By Gary Nager
If you haven’t yet tried the new Jalapeno Mexican Grill in the Oak Ramble Plaza just south of Tampa Palms, you’ve been missing out on New Tampa’s only truly authentic Mexican cuisine.
To be honest, I have always judged Mexican restaurants by their fajitas, but Jalapeno is so much more than just great fajitas that you don’t even see the pic of this new eatery’s fajitas in this story. Thanks to co-owner and chef Miguel Espinosa, Jalapeno is more of a great European-style restaurant that just also has great Mexican food than it is just a Mexican restaurant.
Miguel and his wife Dawn Boyer moved here from New York City, where Miguel worked at some of the city’s best restaurants, either as a chef, a bartender, or both.
“I love making drinks for people, but I love cooking even more,” he says. “My traditional, authentic Mexican dishes are primarily my sister Laura’s recipes. But, I also have been trained in New York City, in everything from sushi to French and Italian cuisine.”
Miguel, who is from Mexico City, most recently worked at a Japanese restaurant in South Tampa and he says he plans to add an actual sushi bar to Jalapeno.
“Have you ever had fresh sushi at a Mexican restaurant?,” he asks. “I pick my own fresh fish every day and I really love seafood with a Mexican accent.”
So, despite the fact I usually prefer fajitas at any Mexican restaurant, I have to admit that, so far, Miguel’s fresh fish choices have been my favorites so far at Jalapeno.
On my most recent visit, Miguel made a seared amberjack sashimi, topped with a garlicky pico de gallo salsa and a jalapeno-infused ponzu sauce. I can honestly say it was one of the most uniquely delicious seafood dishes I have ever tasted.
I also love Jalapeno’s yummy chicken taquitos (pulled chicken in crispy corn tortillas, topped with shaved lettuce, queso fresco sauce, sour cream and your choice of three delightfully different salsas.
Jalapeno also offers traditional Mexican appetizers such as guacamole, ceviche and nachos, but the “antojitos” (“small plates”) I can’t wait to sample include the tostadas de ceviche (crispy fried tortillas topped with guacamole, shrimp or the fresh catch of the day, baby arugula and queso fresco) and the Mexico City-style quesadillas.
Jalapeno also offers such favorites as chiles rellenos (a vegetarian favorite), milanesa de pollo or de res (thin slices of chicken or skirt steak breaded and fried) and mole poblano (bone-in chicken leg and thigh in a homemade mole sauce) and yes, some pretty delicious steak, chicken and shrimp fajitas.
My favorite dishes so far are the Pescado Tampeno (Panko-crusted and seared fresh fish of the day on a bed of rice, topped with arugula and am avocado pico de gallo) and the Carne a la Tampiquena (a grilled 8-oz. skirt steak served with an enchilada mole sauce, sliced poblana chiles, sour cream and a side of rice).
Jalapeno also has great Mexican beers (Dos Equis lager on tap), great wines, a children’s menu and decadent desserts. Check it out and please tell Dawn and Miguel we sent you!
For reservations and additional information, please call Jalapeno Mexican Grill (14913 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.) at 977-0800 or visit JalapenoTampa.com.