The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, December 21, 2017, Page 12, Image 11

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Coast Weekend’s local
restaurant review
Plaza Jalisco serves up
one-note comfort food
about what kind of peppers you use
as how many of them make it to the
pot. I suspect the árbols were tossed
liberally into my batch of Cama-
rones a la Diabla (i.e., “The devil’s
he server told me: “Don’t cry.” shrimp”).
But it was too late.
But let’s be clear: My recounting
The hot sauce had me
the spice story is not meant as a jab
blubbering. My face broadcast the
at Plaza Jalisco. I was searching for
burn like a billboard: cheeks welled
heat, and they delivered. (I was told
up and rosy, eyes watering and a nose there is an even hotter house-made
like a leaky faucet. My lips tingled
sauce, though they were out at the
and I noticed myself actually panting, time.) Indeed, I consider myself a
as if freeing my sizzling tongue from
hot sauce connoisseur and evangelist
an overwhelmed mouth would offer
for spicy foods. As the tagline of a
some respite.
tinder-box of a Mexican joint in my
There was more that the server
hometown went: “Peace through
couldn’t see: the dynamite blasting of pain.” I bought in.
my sinuses, ear canals reverberating
The árbol sauce pushed me toward
like wind tunnels and the burst of en-
that precipice. It was a head-spinner.
dorphins perking up a sleepy winter
Not quite a punishing ordeal but an
experience, to be sure.
At first I thought the Plaza Jalisco
And it’s what I’ll remember most
Mexican Restaurant’s special house-
from my trips to the Astoria restaurant
made sauce was the culprit. But I
… because the flavors were rote and
started low and slow, with just a dab
of that dark, sun-burnt, smoky red
Plaza Jalisco offers a facsimile of
paste. It was more
what you’ll find
fire than flavor, so
at the majority
I retreated. But the
of Americanized
heat persisted.
Mexican restau-
As it turned
rants in the region:
out, the fuel of that
a menu with
scorching paste
pages and pages
was also a key
of dishes that stack
ORDEAL, BUT AN sameness and but
ingredient in the
sauce of my main
few degrees of
course. That in-
separation. Almost
gredient: chiles de
everything comes
árbol. Every bite
with lardy refried
of the Camarones a la Diabla ($14.50, beans and insipid Spanish rice. Veg-
gies are scant. There’s little freshness
described in the menu as “slightly
or nuance to speak of. Much of it
hot,”) caused the flames to reignite
tastes like it came from a can.
like bellows on a fire.
For reference: árbols (aka the “tree
It is, I think, a bit remarkable that
chile,” “bird’s beak chile” or “rat’s tail so many competing restaurants have
chile”) range from 15,000 to 30,000
menus nearing 100 dishes, almost
units on the Scoville scale. Jalapeño
all of them overlapping. Ever been
peppers fall between 2,500 and 8,000, to El Tapatio, on the east end of
Tabasco sauce 2,500 to 5,000. Haba-
Astoria? Plaza Jalisco’s food couldn’t
neros, near the top, register between
be more similar. A blind taste test to
100,000 and 350,000 units.
figure who’s who would be quite a
Now, heat can be just as much
challenge. And that’s just part of the
Rating: 
212 Eighth St.
Astoria, Ore., 97103
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sun-
day through Thursday, 11 a.m.
to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price: $ – Most dishes hover
between $10 and $15
Service: Speedy, jovial and
Vegetarian / Vegan Options:
Vegans need not apply
Drinks: Full bar
Review and photos by
Camarones a la Diabla
Tres amigos: chile Colorado, chile
verde, chile relleno, with rice and beans
sameness in Astoria. There’s more,
dotting the coast.
Plaza Jalisco, like El Tapatio,
is part of a small chain with six
restaurants in Washington. In the
Astoria location you’ll find the
familiar, monochrome spectrum of
Americanized Mexican: enchiladas,
burritos, free chips, watery salsa and
the damned combo plates.
What you won’t find: an array
of street-style tacos, fresh veggies,
developed flavors or margaritas made
without oodles of cane syrup. There’s
no al pastor, lengua or chicharrón.
The meats that do make the cut are
thin, overcooked and under-seasoned.
The carne asada and pollo asado had
a BBQ-like char but cried out for salt
to seal in the juices.
At Plaza Jalisco you’ll find reason-
able, sometimes teeming portions.
The Burrito Carne Asada ($13.50)
was the length of two regular burritos
stuck end to end. I wished some
of that interior included veggies,
avocado or sour cream (which were
sprinkled conservatively on top).
Some onions or pico de gallo inside
would’ve been nice, too. As it was,
the massive burrito was stuffed with
just beans, rice and that under-sea-
soned carne asada. Rather than one of
Plaza Jalisco’s top burritos (and the
second most expensive), it banished
complexity as if angling for the kids
Plaza Jalisco is also built for
speed. I was amazed how quickly
some dishes landed on my table.
The Tres Amigos ($16.95), one of
the flagship items, arrived in little
more time that it takes to scoop the
components onto the plate. Two sips
of the syrupy margarita and — boom!
— there it is.
The sauces on the Tres Amigos
— chile Colorado and chile verde
— were bland, almost opaque in
flavor if not color. It was as if the
dice-sized cubes of beef and pork had
not been marinated, cooking in them.
The hardly fresh poblano pepper in
the chile relleno was slathered and
filled with viscous cheese. Even in its
stasis, the poblano’s earthiness was
magnified alongside the melange of
meaty, fatty and cheesy.
Against the árbol sauce, the
shrimp in the Camarones a la Diabla
offered a bit of sweetness. The enchi-
ladas were slim and boring. The pollo
asado was tough. Nothing stepped
 Poor
 Below average
 Worth returning
 Very good
 Excellent, best in region
outside the homogenized lane of
Americanized Mexican.
As with any restaurant touting
authenticity, I entered in hopes of
finding something inspired, perfect-
ed or new. On that score I came out
empty-handed. Plaza Jalisco’s is com-
fort food, a single note hammered
While the food is carbon-copied,
Plaza Jalisco does deserve credit for
its welcoming vibe. (And although
the decor matches the model with
bricky pastels and wooden booths, the
plants are actually real!) It’s a place
folks come to celebrate, and staff
seem up to the task.
On one trip a server gamely
translated a Spanish-language cover
song playing on the stereo in hopes I
could find the source. I also overheard
that same server being profusely
thanked by a customer for treating her
special-needs child with resounding
care at a recent birthday party. Then
there was the server who prodded me,
with a welcome and deserved mix of
pity and jest over my struggles with
the árbol sauce.
I’ll remember the heat at Plaza
Jalisco. The flavor, not so much. CW