After putting over 200,000 miles on my car over the past six plus years, I had to get a new car a few weeks ago and I took my time in trying to figure out what I wanted. My wife and I were in Muscatine looking at cars at a dealership and we decided to head downtown to look for someplace to eat. My wife spied a Mexican food place on the east side of 2nd St. by the name of Guadalajara. (see map) It looked inviting enough for us to stop and give it a try.
There's a large Mexican population in the Muscatine area thanks to hundreds of migrant farm workers who stayed in the area years ago after coming up to the U.S. to work in the melon fields in the Mississippi River valley. The Vazquez family - Ramiro and Lupe - were entrenched in the Muscatine community for a number of years, Ramiro owning his own construction company, and Lupe working for the local school district. An opportunity to buy and run their own restaurant came up nearly seven years ago and the Vasquez's jumped at the chance mainly for their love of homemade Mexican food and the recipes that had been handed down in the family.
The original Guadalajara was a small place on the west side of 2nd St. But in a short time, the Vazquez's bought a building directly across the street more than doubling their capacity. In the fall of 2013, the owner of the building right next to theirs came to the couple with a proposition - the breakfast/lunch shop next door was moving and would they be interested in expanding their restaurant into that space. Lupe Vazquez had longed for a larger and more efficient kitchen and now was the chance to get it. Ramiro Vazquez's construction company did the remodeling of the space, putting in a much larger kitchen, more seating for the restaurant and less waiting times for patrons. The expanded dining room, along with the new kitchen, opened in the early summer of 2014. When the Vazquez's first opened for business across the street, they had a staff of one cook and two servers. Today, Guadalajara has a staff of four cooks and 24 servers.
We were greeted just inside the front door by a young lady who guided us to the new part of Guadalajara and put us in a spacious booth that would have comfortably seated a family of six. She dropped off a couple menus for us and a short time later another young lady dropped off a basket of fresh tortilla chips and some salsa.
The menu at Guadalajara is pretty extensive. Entrees include steak and/or shrimp platters, chicken specialties and combination plates. Appetizers, soups and tortas are also available. Everything looked to be authentic Mexican fare.
A separate part of the menu featured health conscious dishes Guadalajara serves up as part of the Blue Zones Project - a healthy living and eating initiative that is being implemented at schools and restaurants across the state of Iowa. Low fat and low sodium dishes are available at Guadalajara as part of the Blue Zones Project menu.
Our server Alexandra came over to greet us while we were looking through the menu and asked what we'd like to get. I ordered up a bottle of the Dos Equis Amber beer while Cindy went with a margarita. It turned out that Cindy's margarita was almost too sweet and somewhat syrupy.
I immediately found what I wanted to get for dinner, the enchiladas verdes - enchiladas filled with one choice of meat (steak, ground beef, chicken, pork al pastor, lengua - or beef tongue - and chorizo) and topped with a green chile sauce. I picked the pork al pastor for my meat filling. Cindy was having a more difficult time figuring out what she wanted, but she ended up getting the combo fajitas - steak, chicken and shrimp.
We've found that good Mexican food takes time and it was over 15 minutes from the time we ordered to the time that the food made it to our table. And it wasn't because there were a lot of people in the place. And the food looked good. My plate was full of refried beans, Mexican rice, and three medium sized enchiladas. A generous dollop of guacamole was included on the plate - a nice touch, I thought.
Cindy's fajitas were still sizzling when they brought them to the table. She immediately began to stir them up - a trick we learned years ago to keep the meat and veggies on the plate from getting burned on one side. A separate large plate of refried beans, rice, chopped tomatoes and guacamole came with the fajita meat.
I decided that I need some additional chile verde sauce and I flagged down Alexandra to ask for some. I will say that her service was very good - she kept checking on us before and during the dinner without being obtrusive. She cheerfully took care of any request - more chips, more salsa, more beer - that we had.
The al pastor enchiladas were very good. The pork had been simmered in spices and had a wonderful quality fresh taste. Along with the chile verde sauce and the guacamole, the al pastor enchiladas were very good. If I had a quibble with the taste, it was that it was too salty for my tastes.
Cindy declared her fajitas to be very good, as well, however she felt the meat was also too salty. She was eating the meat off the hotplate and picking at the rice and beans on her plate. She offered me a bite of the fajita meat and I tried some of the steak. The seasoning was a little salty, but the overall taste was delicious.
The portions were huge, so big that we couldn't even begin to finish all of the items we had on our plates. It didn't help that the fresh chips and the excellent salsa served before we ordered our meals were devoured rather quickly.
Our experience at Guadalajara was nothing but positive. The food was very good and very authentic, albeit a little too salty for our tastes. The service from Alexandra and the others who helped out was excellent. We were comfortable and at ease in the new dining space at Guadalajara. In an area where there's a significant Hispanic population you should be able to find a very good Mexican restaurant. And we found one with Guadalajara.