A true taste of Mexico has arrived in Jupiter. El Palenque has taken over space once occupied by an Italian restaurant, and offers dishes well outside the comfort zone of most Tex-Mex joints.
A significant and increasingly permanent population of Latino residents in the Jupiter area means more businesses owned by and catering to Hispanics are opening and flourishing. Non-Hispanics, Spanish-speaking or not, are always welcome, and at El Palenque, the menu offers some familiar dishes and some that are not even close to the classic chips and salsa, tacos, burritos or chimichangas routine.
Little changed in the decor when the menu changed from Italian to Mexican. The beer signs now advertise Pacifico, Modelo and Dos Equis, Mexican flags adorn the walls and the music playing is catchy, rhythmic Mexican pop. The menu is small and focused and yes, it does offer chips and salsa, even at breakfast. But you're here for real Mexican, not the usual Tex-Mex. Real Mexican food has heat and spice and flavor. It's complex, influenced by centuries of foreign invaders and settlers, and offers a half-dozen distinct regional cuisines within its borders. El Palenque's breakfast fare includes a mouth-numbing huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs)with green chiles, huevos con chorizo (eggs with sausage) and chilaquiles (pork chop with salsa verde) and on the side, creamy refried beans and a plate of fresh, warm flour tortillas.
For lunch or dinner, choose from ceviche (fish marinated in citrus juice with tomatoes and chiles), pork ribs in salsa verde, tamales, carne asada and steak and sausage tacos. Sundays are special at El Palenque: the restaurant offers the dishes loved by Latinos but more challenging to Anglos: menudo (tripe stew), lengua (tongue) with pico de gallo and barbacoa (slow-cooked meats).
There are also fajitas, chimichangas, burritos and even gorditas on the menu; dishes familiar to anyone who has ever walked into a fast-food or casual restaurant with even a vaguely Spanish-sounding name. But sneak a peek in El Palenque's kitchen. That's a mature woman in there, cooking like she would do for her family. Most Mexicans do their best eating in their own homes. And at El Palenque, the simple surroundings and the rustic presentation make the place feel less like a restaurant and more like an extension of someone's kitchen.
El Palenque, 711 West Indiantown Rd., Jupiter, FL. Phone (561) 320-0040, Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Outdoor seating available.