Thursday, April 28, 2011


As my husband Jack was driving me and Niles friends Jerry and Barb on one of the rare occasions that we didn't know ahead of time where we wanted to have dinner, Barb and I started digging through our purses and flipping through the extra Entertainment Book I keep in the car for discount coupons, figuring that would help us decide. We started to laugh, but then reality hit as Barb asked, "When was the last time you ate out without using a coupon?"

Fact is, it's hard to remember. And to underscore the importance of coupons to the restaurant industry these days, I'll say that without this kind of incentive -- this time in the form of a gift card our "kids" Chris and Jerry gave us for Christmas -- we might never have tried a place that's since become a favorite: Mojo's Pub & Grill.

I mention this because I'm pretty sure most restaurants view coupons as a necessary evil -- emphasis on the evil part. On occasion, I suppose they are; I admit we've visited a few eateries only because they were offering some kind of discount; and when we were less than impressed with the quality of food and/or service, we never entered their doors again. But others -- and Mojo's is a great example -- we like so much that it's on our short list of places to stop any time we're in the area (as well as worth going a little bit out of the way for). If there's a moral here, it's that if you've got a great product or service and want to increase your customer base, coupons can be a great incentive and a great way to generate repeat business.

In this case, even with our gift certificate we almost missed the place. For whatever reason, we put off using the card till late March; and when we pulled up at the location behind Marino's Restaurant in Austintown, the lights were off an
d the doors were locked tighter than a drum. Uh, oh, we said -- we've waited too long.

But since
we knew that Mojo's is owned by the same folks who own Marino's, we figured we'd pop in there and ask. If Mojo's were closed, after all, we could eat here -- we love the place. In fact, Marino's was one of the first restaurants I added to my blog.

Surprise! What we learned was that Mojo's had relocated a couple
of weeks earlier further west on Mahoning Avenue not far from the Austintown Plaza. So, offering our apologies for not staying at Marino's and promising to return, we made our way there.

As it turns out, that was the first of many visits. For openers, we love the roomy black-and-gray main dining area that offers easy access to a semi-enclosed bar; upstairs, we were told, is a rock-and-roll bar, while the lower level is a
sports bar.

Mostly, though, we love the food. For newbies, lunch is a good time to give the place a try, although it's really hard to choose from all the sandwich offerings, which come with a substantial portion of hand-cut fries. The Bleu hamburger with bleu cheese ($7.59) and Reuben ($7.29) sounded wonderful on our initial lunch outing, but in the end Jack settled on the Swiss and Mushroom burger ($7.29) and, since I wanted to try the pulled pork, I decided the Double-Decker, with the barbecue-sauced pork on top of a hamburger, would be a good way to see if I wanted a larger portion of the pork.

The fries are similar to those at the old Idora Park, though perhaps a bit thicker, and very good. Those who don't want fries may substitute onion rings for an extra $1.19; cole slaw can be added for 99 cents.

Everything was delicious, including the pulled pork, which is very tender with a wonderful barbecue flavor; I made a mental note to try a whole sandwich on one of our return trips. The sandwiches aren't small, I should add; we both brought half ho
me for later. As we were finishing up, our server tried to tempt us with Mojo's new dessert cart -- something like four kinds of cheesecake (locally made), a yummy-looking chocolate cake and a brownie sundae. Already stuffed to the gills, we declined, but then she convinced us to take a piece of cheesecake home -- we chose raspberry topping -- and it sure was scrumptious.

ingly, Mojo's is a great place for seafood, even crab legs on occasion, and barbecue. The menu is loaded with fish entrees as well as barbecue ribs, chicken and the aforementioned pulled pork. Several varieties of wings are available as well. Largely because of the seafood choices, I'm particularly fond of eating here, and we've come here several times for dinner. The first time, I tried the haddock (broiled, not lightly breaded and fried) for $11.49; it comes with cole slaw and one side, and I chose a baked potato with butter and sour cream. Meanwhile, Jack ordered the Mojo Melt ($12.99), a charbroiled chicken breast topped with barbecue sauce, bacon and American and provolone cheese. For sides, he picked fries and slaw.

