hot ticket: jalapeño southwest grill.

burgIMG_6299There’s a new kid in town, and he’s HOT. And saucy. And bright and vibrant and fun. His name is Jalapeño, and you can find him near the Food Lion on Port Republic Road. Brandy, Ben, my kids, and I all managed to get our schedules aligned one night recently and decided to pay him a quick visit.

Once there we were shown to a large booth in their clean and tidy dining room. The textured walls, wooden tables, and simple artwork balanced the festive plates, colorful cocktails, and warmly lit bar. I unpacked “the bag”– a bag of assorted crap and whatnots that we never leave home without. Comic books, sketchbooks, paper, a coffee tin of colored pencils, a deck of cards; and the kids were happy. We ordered the signature Jalapeno Margarita, a Three Brothers Hoptimization, a Corona, and a Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, and the adults were happy. (Yes, that’s four drinks for three people. Brandy and I shared the margarita, thankyouverymuch.)

burgIMG_6243 burgIMG_6252 burgIMG_6274burgIMG_6257The menu has lots of variety, and the portions are generous. It took us forever but we finally ordered Arroz Con Pollo (rice topped with queso dip, chicken strips, grilled onions, mushrooms, four-color peppers with soft corn or flour tortillas); Tacos Al Pastor (corn tortillas with marinated pork and pineapple, pico de gallo and a side of spicy salsa and lime, served with your choice of Amazing Fries, rice and beans, or house salad); and a Steak Quesadilla, served with a side of romaine lettuce, pico de gallo and sour cream, plus  your choice of Amazing Fries, rice and beans, or house salad.

burgIMG_6272 burgIMG_6281We also ordered a “Create Your Own” burrito, which was the size of a small infant. The server actually handed Brandy an order form and she checked off all the fillings and toppings she wanted, from meat or fish or BACON to an assortment of veggies and special toppings like Chipotle Mango Pineapple Salsa. And rounding out our party of five, an order of chicken tenders (good grief. My son can beat every level on Super Mario Bros 2 in 45 minutes and can crack a joke every ten seconds, but he can’t eat a dang taco). To say the least, everything was delicious and gobbled up much too quickly.

burgIMG_6285 burgIMG_6291We were much too full for dessert, but I can’t wait to go back and try the cheesecake taco. While Brandy and I chatted, and Bree put her nose back in whatever 700-page book she was reading, Ben was nice enough to entertain Cal with a game of rock-paper-scissors-bunny-soup-lighter. In case you weren’t sure, bunny beats paper and soup, but not lighter, rock, or scissors.

Jalapeño Southwest Grill is located at 1039 Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg. Hope to see you there soon!

winter thaw: el charro.

el charro signOne of my favorite things about living in the Valley is that we get to enjoy all four seasons. The lush spring time when tender new plants sprout up and spread across the surface of local farms; summers full of sunshine and laughter, trips to the river and the pool… and when everything delicious is in season; gorgeous autumns when the trees bleed vibrant red and the sun slants in a sleepy kind of way through the panes flanking my front door; and crisp, snowy winters marked by eating Cheez-its and drinking hot chocolate in a sheet fort in the basement. But, I really don’t do well in the cold. Right now as I’m typing this, it’s twelve degrees outside. I’m wearing all my regular clothes, plus two bathrobes. I’m skinny and I have bad circulation, and most days, I just can’t warm up without getting in the bath tub. Obviously that’s not possible at my workplace, so I just shiver all day and seek out warm spots where I can. And given that I can’t just pack up and escape to the Caribbean any old time I want, I seek out warmth right here, in my city.

On one such chilly day recently, I was, as usual, cold to the bone. It had been a demanding day at work, the sun was quickly disappearing, and I had a bad case of the “I don’t wanna’s.” I didn’t want to walk outside and scurry awkwardly in my heels to the car only to get home, make dinner, clean up the kitchen, and grade papers. So I met Brandy and the kids at one of the warmest spots in the Burg – El Charro!

It was especially warm when I arrived because sweet Ella had written our names on each of our napkins. And warmer still because Brandy had already ordered a pitcher of Dos Equis. Yes! Let the thaw begin.

el charro foodanddrinkWe ordered chicken and steak fajitas, a hot dog and cheese quesadillas for the girls, and Cal got his favorite thing in the world: “spicy rice.” That kid loves El Charro’s rice. He’s even asked for it for breakfast before. ??? Anyway, I’ve loved this restaurant since I moved here in 1993. The food is delicious and reasonably priced, the atmosphere is always cheery, the service is perfect every time, and the staff is just soooo nice. When my kids were babies, someone was always willing to carry them around for a little while so I could eat.

el charro fajitasWe had supplies to keep the kids occupied while we waited for our food, but honestly, you never have to wait long in that place. I’d recently tried a “love notes to strangers” project with my students (inspired by a woman named Hannah Brencher), where you write little encouraging messages and leave them for random people to find. When I left my classroom that day, I grabbed the box of leftover supplies from that project and brought it. Maybe our kids would want to write some love notes.

Boy, did they ever! They scribbled cute little messages on pieces of construction paper and stealthily hid them throughout the restaurant. One said, “Hi. This note says you are loved.” Left on the toilet paper roll in the men’s room. And Ella wrote one that said, “You might be different, but you’re awesome!” Bree asked, “Can we write jokes? Like ‘I farted?’” Uh, no. “Sorry,” she said. “Salsa gets me going.” Oh, geez. Anyway, the kids tucked their notes between packets of Sweet-N-Low, within the stack of rolled silverware, in the leaves of a potted plant, and other such clandestine locations. By now we were all warming up.

el charro table el charro love noteBehind us an employee was totaling a bill on one of those adding machines – you know, the kind with the little spool of paper. Brandy commented that it sounded like a rotary phone. Then we remembered how fun it is to dial a rotary phone. Like when you’re angry, you can really rip that dial (even though it infuriatingly returns at its slow, pre-set speed). You can’t dial angrily on your iPhone. But with the rotary phone, as Brandy pointed out, you have time to think twice about calling someone when you’re angry.

We warmed up there for quite some time, laughing and chatting and stuffing ourselves. The kids played a few rounds of cards, and then an elbow-licking contest occurred. No one won. Meh. When I got home, I didn’t need to climb into the bath. I felt toasty, through and through.

el charro elbow el charro cardsEl Charro has three locations: South Main (where we went), East Market Street, and the newest one on Port Republic Road. A sunny spot to warm yourself is never far away.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.