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Taqueria el Jalapeno

Madison WI

1318 s midvale blvd, madison WI 53711
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608-709-1345
daily 11am-10pm

Taqueria el Jalapeno (Madison WI) - tacosmog.com taco review

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Rating: 91
Price: $$

The To-Go

The replacement to Madison's beloved La Guanajuatense, Taqueria el Jalapeno is worth the trip out to the West Side. El Jalapeno is friendly, festive, and - best of all - the food is delicious.

The Sit-Down

The loss of La Guanajuatense was a huge blow to the Madison taco scene, and I can't help but feel partly responsible; despite the high reviews and promises to return quickly, I was only able to make it out there a handful of times, primarily because of the distance from my Eken Park fortress of solitude. While unsurpassed in terms of quality, bikeable options (which are still high quality) seemed more and more desirable. But, now Guanajuatense is gone, and I'll dine on memories of their mind-blowing salsa bar for the rest of my days.

Fortunately, 1318 S Midvale Blvd is never without tacos for long, and Taqueria El Jalapeno has moved the 145 miles from Marshfield to occupy the old Guanajuatense headquarters. Our tastebuds have to migrate about 100 miles further, as the cuisine has shifted from Guanajuato in origin to its current Jalisco roots. Having never been to either of these places, I can't elaborate on what this means, so we'll leave it at that.

A merry crew of business associates, still heady after venturing into the wilderness and acquiring a kick-ass Christmas tree, swung over to Taqueria El Jalapeno the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a non-leftover-based meal. While most members of our party focused on tacos, our table also had people try the gorditas, sopes, and tamales. I, naturally, stuck with tacos - one pastor, one combination (steak + pork), and one campechanos (steak + chorizo), topped with cilantro and onions. There were a full 14 taco options on the menu, most priced at $1.99, and we covered most of the options between us.

Considering the quantity of food we ordered, it came out quickly, and while we waited El Jalapeno was very generous with chips & salsa while we waited. The tacos were generously piled onto some nice, soft, warm corn tortillas. All of the various meats were well-prepared, soft and seasoned without being too fatty or chewy. I don't know if I can even say which I liked best - though, when that's the case, it usually means I'm defaulting to my base al pastor preference. And, evidence from The Facebook shows that their pastor is prepared at pro levels. These tacos left a sterling impression, as did the bite I tried of business associate Erin's gordita, and went well with the happy hour margaritas.

Because the Taqueria El Jalapeno experience was so positive, I'm loathe to bring up their one flaw - and even that is only a flaw in light of what used to be. Taqueria el Jalapeno is a step down from La Guanajuatense in salsa. Arguably Guanajuatense's greatest feature was its unrivaled salsa bar, which typically ranged from 4-8 self-serve salsa options (in fact, some speculate that this liberal salsa distribution was a partial cause of their downfall), including a simply delicious avocado-based green salsa. El Jalapeno does not present nearly as many options. The pre-meal chips came with a fairly mild tomato-based salsa that had a good amount of flavor and a medium-low level of chunkiness, and we got a separate squeeze bottle of a spicier red sauce-style salsa when our food came out. Don't get me wrong, both of these salsas were excellent - they just can't compete with a full salsa bar.

Overall, Taqueria El Jalapeno was worth the commute out to the west side (and, of course, followed up with the traditional session at Le Tigre). Hopefully I can venture out here more than I did for La Guanajuatense, because El Jalapeno deserves a long tenure on Midvale.

Reviewed by tacosmog.com on