The carne asada sings at Southwest Detroit’s La Jalisciense

Tucked in a grocery store, this spot produces some of Detroit’s finest Mexican food

Apr 27, 2022 at 4:00 am
La Jalisciense’s pambazo makes one wonder why more sandwich bread isn’t dipped in hot sauce and fried.
La Jalisciense’s pambazo makes one wonder why more sandwich bread isn’t dipped in hot sauce and fried. Tom Perkins

In the realm of Detroit’s elite tacos, carne asada is underrepresented. Just haven’t found many that dazzle, as they seem to be an afterthought that lives in the shadow of so many excellent al pastors. But not at La Jalisciense, where the asada pops.

My suspicion is that La Jalisciense enlivens it with a citrus-heavy marinade and uses a more tender cut of beef. Regardless, La Jaliscience produces some of Detroit’s finest carne asada tacos, and that seems to be the name of the game at the restaurant: the menu is standard, offering traditional Jaliscan fare that’s not hard to find in Detroit, but they make the standards really sing like few places in town.

The al pastor is salty, slightly sweet, and the chorizo is bright, while the carnitas is moist and rich with a lightly crisp exterior.

La Jaliciense is located in a grocery store of the same name, and the Vargas-Lopez family has operated the Vernor restaurant for about eight years. The interior is generally bare-bones with the exception of a replica beach bar in the corner that adds a festive element, and is part of a recent makeover that included a new facade. On both visits the restaurant was entirely staffed by kids who didn’t seem to be old enough to drive to work. But look — they run a tighter ship than most, the service was excellent. Good work, kids.

Tacos aside, the goat birria is a big-flavored crowd-pleaser. Like the best birria, La Jaliscience’s version is a deep and rich stew with goat that’s fall-apart tender, and flavored with garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, and a range of other spices and aromatics. It’s brightened with guajillos chile, which is more tangy and fruity than spicy. Beef seems to be more common in birria in the U.S., but the goat reigns at La Jalisciense. Get it in taco or stew form, and liberally add cilantro and diced onion.

Another banger is the pambazo, a volcanic-red sandwich whose bread is first dipped in a guajillo chile sauce, then fried. The name comes from the word pan basso, or “low-class bread,” made with extra lard or butter. The telera rolls are soft and similar to French bread, and it’s all enough to make one wonder why more sandwich bread isn’t dipped in hot sauce and fried. The sausage and potato version comes with La Jaliscinece’s excellent chorizo with hunks of potato, shredded lettuce that provides a light crunch, crema, and crumbles of soft queso fresco, the latter of which adds a welcome cooling element to the lively package.

It’s hard not to think of Steak-umms in the “dried meat,” or cecina (which isn’t actually all that dry) — sheet-thin strips of steak served with sauteed onions and rice and beans. But imagine if Steak-umms were actually good and held a Mexican vibe from a chile-driven marinade, then were wrapped up in the warm corn tortillas. The chile rellenos does what a chile relleno should, which is to offer two big pasilla chiles swimming in a bright red ranchero sauce and stuffed with soft, melted, gooey Oaxacan cheese.

The dessert menu is robust – cakes, milkshakes, churros, and more, and choose from a range of mocktails and fruit drinks like horchata, pineapple, cantaloupe, tamarind, hibiscus, mango, lime, and cucumber. And the bar has everything from the Tecate to micheladas to a spiked horchata with banana liqueur served on the rocks.

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