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By Nathalie Taylor
Special to Village News 

Viva El Jardin and its enticing menu items!


Last updated 4/2/2018 at 12:10am

Steam rises from the enticing shrimp fajita mix. Nathalie Taylor photos

El Jardin is a cheerful setting bathed in lilting music. El Jardin is aromatic scents. This Mexican restaurant couldn’t be more welcoming. However, the warm and congenial setting is not the only facet that makes this establishment a success. Jon Large, proprietor, is constantly looking at ways to improve upon the menu while, at the same time, leaving the successful, tried-and-true dishes alone. It is a balancing act. The creative energy that emerges from Jon, and spills over to the staff, is the inspiration for new menu specials that are debuting in 2017. Prepare for a zesty journey peppered with spices, sauces, and a mélange of marvelous tastes.

When I dine out I usually order entrées that have such convoluted recipes that I would never attempt to make them at home. But, sometimes I get stuck and order the same dishes – over and over. Like the chimichangas at El Jardin, which I adore, especially when smothered in their award-winning guacamole. It is the stuff dreams are made of. But, stop right there – El Jardin’s menu is so much more than chimis! So, I decided to spice up my life by trying other zesty El Jardin menu items, such as "Achiote Salmon," "Steak Rancheros,” and “Shrimp Fajitas.”

I love salmon – prepared in any manner – smoked, baked, broiled, fried, as sushi… I had better stop before I start sounding like that guy in the “Forest Gump” shrimp scene. I have to say that El Jardin’s "Achiote Salmon" ranks among the best salmon I have tasted – and I have tasted a lot of salmon – and in places where it really shines – Norway, Sweden, Scotland and Alaska.

What makes El Jardin’s "Achiote Salmon" so amazing? It all starts with fresh, wild-caught salmon. Then, the salmon (8-oz.) is marinated for 18-24 hours in a house-made achiote marinade. Achiote is a flavoring made from the seed of the annatto tree, which is grown in the Yucatan area of Mexico. The red-hued seed is ground into a paste, mixed with other spices and thinned a bit with water. The achiote lends an intense, slightly sweet, peppery flavor. After marinating the salmon, it is grilled, then served with grilled vegetables, rice, and a verde cheese enchilada. Perfecto!

The “Steak Ranchero,” a new menu item, was an idea a long time in the making. Jon searched for a certified “USDA Prime” flat iron steak that was affordable. He not only found one, but was able to offer it at a price lower than diners might find elsewhere.

The steak, of course, is cooked to order. When I asked Jon what he recommended, he said “The longer you cook a steak, the more flavor you are going to cook out of it.”

The well-marbled flat iron steak is bathed in a house-made – skillfully blended – light ranchero sauce, and then topped with sautéed mushrooms. The ranchero sauce not only enhances the beef, but gives it a zesty flavor. The dish is served with rice and beans and a choice of flour or corn tortillas.

The “Sizzling Shrimp Fajitas” start with medium to large shrimp, which are cooked to perfection. “The key to good shrimp is cooking it right,” Jon explained, “You want it to be crisp, not chewy or too hard.”

The shrimp are drenched in a secret, house-made sauce, then grilled, which lends a slightly smoky flavor. The shrimp are served sizzling – with steam rising – from a cast-iron pan. I wrapped my shrimp, grilled bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms in a warm flour tortilla. I could hardly wait to eat it – the aroma was so enticing! The flavor was even better than the aroma – all the preparation and attention to detail made for a succulent and savory shrimp fajita.

Jon’s family has owned the restaurant for five years, and in those five years they have enhanced the community in various ways, including hosting fundraisers. Jon even promotes the other local restaurants and eats at their establishments. El Jardin also provides a service to the town by offering a family-friendly environment in which to dine.

Wild-caught salmon is featured in the zesty "Achiote Salmon" entree. (Wild-caught salmon is featured in the zesty "Achiote Salmon" entree.)

El Jardin was chosen the 2016 Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year. With over 500 business members from which to choose, this was quite a distinguished honor.

Be on the lookout for the new “3 – 4 – 5 – Saturdays,” when the restaurant will be offering three-dollar beer, four-dollar tacos and five-dollar Cadillac margaritas. The tacos are terrific – including some exotic choices. “Indian Tacos” are made with shredded pork and chipotle aioli sauce layered on Indian “naan bread” with cabbage. The “Langostino Lobster Tacos,” are made with grilled langostino infused with lobster cream sauce. Sounds great to me! See you there!

El Jardin Mexican Restaurant is located at 1581 South Mission Road in Fallbrook, Calif. The telephone number is (760) 728-4556. Find them on the web at: and also on Facebook.

This article was published January 15, 2017.


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