A bit of a surprise came in the form of a basket of "Mama" Marino's homemade bread (her huge fresh-baked dinner rolls at Marino's restaurant are known far and wide), and the bread was fabulous as well. As for the fish, it was perhaps boiled a bit longer than necessary, but it wasn't overdone and was nicely flavored. Jack loved his chicken, too, and the slaw, with two kinds of cabbage and carrots in a mayonnaise-based dressing, is exceptional.

On still another late-afternoon visit, I tried the haddock dinner, slightly different than the earlier version because it comes with a salad and one side ($12.99). I stuck with a baked potato and ranch dressing; and for the record, there's a nearly $2 upcharge if you want to substitute soup for the salad, which I decided against. Jack, tried something a bit different - Portabella Chicken, grilled and topped with portabella mushrooms, red peppers and provolone ($13.49).

Once again, the fish had a wonderful flavor but tasted as if it had been baked for a while and then put under the broiler; it was cooked too long to say I absolutely loved it, but I ate every bite just the same.

One other word of caution: If you want to get a seat here, come for lunch or before 6 p.m. We've driven past several times wanting to stop for dinner and found that the parking lot is spilling-over full. Mojo's has live entertainment in the evenings as well as a party-down crowd from after work till late in the evening, so it's best to get here early.

If you go: Mojo's Pub & Grill
6292 Mahoning Ave.
Austintown, Ohio 44515
(330) 773-6656 (Note: the site was still in development at the time of this posting, so check back).

Opens at 11 a.m. daily.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Most of the time, my husband Jack and I are agree on what we like, and don't, when it comes to food. Sure, we have special favorites the other won't touch - my beloved hot peppers shall never get within a fork's length of his plate, and he knows my nose turns up at anything that smells of anise or licorice. Even when it comes to ethnic food, we get along pretty well.

Except, perhaps, when it's Mexican. I love just about anything on the menu, but it's tough for him to find something that will go down without a fight, let alone get excited about.

So when a new Mexican restaurant came to the U.S. Route 422 "Strip" in Niles, let's just say we didn't hurry in even though I wanted to try it right away. But when our dining out-loving friends Jerry and Barb -- both of whom like Mexican fare as well or better than I do -- suggested we pay a visit, Jack agreed to go along for the ride. And since then, I'm happy to report, we've been back a couple of times, once just the two of us.

The restaurant is located in a building that's been home to several others that have disappeared over the years, including Hooters and P.J. Snappers (right across the roa
d from Quinlan's). The interior now has a distinctive Mexican flavor - with artsy stuff on the walls and colorful bottles of soda on the room dividers. There are plenty of tables, and the dividers help conceal a separate bar. There's no beer on tap here, but they do have our favorite Dos Equis in bottles plus wine and other drinks and special Margaritas.

I should mention that if you're Googling the restaurant, you'll likely find a Cleveland restaurant with a similar name -- El Jalapenos ( Although t
here's no indication on either Web site that they're related, the logo, site colors, style and even the menus and daily specials are virtually identical, making me almost certain they're connected in some way. Next time we're heading up Cleveland way -- the restaurant is on 117th Street -- maybe we'll check it out.

At our first visit, we had a coupon giving us $5 off on a $30 purchase -- an amount easy for the four of us to spend collectively. At around 5 p.m. on a Friday night we were seated immediately, but half an hour later the place was packed.

First came one of the reasons I love Mexican restaurants: a basket of fresh corn chips and a bowl of salsa. I will issue one minor "complaint" here, though; we got only one bowl of salsa, albeit rather large, to share among the four of us. Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, even when the salsa has a kick
to it -- and this certainly does -- I like to add quite a few shakes of the habanero sauces on the table. But since no one else would be able to take the heat, I had to make do with what was served. If we'd had two smaller bowls of salsa, I'd have been able to doctor one up to my liking. Besides that, it would make it easier to access - sharing by four people means at least two will have a long way from bowl to mouth, a pretty drippy process.

Choosing what we wanted to eat took a bit of time, especially since the intent was to try four different things. There are almost endless possibilities, making it even more difficult to decide. Jack, however, didn't have much of a problem; one things he does love at Mexican restaurants is fajitas; here, he picked the #45 Fajitos Combo for $11.99. It's steak and chicken stir fried with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes accompanied by Mexican rice, refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and warm flour tortillas.

