WHO’S IN CHARGE Longtime restaurant veteran Nelson Perlera finally became an owner in his own right when he opened El Jalisco Mexican Grill on Cabot Street in Beverly this past August. “I just had the opportunity to take a chance and see what could happen,” said the 50-year-old Perlera. El Jalisco is the second Mexican iteration at this cozy, 1,000-square-foot location, with Cielito Lindo Cocina Mexicana closing in mid-2014. The spot has also housed Thai Orchid and, most recently, Fusion Andina, which specialized in Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine. “My plan for the future? I hope that I can make it,” said Perlera. “I hope people like our food, and we can be in business.”
THE LOCALE Much like its predecessors, El Jalisco makes the most of the small space, with a welcoming red awning and colorful décor standing in stark contrast to this bleak, dimly lit section of Cabot Street close to City Hall (note to city officials — adequate street lighting isn’t a bad thing). El Jalisco seats fewer than 50, with three rows of beautiful, tile-topped tables leading back to the open kitchen. Still, the vibe is casual and unassuming, and the service is friendly and attentive. We visited on a Thursday evening, and the restaurant was relatively quiet. The music was our waitress’s choice, a mix of early 2000 pop hits that my wife, Lauri, and daughter, Maddi, enjoyed.
ON THE MENU The typical “chips and salsa” weren’t typical at all. The chips were fresh baked, not at all greasy, and served with a “spicy” salsa (which wasn’t too hot) and a bean-based dip that was superb. Lauri and I each had a House Margarita ($11), which featured a double shot, though the tequila wasn’t overpowering. Maddi opted for a Strawberry Margarita ($10). We all agreed that the cocktails were smartly crafted, without being overly sweet or sour.
Many Mexican restaurants claim to serve “authentic” fare, but El Jalisco gets closer than most. Visitors can choose from all the usual suspects, including nachos, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and fajitas. Perlera said he is focusing on the regional Mexican recipes he’s learned, “but I always put my own touch on them.”
We started with the spicy Mexican Style Corn ($4), a big, fresh ear of corn seasoned with a medium spice rub. The corn was sweet and cooked perfectly, providing a nice counterpoint to the piquant spice. For dinner, both Maddi and Lauri selected burritos. The Chicken Burrito ($10.50) was stuffed with rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, and pico de gallo (Maddi asked to hold the sour cream). My daughter was struck by how crisp the flavors were, each standing out. The burrito was enormous, and Maddi took half of it home.
Likewise, Lauri’s Supreme Burrito ($12) had the same ingredients, with the addition of Monterey jack cheese, guacamole, and melted cheddar cheese across the top of the bulging tortilla. My wife would have brought a portion home as well, except she got some “help” from her husband.
Perlera isn’t afraid to stretch his culinary wings, relying on his own experience. As a result, El Jalisco offers several items that have more of an Italian flare, such as a Fried Calamari appetizer with marinara sauce ($11) and a Shrimp Fra Diavolo entree ($18). I went with a recommendation from our server, who suggested a Colombian-inspired dish, Montanero ($18).
The entree was a delight, featuring a perfectly grilled marinated flat steak, served with a large pork rind that tasted like nuggets of bacon, sweet plantains that balanced the salty pork, rice, beans, an over-easy egg, and a very small salad. Filling and flavorful, the Montanero was outstanding.
“Whatever I can do to see if I can make the people happy, I want to do it,” said Perlera. “I know this Colombian dish, and people have liked it everywhere. In this type of little restaurant, everybody will like this dish.”
For families, El Jalisco also offers a Kids Menu, with Grill Cheese ($5), Chicken Wings or Fingers ($7), or a Mini Quesadilla ($6.50).
El Jalisco Mexican Grill, 150 Cabot St., Beverly, 978-969-2269, ElJaliscoBoston.com.