Puerto Vallarta Fare to Please American Tastes : Mexican Joe's Restaurant Serves Northern Cuisine in New Location at Owner's Home

Times Staff Writer

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.

MEXICAN JOE'S

NACHOS

4 corn tortillas

Oil for deep-frying

1/2 cup refried beans

1 1/2 cups shredded Jack cheese

Guacamole

Sour cream

1 small tomato, seeded and diced

Green Sauce

Red Sauce

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.

Guacamole

4 avocados

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons lime juice

2 small serrano chiles, finely chopped

2 tablespoons evaporated milk

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt

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.

Green Sauce

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.

Red Sauce

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/4 medium onion, chopped

1 serrano chile, chopped

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon lime juice

Salt

Combine tomatoes, onion, chile, cilantro, vinegar and lime juice and season to taste with salt. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

CHARRO SOUP

1 pound pinto beans

3 quarts water

1 onion

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 pound bacon, diced

1/2 pound chorizo, diced

2 cups diced green pepper

12 corn tortillas

Oil for deep-frying

3 cups shredded Jack cheese

Wash beans, place in Dutch oven and add water. Bring to boil and boil 2 minutes. Cover and let stand 1 hour. Add onion, garlic and salt and simmer until beans are tender, about 45 minutes.

Cook bacon, chorizo and green pepper together in skillet over low heat 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.

Cut tortillas into thin strips. Fry in deep oil until crisp. Drain and set aside. When beans are tender, add bacon mixture, cover and simmer 20 to 25 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips and cheese. Makes about 8 servings.

MANGO CHANGA

1 (1-pound 4-ounce) can sliced mangoes in heavy syrup

1 tablespoon red wine

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Dash cinnamon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pastry

Oil for deep-frying

Cinnamon sugar

Butter pecan ice cream

Cajeta Sauce

Drain mangoes, reserving syrup. Combine syrup, wine, vanilla and cinnamon in saucepan. Stir some of mixture into cornstarch until smooth, then add cornstarch to remainder. Bring to boil and simmer, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat. Cut mango slices into chunks and add to mixture. Cool, then chill.

Prepare Pastry. Divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into circle 8 inches in diameter. Place about 1/4 cup chilled filling in center. Fold edges of dough over filling, then roll burrito style to enclose completely. Fasten with wood picks.

Heat oil for deep-frying to 400 degrees. Fry each dough bundle until crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes, turning to brown each side. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. To serve, top with large scoop of butter pecan ice cream. Drizzle Cajeta Sauce over ice cream. Serve at once. Makes 8 servings.

Pastry

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1/2 cup ice water

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture is consistency of coarse meal. Add just enough water to make soft dough. Knead lightly until smooth.

Cajeta Sauce

1/2 cup bottled cajeta

1 tablespoon milk or rompope

Place cajeta in saucepan. Add milk and heat, stirring, until blended.

Note: Cajeta, a thick mixture of milk boiled with sugar, is available in many Mexican markets. Other caramel topping may be substituted, if necessary.

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