Monday, October 10, 2011

Authentico Mexicano, Por Favor, Sin Queso

People often ask me where I get the inspiration for the restaurants I review. Most often, I review what is around me: where I work, where I live, where I go on vacation. Sometimes I stumble upon a restaurant out of sheer dumb luck. Other times I have readers email me and tell me of a place that I haven't reviewed that I just have to try. A very important part of my information gathering process is reading other food blogs. You may have noticed the list of blogs I follow on the right hand side of this blog. I link to those blogs because I think the authors have something interesting and relevant to say and want to encourage you to them out for yourself.

Just recently, I came across a food blog started at the end of June, Dreaming of the Next Bite, that I hadn't linked to and when I went to check it out, I discovered a fellow native Akron/Canton blogger who is interested in covering the local restaurant scene. As I dug into Yvette's blog, I stumbled across several restaurant reviews that she had done in the North Canton area that sounded very interesting. But it wasn't until I came across her review of Jojutlas Mexican Grill that I sat up and took notice.

What caught my eye were two very important distinctions between Jojutlas and nearly every other "Mexican" restaurant in the area: fresh corn tortillas grilled in-house and the very prominent lack of cheese melted over every single menu item. Now, don't get me wrong, gentle reader, I love Mexican American as much as the next gringo, but I know better (and when pressed, most servers of Mexican/Latino/Latina origin will admit) that using gobs of melted queso fresco is an American adaptation.

My whistle thoroughly whetted by the idea of a queso-free meal, I made the trek down I-77 to the Portage Street exit (The "Strip" is off of Portage Street). You will want to go west on Portage Street until you see the Rockne's road sign. Jojutlas Mexican Grill was in the building directly behind Rockne's. Technically the restaurant was located at 4934 Portage Street, North Canton, OH 44720 and can be reached at 330-470-0037. In addition to their website, they also have a Facebook page.

After parking in the ample lot out front, I approached the front of the restaurant:

Jojutlas Mexican Grill in North Canton, Ohio
Inside, I discovered another refreshing surprise: a menu consisting of just a few choices that were simple and straightforward:

Wall Menu Left
Wall Menu Right
Most Mexican American menus that I've seen are usually loaded with a myriad of options from which to choose. Tonight, the decision was narrowed down to between the fish tacos that Yvette had tried in her review and the Tacos al Pastor. Ordering at Jojutlas was a cross between a Chipotle-esque process and a full service restaurant. I placed my order at the window under the hanging menu and told her which sides I wanted along with any additional condiments (e.g., salsas). I then paid for my meal at the other end of the line, took my drink and receipt, and sat at the table of my choice.

Within just a few minutes, one of the servers ran my food to the table and checked to make sure there wasn't anything else she could get me. Here were the Fish Tacos with my included side of Mexican Rice:

Fish Tacos, Mexican Rice
Here is a closer shot of the Fish Tacos:

Fish Tacos, Jicama Slaw, Chipotle Mayonnaise
The whitefish had been breaded "Azteca" style, fried until golden brown and crispy, sliced and stuffed into the homemade corn tortillas along with a jicama / red pepper / radish slaw, greens, and a drizzle of chipotle mayonnaise. Although the tortilla near the edge of the plate was a bit torn up, the other two were perfectly round and pliable. I picked one up, took an enormous bite and began to chew, allowing the ingredients to roll around in my mouth.

The heat from the fried fish was nicely balanced with the coolness and crispness of the slaw. The mayonnaise added a little bit of creaminess and spiciness to complement the other flavors. The tortilla was expertly made, adding a subtle "corniness" and was amazingly tender. Honestly, the only criticism I had was that the taco could've used just a touch of lime juice to really make it sing. Something as simple as including a lime wedge with the plate would've taken this from good to great.

For my included side, I decided to go with the Mexican Rice:

Mexican Rice
"White" rice was also available, which according to the woman taking my order was white rice with lime and cilantro. The Mexican Rice was fresh and each grain was tender and had a flavor that was unlike the versions of this style of rice that I've eaten at other Mexican restaurants. I quite enjoyed it.

Since additional sides were minimally priced, I decided to add beans to my dinner, too. My choice was between black beans and pinto beans ... I went with Black Beans:

Frijoles Negros
The beans were whole and as such, had a textural element to them (as opposed to the more traditional frijoles refritos). The taste was also quite good, again a bit unusual but delicious. The beans had a rich earthy flavor that can only come from a long cooking process. Between the rice and beans, I managed to finish all three tacos and about half of each side.

In the end, my meal with the extra side of black beans and a bottled water came to roughly $10 before tip and tax. I should mention that because you pay after you order and before you sit down, it was a little weird leaving a tip before I actually had service. I paid with my credit card tonight, but if you have cash, you can leave a tip that is appropriate for the service you receive at the conclusion of your meal instead of prior to eating it.

So how would I rate this little out-of-the-way restaurant? Pretty highly, actually, and recommend that if you are in the mood for something a little more authentic and a whole lot less cheesy, drive down to North Canton and check out Jojutlas Mexican Grill for yourself. I know that I am already anticipating a return to try the Tacos al Pastor.

Jojutlas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon


Yvette said...

Tino, so glad you made the drive down to NC for Jojutlas! This place is pretty special, huh? Haven't made it back yet but I'm hoping other menu items are as memorable (and queso-less) as the fish tacos. YUM.

Dave said...

I am down here for work tonight so I decided to stopped in for dinner after reading your review. Great little spot! The tacos al pastor were my favorite (I had one fish, one steak, and one pastor - not on the menu, but they'll let you mix it up). The fish taco was really good too. sopapillas for dessert were a nice touch too. I mentioned your blog to them and they seemed excited to read the review. The owner said he hopes to franchise it soon.

Tino said...

@Dave: Their concept is eminently franchisable. The menu is simple enough to pull off in other locations. As long as they can keep the food tasting fresh and delicious, I think they would be successful.

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