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Mr. Jalapeno in Lowell not worth the trip

Mr Jalapeno in Lowell, don't waste your time.
Mr Jalapeno in Lowell, don't waste your time.

I'm a native Texan living in New England and in search of the tex-mex food I knew growing up. It's proved a difficult task.

My wife, kids and in-laws were excited to try a new Mexican restaurant when we popped into Mr. Jalapeno in Lowell, MA. It's about four blocks from the Tsongas Arena.

The atmosphere is not really conducive to a casual sit down meal with friends and family. It's really geared more to takeout. Yes, there are tables and you can sit down for service but that really felt like an afterthought to the takeout orders.

They serve beer and wine and they claim to serve 'real' margaritas.  We even asked before we sat, "Do you make your margs with real tequila?" The cook in the back said, "Real tequila from Mexico."

OK then. We took a seat.

I think I was had.  They fell short on margs. In my book there is only one way to make a margarita, and that's with fresh lime juice, triple sec and tequila -- top-shelf adjustments permitted, of course. First, they used sweet-sour mix instead of limes and I'm pretty damn sure there wasn't an ounce of real tequila in the place. I would bet that they used a 'tequila flavored wine.' 

But I should have noticed something was wrong. If they have a liquor license then why don't they offer any other cocktails? They only have beer, wine and margs. There is no way that a restaurant which has gone to the trouble to acquire a liquor license would not take full advantage of it and have a full bar offering.

This is all a long way of saying the margs sucked.

There were some highlights. My kids loved their plain tacos (flour tortilla, steak and cheese). The chips (house fried) and salsa were much better than the average one experiences in New England. My mother-in-law enjoyed her tamales. And we even had decent nachos as an app.

They didn't commit what I see as the oh-too-common nacho sin -- a mountain of chips topped with god-knows-what. The sin is that the only chips that have any topping are those on the 'face of the mountain.' Once one starts mining into the pile there is nothing but chips. Mr. Jalapeno uses a long rectangular plate which allows for a long even row of gently staked chips. Every chip delivered a fair share of topping.

But there was one aspect to our meal that was a HUGE disappointment...the chilaquiles. My wife and I first ate chilaquiles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We've had them several times since in Texas and Mexico. I've even had a decent serving at a spot in Chelsea, MA.

I will grant that there are many different ways to cook this dish, but Mr. Jalapeno seems to have come up with his own quick and easy method. It's so quick and easy it doesn't even resemble chilaquiles. Most recipes call for crispy corn tortilla chips (or strips) mixed with meat (usually chicken, but also beef), cheese, crema (akin to sour cream) and sauce (either a verde or rojo). The items are mixed together or layered in an oven proof dish and baked.

Mr. Jalapeno's method is this:

1) Throw pile of corn tortilla chips in a bowl
2) Lightly spoon sauce over chips so that barely half of them are covered
3) Blop on meat of choice
4) Squirt a toothpaste sized strip of sour cream around edge of plate.
5) Serve

These were the WORST chilaquiles I've ever been served. They were much more closely akin to the sinful 'mountain of nachos!'

The funny thing is the menu said they were served with crispy tortilla 'strips.' They weren't, they were triangular chips. Ok, no big deal. But the menu also said they were served with cheese. THEY WEREN'T! And they weren't even baked in the oven or salamander.

Maybe this is the only thing bad about their menu but they royally screwed this dish up. I wouldn't go back here. And I don't recommend you do either

For more information:

124 Merrimack St
Lowell, MA 01852
(978) 710-0789