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El Jacalito Review

Judgement:       4.5 Flying Pigs       
Category:          Ethnic Joint
Price:                $$
Credit Cards:     Visa/MC – but no Am Ex
Bar:                  Less than full, but more than beer and wine.
Address:           10221 Valley Boulevard; El Monte, CA 91731-2331
Phone:              (626) 442-2155

El Jacalito (The Little Shack) is one of our favorite restaurants.  Please don't confuse the high rating as an assertion that the food is particularly sophisticated, or that it can't be a bit hit or miss.  Consider the category.

In brief:  Home style Mexican cooking, usually at its finest. 

I adore the mojarra ala diabla, here.  It's a whole good sized tilapia (or sometimes perch) fried in the usual manner, and served swamped in the best diablo anywhere.  Did I say good sized?  Sometimes, huge.  The fish fills a plate by itself, so they bring a second for the garnish -- french fries, rice, beans, and salad.  Pero, muy picante.

The tortillas are hecho a mano and wonderful.  The beans are wonderful as well.  The rice is merely excellent.  That’s three out of the three on the sine qua non front.

Some other highlights include chile rellenos, tamal, asada, enchiladas, and the bistec with all the onions and peppers (can't remember what they call it on the menu), In short, most things on the menu are very good, a few are merely good, but a few more are sublime.  

Desserts can be indifferent.  If you put a gun to my head and made me guess, the cheesecake is baked elsewhere and brought in frozen.  The flan is homemade, and somewhat variable.  It can be dense and creamy, or dry and fluffy.  No way to anticipate. Perhaps another beer instead?

I'm not sure what their liquor license is, they don't have a full bar.  But they do serve margaritas which taste as though there's tequila in them (as opposed to soju, for instance).  Those margaritas aren't special in the sense of premium call ingredients, ice cream, or other weird variations.  They're tasty, alcoholic, perhaps a bit on the light side, and make my wife happy.  What more can you ask?

They have a decent selection of bottled beers and a beer happy hour.  Your mother asked me to remind you not to drink too much and have someone else drive.

Service, at least in terms of making sure your table is clean, getting you a menu, taking your order, bringing a refreshing beverage, getting your food to you hot and in a timely manner, is very good.  It's true they can be a little lackadaisical with the check -- but that's how it works here in the SGV.  Also de rigeur in the SGV, they take Visa and Master Card, but alas not American Express
Sunday brunch is crowded and fun – lots of big families.  As previously noted, good luck parking when it's busy.  I particularly enjoy making tostadas of their ceviche de camarones crudas.  In fact, that particular ceviche rates as a highlight in itself.  Que ricos!  The brunch is a buffet though, so all the usual buffet caveats apply. If you see one lonely, dried up enchilada in a chaffer, don't put it on your plate; it won't be any better than it looks.  I never said four point five flying pigs meant perfect.  Meanwhile, rest easy.  The chaffer will soon be refilled with something muy sabroso.

Another caveat:  El Jacalito doesn't make much allowance for gabacho* palates and expectations.  It's spicier than most restaurants, the hot sauce on the table includes monster hunks of fresh chili, and the diablo is spicy to the point they required a written waiver the first time I ordered it.

Give it a try,

What's a gabacho?  If you think you or anyone you know is or might be a gringo, you're a gabacho.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 3/16/10 at 4:46pm