Why would local owners of an already popular, familiar and long-running Mexican restaurant franchise rock their own boat? For Natasha and Ross Williams, it was a matter of quality. After operating a Sunset Road location of Super Mex for 12 years and a southwest Valley store for five, they recently broke away from the California-based chain and installed a new brand: Jalisco Cantina.
Several fresh coats of paint and many new menu items later, a simple thought—We can do better—has come to fruition. The 24-hour cantinas are a bit more bright and comfortable, with gaming machines in the cantina spaces and family-friendly dining everywhere else. The foodie snob in you might want to dismiss Jalisco Cantina as the Mexican-food version of the neighborhood video poker bar. Resist pessimism. Restaurants like these—ultra-casual and tidy, beautifully unchallenging—hit the spot for the greatest number of Las Vegans. There’s no shame in being easy.
And besides, the food is much better than the bland mediocrity of those neighborhood bars. It starts with the surprisingly spicy, bright flavors in the table salsa, served alongside warm corn chips and a small bowl of sticky bean dip. The owners chose the new name based on the diversity of cuisine in the northwestern Mexican state, as well as its reputation as the birthplace of tequila. (Yes, there’s an ever-lengthening list of styles and brands of the fiery spirit for you to taste.) So Jalisco Cantina offers everything from street-style tacos to grilled, lime-spritzed seafood to a sweet, nutty mole.
Start your meal with one of the Mexican pizzas ($12.50), particularly the one with chicken, mole and grilled vegetables, and you’ll have to come back another night to sample other dishes. This appetizer is just as filling as any entrée, even if you share it. Likewise for the heaping mounds of nachos, topped with anything from carne asada to shredded beef barbacoa.
Also huge: fajitas ($15-$21), power-packed with poblano chilies among the obligatory grilled peppers and finished with tequila, lime and orange liqueur. Other worthwhile house specialties include mar y tierra ($22), steak and bacon-wrapped shrimp, and a smile-inducing plate of some of the best carnitas ($12) I’ve had in Las Vegas, juicy chicharrón-topped pork hunks that maintain their robustness when crammed into a crispy fried chimichanga (also $12).
The yellow cheese might be gone, but Jalisco Cantina’s Mexican food is not at all more exotic than what local eaters are accustomed to. If you’re the type steadfastly holding onto the belief that you can’t find great authentic Mexican food in Vegas, these places might not change your mind. But if you want a killer chile verde burrito at any hour, you’re covered.
Jalisco Cantina 3460 E. Sunset Road, 436-5200; 6450 S. Durango Road, 312-8000. 24/7.