PUERTO VALLARTA — It wasn't enough for Joe Ramirez to attach his name to his restaurant. Now he has moved Mexican Joe's onto the second floor of his house in this Mexican resort town.
The new location is two blocks north of the old site, the Hotel Palacio Blanco. Before the move, it took a breathless climb up several flights of stairs to reach the restaurant, which occupied a terrace atop the hotel. That exertion was rewarded with a spectacular view of the coastline curving around Banderas Bay and a menu of the sort of Mexican dishes Americans love.
Not much has changed. Mexican Joe's is still a terrace restaurant. And the cooking is still northern Mexican, the same type that predominates in the United States. An American visitor would feel quite comfortable ordering nachos as a starter, then proceeding to a combination platter that includes chimichangas, a burrito, an enchilada, a chile relleno and tiny gorditas stuffed with shredded beef and guacamole. There are sopapillas, too, excellent ones, each order accompanied by a little pottery jug of honey.
Ramirez knows American tastes well because he vacations in Phoenix. If anything, the food is better than that his customers normally eat because of the freshness and native character of the ingredients. Chiles rellenos are filled with Chihuahua cheese rather than Jack. The chiles, tomatillos and tomatoes used in the salsas are very fresh. Local beans rather than American pintos are used for soup and refried beans. And the tortillas have more character.
Another plus is excellent seafood. One night, the management put together a beautiful platter of shrimp prepared four ways--breaded, garlic-flavored, plain and mariposa style, which means butterflied in the shell and grilled.
What Americans might miss is that basic Mexican cocktail, the Margarita. Mexican Joe's serves no tequila or other hard liquor. Wine and beer are available, and an evening can be sweetened very nicely with Champbrule, a sweet sparkling wine made in the state of Mexico.
Menu Easy to Reproduce
Three of Mexican Joe's specialties combine in a menu that is easy to reproduce in the United States. They are nachos, Charro Soup and an unusual mango dessert.
At the restaurant, the nachos are prepared chip by chip, and the cheese is melted with a blowtorch, which can be replaced in the home kitchen with a hot oven or broiler. A very hot green sauce, a milder red sauce and guacamole accompany the nachos.
In Puerto Vallarta, the Charro Soup is made with azufrado beans and Chihuahua cheese, which translate to pinto beans and Jack cheese in the United States. Bacon and chorizo give it meaty flavor.
Mango Changa is a luscious three-part dessert well worth the effort required to make it. The base is a small deep-fried "burrito" that contains a thick mango filling. On top of that goes a scoop of butter pecan ice cream. The final touch is a sauce made with caramel-like cajeta. At Mexican Joe's the cajeta is thinned with rompope, the Mexican eggnog liquor. If that is not available, milk can be substituted.
For those traveling to Puerto Vallarta, the restaurant's new address is 1283 Calle Ecuador, and the phone number for reservations is 2-44-75. Lunch and dinner are served daily.
4 corn tortillas
Oil for deep-frying
1/2 cup refried beans
1 1/2 cups shredded Jack cheese
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
Cut each tortilla into 6 wedges. Deep-fry wedges in oil until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Paint each wedge with about 1 teaspoon refried beans. Place on heat-proof serving platter. Top with shredded cheese. Place in hot oven or under broiler just long enough to melt cheese. Do not allow tortilla chips to burn.
Top each chip with 1 heaping teaspoon Guacamole, then about 1/2 teaspoon sour cream. Place a few pieces diced tomato on top of sour cream. Place more Guacamole in center of platter. Serve Green Sauce and Red Sauce on side. Makes 4 servings.
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 small serrano chiles, finely chopped
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 teaspoon olive oil
Peel avocados. Place in bowl and mash coarsely. Add onion, lime juice, chiles, milk and olive oil and season to taste with salt. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
1/4 pound (about 1 cup) serrano chiles
1 1/2 large tomatoes
1/4 large onion
1 small clove garlic
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash white pepper
1 tablespoon oil
Place chiles, tomatoes, onion and garlic in saucepan. Add water almost to cover, bring to boil and cook until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Drain. Turn into blender. Add cloves, cumin, salt and pepper and blend. Heat oil in skillet. Add sauce and bring to boil. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes, until cooked. Remove from heat and cool. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.
Note: Sauce will be very hot. Reduce quantity of chiles, if desired.
2 medium tomatoes, chopped