Cooper: Alejandro’s food humbly satiates hangover hunger


Matt Cooper

The Hot Cheetos Quesadilla at Alejandro’s is a stupendously large offering of steak filled tortilla accented with Monterey Jack cheese sauce, Pico de Gallo and cilantro. It’s menu price is $6.50.

Let’s be honest about our stomachs for a moment. Mexican takeout is a staple in the American culinary experience, without which, the continental diet would suffer from a general lack of piquant.

That said, lovers of the made-to-order Sancho and corn tortilla cradled Taino style Barbacoas are constantly on the prowl for a cheap meal. At Alejandro’s Mexican Food on south Rock, that is just what one runs across at a premium. Prices here are humble and the tastes are a middle finger to the likes of Taco Bell and Chipotle.

The Scene:

Alejandro’s facade is a bit gnarly. Save for a plain white and red sign reading, “Mexican Food” and a broken flickering LED screen displaying the letters “ALEJ…”, the place is a bit ramshackle.

Dining arrangements tell a similar story. Simple, aged wooden tables and chairs dwell under fluorescent lights. You could call it bleak, but I wouldn’t for a handful of reasons.

Upon entrance, patrons can hear the bubbling simmers of tortillas being prepared by the dozen. Order upon order hollered from clerk to cook to prep-staff — the whole rigmarole in a hearty Spanglish — are rattled off in an endless stream.

And, of course, there is the penetrating excitement of announcers being streamed to customers eager to catch a soccer match between America and Cruz Azul over a course of cheap salsa, guac, and carne asada. All is rounded off by art on the walls reminiscent of social realist painters Wood, Orozco and Diego Rivera.

Clearly something matters at Alejandro’s outside of aesthetics.

The Food:

Alejandro’s dishes are a masterwork in the art of serving food for the cash-strapped hungry person, and is done with flair. Take one of their newest offerings for example.

  • The Hot Cheetos Quesadilla ($6.50): This is a mammoth flour tortilla served in two halves and stuffed with either steak, chicken or ground beef. Accouterments include gratuitous amounts of cheddar, and Monterey Jack, mixed with Pico de Gallo topped with sour cream and cilantro. The zenith ingredient is without a doubt the crumbled Hot Cheetos filling which makes the flavor of the quesadilla pop in a seriously hedonistic way. You know after the first bite that this is something completely onerous — nay, destructive — to one’s health. But in the end, you just don’t care. It’s that good; a pure work of culinary art.
  • Fish Tacos ($2.15):  Many Midwesterners grimace at the idea of fish tacos. However, if you’ve never had one,  Alejandro’s is a cheap satisfying place to start. Their take on the Baja classic is a generous helping of corn flour breaded catfish inside a flour tortilla. It’s stuffed with fresh lettuce, Pico, onion, cilantro and a glaze of blended sour cream yogurt infused with lemon juice.
  • Rolled Taco Taquitos (Order of 4 for $4.15): The taquitos might be the most humbly priced item on Alejandro’s menu. They are reminiscent of the frozen Delimex rolled tacos we’ve all eaten. Yet, there’s something distinct about these. Served on a bed of shredded cheddar and stuffed with peppered, simmered ground beef rolled in corn tortillas, Alejandro’s rendition of the taquito is a hearty undertaking. This is simple, cheap, addictive finger food smothered in Monterey jack cheese.

The Service:

To be curt, service at Alejandro’s is a “you get what you pay for” affair. To-go orders often result in cold tacos and tepid, sour salsa-verde. Communication with wait staff is generally shaky and ends in mistakes being made with requests for certain dishes. If you order something rarely requested, there’s a chance you might end up with something not so savory.

My biggest gripe? Alejandro’s once jipped me for an order of churros. As their churros are the best in Wichita, the experience left me peeved.

However, Alejandro’s makes up for it in heartfelt ways.

For instance, on one trip there my debit card was declined and I didn’t have any cash. In response, the manager asked me if I could pay the next time I came in. I said yes and my order of two fish tacos with an order of queso and chips was served to me without hesitation.

The Bad With the Good:

Alejandro’s is rough and a bit aesthetically bereft. The wait staff makes mistakes on a semi-regular basis. It’s hard to find if you’ve never been. They rip you off for desserts, get orders mixed up and more often than not speak little English. But then again, how many American readers and consumers can speak a word of Spanish or any other language for that matter?

Alejandro’s teaches a lesson in cultural humility. And that’s what I think restaurants of the same like are all about. The food and environment at Alejandro’s embody the ethos of what it means to be a surviving independent entity. Offering authentic dishes that are righteous with flavor and easy on the wallet is a virtue not many exemplify.

Alejandro’s emanates the genuineness which comes alongside the reality of imperfection.

A stop for a perfect hangover cure or midnight snack of churros and carne asada, Alejandro’s serves as a prime example of continental-Mexican takeout.