Jalisco Norte recently opened on the corner of a Turtle Creek shopping and eating complex, and the new restaurant seeks to remove the stigma of processed yellow cheese and deep-fried burritos popular with Tex-Mex fans. No one is saying Tex-Mex is bad. But Jalisco Norte asserts that if you think Tex-Mex is in any way authentic Mexican, then you've got a lot to learn.
Jalisco is starting off slowly, and that's probably a good idea. Jalisco Norte, in reference to the Mexican coastal state, is looking to give diners authentic cuisine — but in a way that our Tex-Mex taste buds can swallow, at least at first.
Look beyond the enchiladas and tacos on the menu, and you’ll see a shift. Chicken tinga, Yucatan-style duck confit and suadero fill the void left by bland, familiar chicken or beef fajita meat. All of Jalisco’s menu follows suit, luring customers with a sense of familiarity. Well, they think, I know I like shredded roast chicken in my tortillas, so I figure I will probably like the encacahuatado roast chicken ($17).
It doesn’t hurt that head chef Jose Meza, previously of Hotel Nizuc in Mexico, is the guiding hand of this culinary shift.
“We don't want a restaurant where people have to wait a year to celebrate; we want people to come every day of the week,” Meza says. “It's nothing I'm trying to invent or do crazy.”
He takes a modest approach with modest flavors. He hopes that by bringing Dallas guests a little closer to the true flavors of Mexico, he can one day unleash more flavor without driving diners away.
“The people are asking for more spicy," Meza says. "They like spice, and I think Dallas is ready to do something new. That makes me happy. I came here holding a little bit, but they've been telling me, bring it on."
The inside of Jalisco Norte follows much the same passion as its menu. The establishment consists of four main rooms that serve different dining purposes. The main entrance leads to a standard carpeted seating area with booths. Lined with wood tables, slatted ceilings and dim, moody lighting, it stays modest and offers a front-row seat to the glass-lined kitchen and handmade tortilla stations.
The next section leads to the bar. The bar at Jalisco Norte is just the right size for a place of its caliber. With input from drink master and cocktail creationist Ravinder Singh, previously of Rapscallion, this bar is tackling every drink under the sun that has to do with agave. The bar is large with an open-air feel, and cocktails are relatively cheap for hard-hitting tequila and mezcal drinks such as The Devil Made Me Do It ($12), made with chili liquor and candied ginger.
Off to the side of the bar is an open-air patio of sorts. The room is lined in floor-to-ceiling glass, all of which can be opened during favorable weather. The floor is made of warm wood, and the seating is cabana resort-style woven chairs. At night, the large oak tree that wraps around one edge of the room flickers with faery lights. For the warmer winter days, there's no better place to get a little loose for an early afternoon drink and some barbacoa.
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The final room at Jalisco Norte is the mask room. Tucked away as a private room or event room, it sometimes allows guests in to accommodate main seating area overflow. Hidden behind a large blackout curtain, the small, white room is lined with Mexican folk art masks. A recessed light strip that lights the masks further accentuates the room's eerie, museum-like aspect. It only seats about a dozen, but if you’re into that Game of Thrones Hall of Faces kind of vibe, you’ll dig it.
We're looking forward to seeing what Jalisco Norte brings to the table. It just might be time to ditch the sour cream enchiladas for an afternoon and try something a little more true to its name. While we wouldn’t call this Tex-Mex, we would call it Mex-Tex.
Jalisco Norte, 3858 Oak Lawn Ave.