One common complaint I hear is how Vegas lacks quality Mexican food. But few of these people ever bother to check out mom-and-pop restaurants such as Los Antojos or Los Molcajetes, places serving creative and authentic dishes at absurdly low prices.
Now, we can add to that list Los Jarochos, at the busy crossing of Rainbow and Tropicana, which could be the best of them all. Six of us feasted there for less than $90, and as I recall, I didn’t see a single one of my friends from nearby Spanish Trail in the restaurant.
This is a large place, nicely tiled, and dominated by a twirling spit behind the order counter. That’s pastor on the spit, layers of heavily spiced pork, with a pineapple at the top, spurting juice to drip down for an added dimension of sweet and sour flavors.
Pastor is delicious in a taco or torta, those overstuffed Mexican-style sandwiches, but there is serious cooking taking place in the kitchen. I asked the friendly owner, Señora Duarte, the meaning of jarochos, and she told me it means to be from Veracruz, on Mexico’s Atlantic coast.
That region is famous for snapper a la Veracruzana, in a sauce of tomatoes, chilies, olives and capers. I had a perfectly fried mojarra (tilapia), accompanied by fragrant and fluffy Mexican rice pilaf cooked in chicken stock, but that sauce is still a work-in-progress. The Señora told me she wasn’t sure that local people were familiar with it, but that they were working on it.
The rest of the menu here is almost flawless. My friends raised their collective eyebrows when the complimentary chips and salsa came to the table. The salsa, a pale green, is completely delicious, and we had to replenish it three or four times.
First to arrive were tacos pastor—chunks of ruddy pork topped with crema fresca (Mexican sour cream), cabbage, salsa and grilled leeks—and borrego, fork-tender lamb slow-cooked inside a banana leaf. (Order the same meat in a torta and you get a huge bun smeared with avocado plus lettuce, tomato, onion, and triple the meat they put on a taco.)
This being an authentic Mexican restaurant, there are funkier meats as well, such as lengua (tongue) and tripas (tripe), which the menu on the wall translates, unfortunately, as “guts.” I went out on a limb and told the señora to call it tripe, instead. She’s going to change the sign.
Next came chili rellenos—battered, stuffed mild green chilies, but with the options to have the usual cheese filling swapped out with chicken, beef or vegetarian ones. In Veracruz, the batter is puffier than in the North, and the meat fillings are finely minced. These are uniformly excellent.
My vegetarian friend had enchiladas de mole, crêpes topped with that complex dark sauce that employs chocolate and up to 20 spices. As he couldn’t eat the rice, he had them with tortillas and beans, since the Duarte family does not use lard in their preparation.
The only misstep from this kitchen was an over-fried milanesa, the breaded, pounded steak that you can eat at any Sanborn’s, a Mexican drugstore chain famous for cheap food. Don’t miss tamales, wrapped in cornhusks, and so fluffy they evaporate in the mouth.
English is a commodity at Los Jarochos, but this being summer, the family’s high school-age daughter, Irma, will probably be there to help you communicate on the delicious road to Veracruz.