A chile relleno and carnitas taco with black
beans at Jose, 2734 Douglas Ave., 274-0290.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through
Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
When restaurants cluster on a single street,
they usually share more similarities than diversity.
That’s probably because neighborhoods become
likeminded when it comes to dining choices.
Sometimes that’s simply ethnic. Our south side
hosted most of the Italian restaurants in town
both sides of World War II because that’s where
most Italians lived then. In the 1990s, the
best Mexican restaurants in town were all within
five blocks of each other on the east side for
a similar reason. More than other businesses,
restaurants tap a neighborhood’s peculiar collective
Beaver Avenue does not follow a straight course;
it meanders past the neatly manicured lawns
and mostly brick houses of Des Moines’ most
laid-back neighborhood. Restaurants on Beaver
cater to several generations of coolness. If
you needed to cast senior citizens for a golf
outing with Perry Como, or somewhat younger
generations for a Jimmy Buffet concert, just
peak in on the crowds at Christopher’s, Tally’s,
Chef’s, Farah’s, Goodson’s or Saints. The menus
at those places share far more similarities
than differences. Beaver Avenue is cool, but
it’s not experimental.
That street intersects Douglas Avenue in the
north end of Beaverdale though. Douglas Avenue
does not meander. It’s part of the old U.S.
Highway 6. Like most avenues of commerce, it
has developed into a hodgepodge of dissimilar
things. Its restaurants are the most eclectic
in town and the best-kept secrets — I have friends
who live in Beaverdale and have never been to
any of them. The Douglas Avenue food scene is
the “dark horse” to Beaver’s “sure thing.” Between
Merle Hay Road and Martin Luther King Parkway,
Douglas is home to the best sushi (Wasabi Chi),
the top north Indian (India Star) and the best
Iraqi (Babylon) restaurants in town, plus our
best Asian grocery store (Saigon). Douglas also
sprouted the area’s top Bosnian café (Saraj),
its first coal-grilled chicken house (Pollos
Rostizados), its original Burmese café (Simply
Asian), its most interesting bowling alley restaurant
(Trophy’s) and a soul food joint specializing
in buffalo fish (Ray Earl’s).
Douglas’ newest restaurant is Jose. It describes
itself as a taqueria, but its menu and service
suggest Jose is being modest. In addition to
a wide choice of tacos and burritos (including
tongue, cheeks, tripe and stomach), they offered
20 traditional Mexican and a dozen seafood dinners.
Birria is made daily (with beef), menudo and
caldo de res on weekends. One orders at a counter,
but meals are served tableside. All my plates
were ceramic dinnerware, too, a big upgrade
from “taqueria” style. A condiment and salsa
bar, including pickled carrots and chilies,
ranked with the best in town.
While I found nothing new on the menu, I was
quite impressed with the execution of everything.
Tacos were made with El Maizal tortillas, a
company with considerable reputation in the
American South that uses an ancient Nixtamal
process (in which hard corn is soaked and cooked
for hours). Carnitas were crispy, cheeks unctuous,
and tripas flavorful without being chewy. Superb
chile rellenos delivered stem-on poblano peppers,
stuffed with Oaxacan cheese and covered in an
excellent salsa. Whipped egg whites in the batter
revealed that they were made from true scratch.
A side of black beans became a veritable bowl
of good soup for just $2. Ceviche was made with
dorado, a whitefish, and topped with generous
slices of avocado.
Bottom line — Jose adds to the marvelous charms
of Douglas Avenue, Des Moines’ best kept food
Nicolas Sarkozy banned both cheese and wine
from the French Presidential Palace. He then
lost his job in an upset vote. CV