. Most cook in big open fire pits. My favorite food from these is birria. Birria is a pit-roasted version of goat or beef. I prefer the goat. It can be served wet (meat in a thick soup) or dry (with a consomme on the side). You also receive tortiallas, refried beans, and some salsas. If you like, they’ll place a teuila bottle on your table. It will be marked where the previous table left off drinking, and you pay for how much you drink below the marked line.
Jalisco is also the region where everything called ‘Tequila’ is produced. Nothing produced outside Jalisco, no matter the quality or percentage of blue agave, can be called Tequila. It is instead called by the more broad term, Mezcal.
My parents are both from small towns in the Los Altos region (the Highlands) which is a corner of the state bordered by Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato & San Luis Potosi. Like other people have mentioned it is one of Mexico’s biggest states with very distinct regional differences within the state.
A key to understading the abundance of Jalisco style restaurants is the history of Mexican migration to the U.S. During the Roaring 20’s, the U.S. had a laborer shortage while Mexico was coming off a 10+ year revolution and certainly had a lot of people that needed work. At the same time Puerto Rico was mired in a huge crisis, and many P.Ricans were migrating (illegally at that time) to the U.S. There was a huge debate in Congress about how to address the labor shortage after some non-PC deliberations they decided they wanted to minimize the influx of migrants of African & Indigenous ancestry… as well as the “promiscous people of Mexico’s coasts”. So they created the Bracero program and recruited mainly in Central Jalisco a hot bed of Catholic Conservatism that happened to be a staging an insurgency against Mexico’s anti-clerical highly secular government…. and an area of the country where people tend to be of lighter skin tone. After the Bracero program… those of Jaliscan background (a bit homesick) would encourage their hometown friends, relatives & neighbors into the diaspora… and given that it is easier to migrant to a new place… if you know someone there…. everything came together and Jalisco become one of the states with the highest emigration rates. That is how places such as San Antoni & East L.A. with a deep seated Mexican immigrant history ended up with high concentrations of Jaliscans and Jalisco style restaurants.
With respects to the food…. I think Guadalajara is well represented by Cristina & others. I would add that Ranchero Sauce ( a cooked, saucy melange of Tomatoes, Jalapenos, Onions combined with each persons preferences on herbs & spices…. typically Black Pepper, Thyme, Mexican Oregano & others) is also a signature of Jaliscan seasoning. You find out in Carne / Bistek Ranchero (a sort of Beef & Potatoe pot roast)… Puntas a la Ranchera (seared filet tips sauced), Camarones Rancheros (shrimp in the sauce), Pescado Ranchero (typically a Tilapia like freshwater fish generically known as Mojarra that is dredged, pan fried & sauced) as well as the famous Huevos Rancheros.
In terms of the regional differences…. the towns along Lake Chapala & the Lerma River basins tend to emphasize lots of freshwater fish & shellfish.
In the highlands there are two major types of towns. Those founded by Castillians with lots of Native Mexican descendants (such as Lagos de Moreno or San Juan de los Lagos), and those that were founded by 2nd Class Spaniards (Basques & Galicians) typically smaller towns like San Miguel el Alto (a Basque town) or San Jose de los Reynoso a Galician town… I have ancestry from all three types of populations.
The towns of greater Basque origin have great Dairy & Pickling traditions…. local specialties include Pickled Pork Feet & Skin Tostadas, Crema, Queso Fresco & lots of Milk Fudge.
The towns of Galician origin tend to be rather culinarily backward… and can be characterized by lots of Potatoe & Pasta dishes, a very low adoption rate of Native Mexican cuilinary techniques & foods.
The towns with a greater indigenous population offer the most culinarily… they maintain sophisticated use of chiles, saucing & broth making while incorporating influences brought by the Castillians, Basques & Galicians. One of my favorite dishes of the region is Caldo Miche…. a spicy stew typically featuring Catfish, Bass, Crayfish & mixed vegetables such as Chayote, Mexican Zucchini, Potatoes & Carrots it is flavored with a broth of carp head, xoconostles (sour prickly pears), dried chiles & a wide variety of old & new world herbs & spices.
Then you have local versions of enchiladas which are sauced in a very spicy Guajillo sauce, then simpled folded in to triangles & topped with diced onions, fresco cheese, peas, potatoes & carrots.
There is alot more to the cuisine of Jalisco… but hopefully that gives you a flavor of its contributions to mainstream Mexican cuisine as well as some of the regional specialities etc.,
The replies from Christina and Eat Nopal are amazingly detailed. A lot of the dishes they describe show up on the menus of the newer Mexican restaurants in Yuma, a border town with heavy Jaliscan influence. One dish available here (that they didn’t mention) that is alleged to be from Guadalajara is Carne en su Jugo – beef cooked in broth with bacon and beans
Oddly enough though, the one restaurant in town that calls itself “Taqueria Jalisco” is actually being run by a family from San Luis Potosi. I also suspect that a restaurant in Texas that calls itself “Jaliscan” is primarily announcing that it is not a Tex-Mex restaurant.
In addition to some of the specific dishes that Cristina, Eat Nopal, and I have mentioned as typical of Jalisco, I would expect a Jaliscan restaurant to be different in some fundamental ways from older Tex-Mex style places. There should be greater use of corn tortillas instead of flour. Tacos should generally be soft, not hard/folded. In general, I would expect tacos to have cabbage, not lettuce, on them and not to have cheese. When cheese does show up, on frijoles for example, it often will be white, not yellow. Similarly, pork should be more common than in Tex-Mex places, with meat choices like al pastor and carnitas. No dishes should be made with ground beef except albondigas. I would expect greater use of green chilies, tomatillos, nopales, and other vegetables. There should also be agua frescas to drink – things like jamaica, horchata, tamarindo, or other fruit-based beverages. I would expect a Jaliscan restaurant to offer more caldos and fewer combination plates. The salsa and other dishes may be more spicy hot than at standard Tex-Mex places. I realize that many of the things I have mentioned are not specific to just Jalisco, and I am also not sure that all these specific things would apply in all restaurants, particularly in the context of Texas; nonetheless, the contrasts I’ve pointed out mark the differences between the newer, more Jaliscan influenced restaurants in Yuma from the old line/old school places that have operated for more than 50 years.
Please do try one or two Jaliscan restaurants in your area and let us know what you find.
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