After a wonderful culinary adventure with J. and a trip to a brewpub with Madge and Boris, it was time to get back to my discovery of good places for Mexican food. I, of course, am always up for decent Mexican food and love finding the little hole-in-the-wall eateries that seem to go unnoticed.
Juans Authentic Mexican Food is a place I have passed many times in my travels along Thomas Road in Phoenix. The little, non-descript building is stark white and except for the small sign out front, a quick blink and one would certainly miss the place. Luckily, I knew where it was and headed there hoping this would be at least decent Mexican food.
I arrived and found that you can only park in the back. When I pulled in, there were about 15 or so vehicles in the lot. I entered through the back and walked down the corridor toward the dining room. When I entered the dining room, in front of me and to my right were tables and booths mostly filled with a hungry lunch crowd. To my left was the open kitchen, with a huge menu board hanging above the grill. A steamtable in front was filled with rice, beans, machaca, and other items.
A man in front of me was ordering his lunch and I stepped up to place my order. The friendly woman asked if I was ordering to go or was eating inside the restaurant. I told her the latter and she invited me to grab a table and a server would be with me momentarily. I took a small table in the middle of the restaurant. In seconds, a very bright and cheery server arrived and handed me a menu and a glass of water. I ordered a large Diet Coke ($1.30) and my server disappeared.
Again, only a few moments passed and my server appeared with a bowl of chips, a little cauldron of salsa and my Diet Coke. The Diet Coke was notable in that it was served in a huge 44-ounce glass. Big points for that. The chips were fresh and room temperature. The salsa was on the thin side, but had a nice kick and a fresh taste. I enjoyed it and was happy that the serving bowl that held the salsa was large enough to accomodate a full chip.
At this point, I placed my order. I started out with a Cheese Crisp ($3.05) and then would continue with the #12 Combination ($6.59), which consisted of a Cheese Enchilada, a Shredded Beef Taco, a Tamale, Rice and Beans. My server disappeared and I started watching the Diamondbacks game on the TVs posted around the restaurant. The interior of the place had only a few decorations, but was brightly lit and quite comfortable. I like the fact that I could watch a bit of the frenetic action in the kitchen as plate lunches were being doled out.
About five minutes passed and my Cheese Crisp was delivered. I was disappointed. The appetizer had come out folded in half which technically made it a Quesadilla. Now, I know that people wonder what the difference is, but for me, I prefer a cheese crisp over a quesadilla because I like the crunchiness of the tortilla that is part of the charm (for me) of the cheese crisp. I am not against the quesadilla. It just isnt my preference. However, Juans quesadilla was pretty good. The tortilla was hot and fresh and the cheese fully melted, so it was very satisfying and I had no complaints about it, sans the name.
After another refill of my drink, I had just polished off the last of the chips when my meal arrived. A large platter was covered with my lunch. I was very happy that the edges of the food was still bubbling and everything was piping hot. Since I didnt want the taco shell to get soggy, I attacked that first. The taco was pretty good with a lightly seasoned shredded beef, crisp lettuce and a fair amount of cheese. A few pieces of fresh tomato were included as well. The shell was crisp and not greasy. All in all, a good taco, but I think I would have preferred a bit more seasoning in the meat.
The cheese enchilada was molten inside, which was fine with me. The cheese was gooey and delicious. The enchilada sauce had a nice amount of spice to it that made it stand out somewhat from ordinary enchilada sauce. The corn tortilla used for the enchilada was moist and very fresh with no signs of toughness. The beef tamale was decent. It had a nice balance of beef to masa. A bit of red enchilada sauce was spooned on top. The tamale was hot, moist and the meat tender. My only complaint was, like the taco meat, the beef in the tamale could have used a bit more seasoning.
The rice was pretty standard, but was moist and fluffy. The beans were creamy and tasty. I am pretty sure they had used lard in the cooking process which made the beans rich. The beans were definitely above average.
I finished my lunch and my server asked me if I wanted some dessert. I did, but I was stuffed. So, I simply asked for my bill. The total was a scant $11.95 which included tax. It was a super bargain. The service was efficient, friendly and my Diet Coke was kept filled, so I was very pleased. I paid my bill and eyed the steamtable with things I wanted to try the next time I went back to Juans.
I left the place and another wave of cars were pulling into Juans. The place is clearly popular. Considering the quality of the food and the low prices, I am not surprised. Juans is not gourmet or anything more than just a place to get a good Mexican plate lunch of Sonoran-style food. With the exception of the name issue on the cheese crisp, I had very few reservations about recommending this place.
Yes, yes, I am a defender of the cheese crisp. There fate of the Republic depends upon this.
Juans Authentic Mexican Food
1516 East Thomas
Phoenix, AZ 85014
Notes: Parking in back. Fight the oppression against the cheese crisp!