By Ari LeVaux
Raul Aboytes’ journey from Walmart employee to successful restaurateur started when he bought a food trailer from his neighbor. The $4,000 investment, which took three years to pay off, needed a lot of work.
“I put so much money into that trailer,” Aboytes recalls. “And I tried really hard to get this business going. I parked the trailer in different places, and I kept getting discouraged. But when I moved the trailer to Airport Road [three years ago], right away we started selling food like crazy. So I quit Walmart and started selling food full time.”
The result is Jalapeño’s, a scrappy chain of central Mexican eateries that includes a newly opened sit-down restaurant in Plaza Entrada on St. Francis Drive, as well as two take-out trailers, on Airport Road and at the corner of Siler and Cerrillos roads.
Jalapeño’s was built on a foundation of tortas, a grilled Mexican sandwich that, big enough for two, practically demands a siesta in its wake. The tortas at Jalapeño’s are filled with various combinations of meats, plus cheese, avocado, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño slices, chipotle salsa, mayo and mustard. The bread is baked daily at Santa Fe’s Pan de Vida bakery.
“Italians have paninis, Americans have subs, Mexicans have tortas,” Aboytes explains.
Before the economy tanked, the Airport Road trailer was selling 1,300 tortas on a good week. During the darkest days of the recession, the weekly tally dropped below 700. Now it’s approximately 1,000 tortas per week.
The Plaza Entrada restaurant, which opened March 7, was a logical extension to the take-out trailers. Aboytes was already renting a commercial kitchen in which to prepare the food served in his trailers, so he decided to spend a bit more and rent a commercial kitchen with a restaurant attached. Now, the food served in both trailers is prepared at the Plaza Entrada location.
The restaurant is brightly painted and decorated with an eclectic assortment of Mexican art, some made by Aboytes’ wife. Paintings of dancing skeletons, portraits of Frida Kahlo, ornate crosses and painted skulls hang from the walls. The dining room is furnished with classy high-backed wooden chairs—made by his cousin in Taos—with jalapeño peppers carved into the backs.
The fare at Jalapeño’s is inspired by Aboytes’ mother’s late-night taqueria in Querétaro, Mexico. A long list of specially prepared meats are at the heart of the Jalapeño’s menu.
Buche (pork belly with house-made chorizo) is popular on Airport Road, as are the braised and crispy pork carnitas—of which Aboytes makes 500 pounds a week. Chicken in red chile, fajitas and a new vegetarian blend are popular at the Plaza Entrada location. After sampling almost all of the meats, I give highest props to the suadero (beef brisket), barbacoa (marinated lamb) and the carnitas. I sampled the meats in tacos; they’re also served in fajitas, burritos, quesadillas and, of course, tortas.
I was very happy with the ceviche salad. Generous portion of lime-marinated tilapia came on top of a large bed of lettuce and salad greens. Next time, however, I’ll order it without cheese. Another highlight was the beef soup, with soft chunks of meat, abundant vegetables and the unmistakable flavor of comfort food.
The service is upbeat, casual and attentive. Aboytes circulates the dining room to make sure everyone is satisfied. The salsa bar is stocked with several garnishes and salsas, including avocado salsa. The aguas frescas come with free refills. A beer and wine license is “a month or two” away, Aboytes says, and also coming soon: daily specials.
“I want real dishes, stuff from home that I know how to make, like chicken in mole, ribs with salsa verde. Dishes that you don’t see around here often,” he says. “Not upscale, but original—I don’t like upscale. I like to keep it real.”
Sit-down dining at 3005 St. Francis Drive
at Airport Road and at the corner of Siler and Cerrillos roads
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