El Jacalito holds up

Rated among the top 10 restaurants on Yelp for best Mexican food in Las Cruces, and in a town filled with Mexican restaurants, El Jacalito definitely holds up.

It is located in a quaint little building on Missouri Avenue across from a gas station and next to a Pizza Hut, so it really doesn’t set high standards walking up to it. Even sitting down in the very small dining area, it’s clear this is probably not a place that could host a large group.

The chicken enchilada plate at El Jacalito in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Photo by Selema Graham/Kokopelli)

However, this restaurant exceeds standards set by the larger restaurants. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday except Sunday, this restaurant is very accessible.

First, lets talk about the service. When I was there, only one man took care of the drive-thru and dining area. My boyfriend and I were told to just sit wherever when we walked up to the counter, and so we did. After only a minute or so, the waiter came by with the menus and asked if we knew what we wanted to drink. He brought the drinks, chips and salsa in a timely manner and asked what we wanted to eat. He only came by our table one more time and that was to give us our food.

If you want a waiter who is always asking if you need anything else and making sure drinks are filled, this probably won’t be your favorite place — another reason it isn’t well suited for large groups. Personally, I appreciated just being left alone. I’m sure if we needed anything we could have waved him down and he would have gladly helped us.

My favorite part was that when we were ready to leave we were able to just get up and pay at the counter. No waiting for the check and then waiting for my card, especially since he got busier and busier as time went on. Overall, the service was fast and the waiter was nice. I was left alone and could leave as soon as I was ready. Much appreciated.

Now, a lot of people go, or don’t go, to specific Mexican restaurants based on their chips and salsa, so I would be remiss if  I did not mention them. They were okay. That’s really it. I thought the amount was nice — my boyfriend and I finished the serving they gave us – and it didn’t fill me up before I got my food.

I liked the salsa, but it did have a kind of strange flavor lurking below. It was not really spicy, but it had a decent kick, making it comparable to a lot of other salsas in terms of flavor and heat. This salsa probably would be good for someone who didn’t grow up eating spicy foods, but still had a good amount for someone who has.

“The chicken was not dry and was cut into tiny cubes, so there was no fighting or trying to cut it or accidentally taking way too big of a bite.”

For the actual meal, the waiter said the carne asada tacos and green chile cheeseburger were the most popular, but I was feeling green chicken enchiladas, so I got that. My boyfriend got a regular cheeseburger and fries.

The food came out about 15 minutes after the chips and salsa did, which is a pretty decent speed, and I feel like enchiladas take a bit more time. The beans and rice were pretty decent, but nothing too special. If anything, they were a little salty, but the enchiladas? Chef’s kiss.

The portion size was great, enough that those who don’t eat a lot might want to take the rest of it for a snack or small meal later, and enough that someone who does eat a lot could probably finish and be satisfied. The chicken was not dry and was cut into tiny cubes, so there was no fighting or trying to cut it or accidentally taking way too big of a bite.

The tortilla was soft, fluffy and easy to cut with a fork. The sauce was amazing. Not spicy at all, but I didn’t even notice or care at the time, especially since spice sometimes makes you have to slow down or take a break. But I was pretty hungry, so I just wanted to eat. The sauce had a solid amount of lime. Maybe a little too much for a regular person, but I love lime and want it to be a major flavor whenever I use it.

Overall, I enjoyed the place a lot and would definitely go again. It’s perfect for when you have time to sit and eat, but maybe not enough time to go to a “real” restaurant. I was there for a little under 45 minutes, and the price matched. Averaging nine to 10 dollars a plate, it was pretty affordable, but there was a $1.28 surcharge for paying with a card.

It’s a good place for someone who is new to Mexican food, and a good place if you want something substantial without a long wait or a big bill.  It’s a great example of an informal restaurant of this nature, but it falls short compared to the much larger places in town.

I give El Jacalito 3.5 out of 5 tacos. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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