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For Dinner on My 34th Birthday: “Javelina True Tex Mex”

I love Mexican food. It is right up there along with coffee and pizza. I should also include French fries (and anything else that is French) as well as Doritos. Pretty much anything that includes a non-healthy dose of salt.

I could eat Mexican food everyday and not get sick of it. I mean who doesn’t love cheese, rice, guacamole, sour cream, and beans? If you happen to fit into that group I truly feel sorry for you. You are definitely missing out. If nothing else go for a margarita as surely alcohol attracts just about everyone.

When it was time to plan this year’s birthday dinner I knew I wanted to try a place I haven’t been before. So I did what I normally do when I need advise, I turned to my blog. There I looked up my to do list and selected a few of the restaurants I have been aching to try. From there the word “Javelina” jumped out to me and I knew I had found the perfect place for dinner on my thirty-fourth birthday.

The only other time I have had real Mexican food for my birthday was when I was about twenty-seven. Yes I am old enough now to begin to forget things. For that birthday I had a great group of family and friends come out to celebrate. We went to Rosa Mexicano, a restaurant that is now practically everywhere. But back then it was only about to open its second location in Manhattan.

It was the first place I went to where they made the guacamole at the table. Needless to say that sight was life changing. This is not exactly a surprise as they have been making it since 1984, long before I even knew what guacamole was. This dish has been legendary and if you ask they will even give you an index card with their original recipe on it.

However I have to say that my first experience at Rosa Mexicano ended with the guacamole. I wasn’t the foodie that I am now so I wasn’t prepared for actual Mexican food that didn’t taste like it came out of an El Paso kit. I didn’t even know what mole sauce was! I know I can hardly believe that happened to me either. The last thing I remember of that night, or at least at the restaurant, was having pomegranate margaritas and a contest with my cousin over who could have more. After that, the night sort of comes and goes in my mind even now. I guess that means he won.

Since then I have had many meals containing the ingredients that constitute Mexican food but I know now that it was only versions of that familiar grocery store brand. I now know I was not experiencing quality but rather fast food options disguised as the real deal.

Javelina came to me via foodie God Pete Wells, the current restaurant reviewer for The New York Times. I should probably mention that I worship at the temple of Pete Wells. He has a talent for saying exactly what he means when he means it. Sometimes it is even mean but not for the sake of cruelty, but rather brutal honesty. It is technically his job. I appreciate his sense of tastes and short synopsis. I have never disagreed with a Pete Wells approved restaurant. This is what turned my attention toward Javelina. Thus it is no small feat that this establishment managed to get Pete to write: “Lucky for me, I have only good things to say about Javelina.”

Furthermore this is how he described the atmosphere:

“Javelina’s 58 seats always seem to be taken by large groups of people shouting with youthful animation. It always sounds as if somebody were telling a woman at the far end of the table that he had just found $1,000 under the menu, and the women were shouting back that Ryan Gosling had just texted and he’s coming to the restaurant in, like, five minutes!”

When I reread this review for this blog, it was this description that made me smile. I now can appreciate this description but would like to add that the room is full of fun, happy customers, where no one is over whelmed by the noise.  It is like going to a party you hadn’t planned on attending but are so glad you did. I did not know this ahead of time but it was certainly a large part of why I had a great time at my birthday dinner.

As soon as we sat down I began ordering right away. I needed a frozen strawberry margarita and white queso black bean dip along with their guacamole. The handmade tortilla chips came out piping hot and went down faster than I could chew them. The frozen margarita was exactly what I have been craving for as long as I can remember. I had been disappointed many, many times this year.

I wanted so many things on the menu but went with my gut and got the steak fajitas. Usually the only place I get them is in a Friday’s type restaurant, not the quality I am looking for. Chicken enchiladas were a big hit and I intend to get them next time. The chicken fried-steak looked tasty but was different than the Southern version more commonly associated with the name.

I literally could not have been more pleased with my food. The rice, beans, refried beans, tortillas, sides, everything was amazing. Each individual item was the best I have had and I could eat that by itself. But put all together in making my fajita was the ultimate reward. I would have liked my steak cooked a little longer and cut up into smaller pieces but that is all I have to critique. It was definitely one of the best birthday meals of my life. I already know three people that I promised I would go back with so I am confident I will not develop separation anxiety any time soon.

The meal ends with a dish of sopaipillas, which are delicious fried dough pieces served alongside a caramel sauce. They resemble beignets from New Orleans and zeppoles from Italian feasts. It was the perfect dessert; light and crispy and all together perfect by themselves. It didn’t hurt that I had a candle in a sugar filled miniature cactus so that they could sing happy birthday to me. I was so full that when I arrived home I had no room for my birthday dessert. That is a rare event.

Our waitress Elena was fantastic, polite, informative, and not over bearing in the least. It also didn’t hurt that when I gave her my business card she came back to comment on how memorable the name of my blog was. I hope to have her as a reader from now on.

The restaurant itself is very deceiving from the outside. It appears narrow and short. However once you enter it is like you have been transported out of New York City. There are cacti in lights in the entrance and smaller ones hanging all around the room. The lighting is bright but not so that it would trigger a migraine (practically a miracle for me). The temperature was just right. While it was packed I was never pushed or knocked into. The space was laid out properly. Add in the fact that they fully implemented their Tex-Mex cactus theme and I was in my glory.

It is only now that I have found out what a javelina is. I thought it was Spanish for a word but couldn’t find it anywhere. On the restaurants blog, written by the owner Matt Post, he describes his affinity for Texas and much of his youth that he spent exploring the countryside. It is then when he mentions casually that “a javelina is a peccary which is a medium-sized animal, with a strong resemblance to pigs.” Then I proceeded to make the mistake to look it up in Google Images. Please do not do this before you eat at Javelina or anywhere else. Thank heavens I didn’t.

I can’t believe that such a creature is behind the name of something I love. In order to make peace with this unusual connection I have decided that the name Javelina was a sign that I would be eating like a pig while I was there. Plus as Matt would say, “it is really fun to say.”

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