TWIN FALLS — I try my best not to be a snob about Mexican food. I really do. I’m not the type to scoff at those who eat Taco Bell — I enjoy living mas myself, understanding exactly what I’m getting when I order a double decker taco or chalupa.
But I was born and raised in San Diego, just miles from the Mexican border. I have family, particularly my grandmother, mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, who cook amazing Mexican food. And I’ve eaten my way through Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Mexico City and several small towns in between.
So it’s hard for me not to be a bit of a snob when it comes to Mexican food.
As I walked into the new Twin Falls location of Juanita’s Tacos and More last Tuesday, I was expecting to be disappointed. I’ve had plenty of Mexican food here in Idaho, and mostly I’ve judged it to be decent, but not great.
But Juanita’s has changed my opinion.
After two successful years in Buhl, the owners of Juanita’s expanded to Twin Falls, opening their new location Feb. 6 at 260 Shoshone Street E.
The opening is a blessing for Mexican-food lovers in Twin Falls.
My goal on my first visit was to spend $10 or less, which isn’t hard at Juanita’s. They serve tacos for $1.50 each, burritos cost between $6.90 and $7.90, and most combination plates run $8.99 or cheaper.
On my first visit, I ordered a carnitas burrito — it wasn’t on the menu, but they serve carnitas tacos, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. They happily agreed to make the carnitas burrito.
The burrito came out quick — they try to make them in under a minute — and was a good size. It was stuffed with the fried pork meat, rice, beans, cheese, Mexican sour cream and pico de gallo.
I was impressed from the very first bite. The carnitas were flavorful and perfectly crispy. The rice added nice texture and flavor. The sour cream and cheese did their jobs. And the beans.
Oh, the beans.
The beans are homemade at Juanita’s. Everything is fresh and made from scratch at Juanita’s, except the tortillas. But the beans were the superstar of my burrito, surprisingly. They were so fresh, so flavorful, so delicious. I want to eat a bowl of those beans for lunch every day.
What makes Juanita’s so good is that it’s a labor of love, and it’s family owned and operated by Ivan and Juanita Gallegos, longtime residents of Buhl, and Ivan’s cousins, Ernesto and Marisol Barriente, who moved from Georgia two years ago to help open the first restaurant in Buhl.
Juanita and Marisol do the cooking, and my compliments to them — hours after my lunch, I was already craving more and I had to go back two days later to get my fix. The Gallegos’ 20-year-old daughter, Ismenia, works the counter, taking orders and cleaning. Other family members help out too.
Juanita’s is named after Juanita Gallegos, but also after Ivan’s grandmother. The new Twin Falls location was a long time coming.
Juanita, whose father owned a restaurant in Mexico, had long dreamed of having her own restaurant. When she and Ivan moved to Idaho, she worked at several Mexican eateries as a waitress and hostess.
About seven years ago, the opportunity came up for the Gallegos family to buy a taco truck. They did that, serving tacos in Buhl for about five years. Then Marisol and Ernesto visited from Atlanta, and they were shocked at how good Juanita’s tacos were. On their drive back to Georgia, they decided they’d move to Buhl and help open a restaurant.
Two years later, they’ve finally expanded to Twin Falls, and what a blessing it is.
On my second visit, I tried the Idaho burrito, which costs $6.99 and comes with your choice of meat. I tried the carne asada, which didn’t disappoint. The burrito comes with meat, French fries, cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo. I also added guacamole, which Juanita and Marisol make fresh when you order it.
During my first lunch, I asked Ivan why people in Twin Falls, who have many Mexican food options, should check out Juanita’s.
“We make our food fresh from scratch,” Ivan said. “And it’s tasty.”
Even a Mexican-food snob like me can agree.