Anyone who knows me knows I eat at Yallah Taco religiously. I’m not sure how much money I’ve spent there this semester alone, but I don’t really want to know.
Obviously, I like Yallah Taco, but I can admit it’s not exactly a five-star restaurant. But it’s not like I have a choice — downtown State College is severely lacking in Mexican food, my favorite cuisine.
Lupita’s on West College Avenue offers fantastic authentic Mexican cuisine, but I unfortunately do not have a car, and I’m not willing to walk over an hour to get there.
So with my options limited to Yallah, Chipotle and Mad Mex, you can understand my frustration. Where can a girl get a high-quality taco around here?
Well, my prayers may have been answered.
El Jefe’s Taqueria, a small chain with only five other locations — three in Boston and one in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — opened at 352 E. Calder Way this past May, but I haven’t gotten around to going to it until now.
El Jefe’s is structured similarly to other Mexican-inspired joints such as Chipotle or Qdoba in that you go down the line while the employees construct your order to your liking.
What differentiates El Jefe’s from other fast-casual chains, evidently, is that all of its ingredients are fresh and prepared in house daily. What’s more is that all of its toppings are free of charge — meaning you don’t have to pay $2 extra for guacamole (looking at you, Chipotle).
I ordered three carnitas tacos accompanied by Spanish rice, black beans, cabbage, pickled onions and pico de gallo. I was thrilled to have such a wide variety of ingredients to choose as toppings.
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The tacos were excellent, and I could tell everything was fresh. The pickled onions added a nice tang and crunch, so I’d recommend that topping to anyone. Additionally, having Spanish rice instead of plain white or brown rice only added to the flavor.
The portions were generous, but not too large, meaning I didn’t have to discreetly unbutton my jeans under the table after eating. That’s always a plus.
As for my drink, I was looking forward to trying El Jefe’s horchata, a refreshing cinnamony sweet beverage and my go-to at any Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, by the time I got to El Jefe’s, the business had run out for the day.
I was distraught until my gaze turned to the beverage fridge, where I found myself reconnected with an old love of mine. That’s right: They have guava Jarritos here.
For anyone out of the loop, Jarritos is a popular soda brand found at most Mexican restaurants. I have always firmly stood by the belief the guava flavor is by far superior to any others, but I’ve never been able to find it anywhere in State College... until now.
For dessert, my friend and I split an order of churros, which were fabulous — crunchy on the outside, yet light and pillowy on the inside with a delicious filling.
My verdict: El Jefe’s is a refreshing, welcome addition to downtown State College’s food scene. Another upside: It is open until 4 a.m. daily, so you can satisfy your burrito cravings at nearly any hour of the day.
I’ll be back soon to sample more of El Jefe’s offerings — I’m especially excited to try the other proteins, the horchata and the flan. And I’ll pick up a few bottles of guava Jarritos to go while I’m at it.