Since I love everything Mexican, it took me a while to decide; finally, I settled on the #58 Enchiladas Monterrey ($8.50). This is comprised of three enchiladas (one chicken, one beef tips and one spinach) all topped with shredded cheese with rice and beans. Meanwhile, Barb opted for the #35 Carnitas, or fried pork chunks with rice, beans, pico de gallo and flour tortillas ($8.50). Jerry's pick was #28, Quesadillos Mexicanas ($7.99), or two flour tortillas grilled and stuffed with cheese - one shredded beef and one chicken and beans -- served with lettuce, sour cream and tomato.

All of our choices were good ones (yes, we sampled each other's). The guacamole was especially delicious, as was the fried pork. The rice and refried beans were typical of most Mexican restaurants. Most folks either love or hate the beans (I love them), and I always jazz up the rice by adding any of the salsa left over from the basket of chips and add more hot sauce.

I wasn't too crazy about the sauce on my enchiladas, which was vaguely reminiscent of chili flavor but had a rather strange (to me) taste. I'd have preferred it to be served on the side since there was no way to easily scrape it off. I'm also not overly fond of the shredded chicken here, but the meat and spinach fillings were yummy.

Jack also likes the fajitas quite well; the flavor is good (although not quite as well-seasoned as what we used to get at the long-gone Caballo Bayo restaurant in Howland Township).

Jerry and Barb accompanied us on our next visit as well, but this time for lunch. Now somewhat seasoned guests here, it didn't take us quite as long to decide. Ever the bargain-hunter, my choice was easy once I saw that the #7 Numero Siete (a ground beef burrito, a taco and Mexican rice) was the day's special at $5.25. As expected, Jack stuck with the fajitas, this time a lunch portion for $6.50.

Jerry first decided on the #3, Huevas con Chorizo (two scrambled eggs over easy with sauce, rice, beans and tortillas), but when he saw the #13, El Burro Grande ($5.99), he changed his mind. He picked chicken over beef, which is combined with rice and beans inside a burrito and topped with melted cheese.

Meantime, Barb went for the #5 El Matador: A chili relleno, a taco, refried beans and guacamole salad for $5.99. Everything was quite tasty once again, although Jerry's burrito was absolutely outstanding (not to mention huge). The relleno and taco had some sort of soft breading that was very tasty.

For our most recent visit, Jack surprised me by suggesting we go here for a late lunch, around 1:30 p.m. Granted, we'd just finished running errands nearby and he wasn't thrilled with the idea of driving a distance to eat, but I took it as a positive that he'd actually want to eat here. As always, we shared a bowl of salsa, so I wasn't able to make mine as hot as I'd like. Sure, I could ask for an empty bowl, but it's not all that important -- and besides, since he doesn't eat his rice, I get to collect both his and mine and add as much hot sauce as I want.

It goes without saying that he chose fajitas -- steak this time, and the $6.50 lunch portion. Thinking perhaps that wouldn't be enough, he ordered a quesadilla with cheese and chicken from the appetizer menu as well ($3.99). I picked the #34 Burritos Mexicanos ($8.25 and a dinner-size entree.

The fajitas were good as usual, and with four soft tortillas, there was plenty to satisfy him even without the quesadilla. The latter was more like a folded-over soft taco than a "sealed" quesadilla, but it was delicious; in fact, we brought it home since Jack filled up on the fajitas.

My double portion of rice (his and mine) was fabulous once I added the Chile Habanero sauce from the table. The minute I bit into the chicken burrito, though, I remembered I didn't care for the chicken here and should have picked all beef (that one, once again, was wonderful). The chicken didn't go to waste, however; I was plenty full after eating just the beef burrito and brought the chicken one home, where Jack polished it off later.

The verdict on El Jalapeno? Cuando estás en el estado de ánimo de comida mexicana, probar esta! (Or, when you're in the mood for Mexican fare, give this one a try)!

If you go:

El Jalapeno
5125 Youngstown-Warren Road
Niles, Ohio 44446
(330) 544-6500

Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday noon to 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.