J & V Mexican Restaurant: Slice of Mexico Off Gratiot
J & V Mexican Restaurant is a tiny place behind J & V Supermercado. Only open on weekends, it serves traditional, made-from-scratch Mexican cuisine.
Tradition and authenticity excite me. Slow cooking is no longer the norm; people are more concerned with convenience and speed.
Taco Bell has become what passes for Mexican food in the American psyche. Not only is this wrong, but it is insulting. Insulting to places like J & V Mexican Restaurant, where they take pride in their food and are presenting traditional dishes made from scratch.
J & V (behind J & V Supermercado on Gratiot in Chesterfield Township) is only open on weekends and is a cash-only restaurant. All of the food is prepared in-house, including the salsas. Two salsas—one green, one red—are served along with lime slices and thick flour tortilla chips.
The red salsa is made with tomatillos and chiles de arbol. Smoky with a tongue-tingling heat, red salsa is an ideal companion to pork and chicken. The green salsa is made with tomatillos and jalapenos. This salsa verde has a tangier, almost sour, flavor with more subdued heat—a perfect pair with fattier cuts of pork, beef head or tongue.
Less savory cuts of meat, such as tongue, beef head, pork maw (stomach), tripe (cow's stomach), and cesos (pig's brains) are on J & V's menu. Mexican food is egalitarian, so more expensive cuts are not always available. Do not raise your nose to these meats. They are prepared with love.
I sampled the beef head this time around (only because they were out of cesos for the day). Beef head (cabeza) can include any part of the cow's head, but many times it is the cheeks and lips. Intensely beefy and rich, cabeza is for serious beef lovers.
Tacos are served the traditional way: two corn tortillas followed by a layer of meat and topped with cilantro and onions. They come without cheese. In fact, you may be surprised to know cheese is rarely used in authentic Mexican cooking.
If offal meats aren't your thing, have no fear, J & V also has al pastor (marinated pork), asada (grilled beef steak), and carnitas (fried pork). Of these meats, I sampled the carnitas. They are delicately flavored and sumptuously tender. And, don't be surprised if you get a crispy fried chunk in your taco either. Perfectly seasoned meat on those pillowy tortillas with just enough fresh onion and cilantro is a dream and, when you add a splash of the chile de arbol salsa, you will swear you have left this world.
There are a number of seafood options on the menu as well. Tostada de Ceviche is a particularly delectable. Chunks of tilapia are lightly cooked and seasoned with lime juice, cilantro, onion, tomato, and garlic then topped with avocado and served on a crisp yellow corn tostada.
The tilapia's natural sweetness is accentuated by the lime's tartness. Add in the salty crunch of the tortilla and you have a winner. The creamy avocado and fresh onions and tomatoes add even more flavor to an already incredible tostada.
Even the rice and beans are made with care. The rice is fluffy and seasoned ever so gently. The beans are ultra smooth and creamy. Their luscious texture comes from the use of lard in the cooking process (another traditional technique). Beans and rice are pricey at $3, considering the Ceviche tostada is only $2.25, but don't skip them. Rice and beans this good don't come around often.
Also available are a number of Mexican sodas, including Pepsi and Coke both made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
J & V puts some serious thought and love into each and every dish coming out of that kitchen. Next time you are craving Mexican, skip Taco Bell and come see the folks at J & V for a truly exceptional Mexican dining experience.