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Jalisco Grill brings the taqueria to Granite Bay

By: Toby Lewis, Dining View columnist
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Jalisco Grill

What: Authentic, fresh Mexican fare

Where: 9290 Sierra College Blvd., suite 100, Granite Bay

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday–Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sunday

Info: www.jaliscogrill.com, (916) 788-1737

Perhaps I could make an argument that nothing represents true California cuisine quite like the taqueria.

Found in just about any city or town throughout the Golden State, the taqueria is the place where one goes to find fast, simple and (most of the time) authentic Mexican fare for a very reasonable price.

Needless to say, the taqueria is one of my favorite places to grab food fast when I am on the go (notice I did not say “fast food”).

Ramon Arias understands the taqueria concept and opened one of Roseville’s most popular ones, Jalisco Grill, on Fairway Boulevard in 2002.

The restaurant has been voted by readers of the Roseville Press Tribune as the “Best of the Best” for four consecutive years.

So when I found out that Arias opened a new location in Granite Bay, I thought I’d pop in for a visit to find out if it is really that good.

If you are unfamiliar, the taqueria concept is informal, unpretentious and simple. You walk up to the counter, order off the menu, pay, get your chips and salsa from the fresh salsa bar, grab a table and wait for your food.

It is dining at its most basic.

Arias’ new Jalisco Grill in Granite Bay is everything that a classic taqueria should be.

The restaurant, located in a small strip mall where Sierra College Boulevard and East Roseville Parkway meet, is spacious with simple décor and ample natural lighting.

The main dining area has between 12 to 15 “cafeteria-style” tables and chairs, high chairs for the kids and three large flat-screen TVs.

An outdoor patio holds another 10 to 12 tables, nicely sheltered by a landscaped knoll from busy Sierra College Boulevard and shaded by the adjacent building.

Most people go to a taqueria for a one-course meal, be it a burrito, a taco platter, a chili relleno or what have you.

For the benefit of you, dear reader, I recently visited the Jalisco Grill in Granite Bay with an empty stomach and a hefty appetite for more than one course.

First I went for the ceviche.

Ceviche is typically some kind of raw seafood, usually shrimp and/or scallops, tossed with onion, cilantro and any other combination of ingredients used at the chef’s discretion, then cured with lemon or lime juice.

The Jalisco Grill’s ceviche contains pollock, a mild-tasting white fish usually found in Alaska, tossed with red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, carrot and avocado, served over a tostada shell.

I found the dish to have a generous portion of fish with a light, fresh citrus flavor and a slight hint of the jalapeño. It was well balanced, well seasoned and set the bar really high for the rest of the meal.

Next, I opted for a soft shell taco with carne asada (grilled steak). The dish was akin to the “street taco,” with grilled meat, white onion, cilantro and red salsa.

However, a typical “street taco” usually uses a smaller corn tortilla, and this taco had a regular-sized corn tortilla and was literally spilling with meat. While messy, the taco was still quite delicious.

I also thought I’d try a fish taco, which contained the same white pollock as the ceviche along with white onion and cilantro.

I have had many a fish taco in my day, and suffice it to say this recipe could use a little work. While the flavors were undoubtedly fresh and the portion of meat generous, I found the taco to be under-seasoned and quite messy.

Several napkins later, I picked up a crispy-shell chicken taco.

I can’t remember the last time I had a crispy-shell taco. I found the chicken was well-seasoned and not over cooked while the crispy shell added a nice crunch that brought back good memories.

Next, Arias brought out two staple dishes of which he said the restaurant is “known for” — the “super wet burrito” and “mixed fajitas.”

The super wet burrito contained beef, rice, sour cream, salsa and beans topped with a red enchilada sauce and avocado.

The word “super” perhaps understates the size of the burrito, which was happily consumed by my photographer who said it was “good” with “lots of flavor.”

Feeling quite full, I sampled the fajitas, which came out on a sizzling platter filled with grilled chicken and beef sautéed with onions, bell peppers and jalapenos. A side of rice and beans with guacamole, sour cream and flour tortillas were also served with the dish.

The fajitas were some of the best I have had, with a noticeable freshness that Arias says the restaurant chain is “known for.”

After the meal, Arias and I sat down for a conversation about the concept of his three Jalisco Grill restaurants and how he came to be a restaurateur.

“The official name of the restaurant is Jalisco Fresh Grill,” Arias said. “It is fresh, fast and good. Everything is fresh.”

Arias was born in a small town just outside of Guadalajara and his restaurant is the namesake of the Mexican state from which he hails.

Jalisco is a small state located in central Mexico and home to one of the country’s most culturally rich populations in the capital city of Guadalajara.

The region is well known for the cultivation of the agave plant, the primary component for the country’s major export — tequila.

While the Jalisco Grill does not offer any tequila, the restaurant does offer a modest beer and wine selection, mostly Mexican beer, and a few California wines.

Arias said the menu, which was put together by his brother and chef Alejandro Arias, is a simple representation of the typical cuisine found in his home state of Jalisco.

There are other authentic dishes to be found on the menu, such as the “sopa de siete mares” (seven seas soup), which is basically a mixed-seafood stew.

Pozole (a rich stew typically made with pork and hominy) and menudo (a traditional Mexican soup made with beef stomach) are available only on weekends.

While many authentic Mexican staples are represented on the menu, I was disappointed to not see a couple of my favorites — albondigas (meatball soup) and machaca (shredded beef).

The bottom line, however, is that if I were to judge this restaurant by the quality of its freshness and authentic flavors, I’d say it gets an above-average grade.

The ceviche is some of the best I’ve had, and I know I will be returning for it.

Toby Lewis is a freelance writer with almost 30 years experience in the restaurant industry. Look to each month’s Dining View for his thoughts, insights and opinions about dining in and around Granite Bay. Follow him on Twitter @TobLewis.