The Bartolotta Restaurants opened Taqueria El Jefe at the Mayfair Collection on June 21 — Taco Tuesday, it was noted — to offer a “quick in-and-out” dining experience at the shopping center, said chef Zach Espinosa.
“The area kind of needs it,” said Espinosa, who worked at other Bartolotta restaurants, including Bacchus, Lake Park Bistro and Ristorante Bartolotta, the group’s flagship restaurant that opened in 1993 in downtown Wauwatosa.
“It’s been a real cool challenge to be able to be on the onset of this, to forge its identity,” said Espinosa, whose father is from Mexico. “I get to pull from some of my heritage.”
He said Joe Bartolotta, co-owner of the restaurant group, came up with the idea for Taqueria El Jefe after a recent trip to Mexico left a “flavor memory.”
That flavor memory led to a menu that includes authentic Mexican “down-and-dirty street tacos,” said manager Dominic Strack, to artisan creations not found elsewhere.
“We do some authentic stuff with minor twists,” said Espinosa.
One such signature creation is the Señor Croque, a flour tortilla with caramelized cheeses, sliced ham, mustard-mayo, and potato skins that has already become popular among regulars.
More traditional fare includes the Al Pastor Park, spit-roasted marinated pork with caramelized pineapple, diced onion and salsa verde, and the Carne Asada, grilled ribeye, salsa roja, cilantro, diced onion and queso fresco.
And, of course, there’s the Gringo, a hard shell taco with seasoned ground beef, lettuce, diced tomato, sour cream, and cheddar cheese, said Strack.
“It’s what you grew up eating,” said Espinosa.
Taqueria El Jefe also offers margaritas made with your choice of 12 tequilas as well as a wide assortment of Mexican beers, including well-known brands like Corona as well as craft beers from Chicago’s 5 Rabbits, the first Latin American-inspired brewery in the United States.
Strack said the lively and colorful restaurant, with its bright turquoise and orange walls adorned with skulls hand-painted by a Mexican artist, can seat up to 70 people and draws from many of the nearby businesses — Kohl’s and Briggs & Stratton among them — for lunch.
“We have a big group of regulars,” he said. “Some people come in three or four times a week.”
Right now lunch is busier, but the dinner crowd that likes to linger over a drink is growing too as word gets out.
Besides seating, Strack said the casual restaurant has a busy to-go business and uses Grub Hub, a delivery service that lets patrons order food with an app on their phone. “It’s kind of like that whole Uber mentality,” said Espinosa.
ADDRESS: 11200 W. Burleigh St., Wauwatosa
RESERVATIONS: Not required
FARE: Tacos, tacos and more tacos — the restaurant’s specialty. While it sounds like a limited menu, the variations on the simple taco (the Gringo taco with lettuce, tomato, ground beef, cheddar cheese and sour cream) are plentiful, with Taqueria El Jefe boasting artisan tacos made with everything from crispy fried shrimp and pulled BBQ pork to beer-battered cod. Appetizers including the traditional guacamole or salsa and chips and more unique pork belly rice are also offered.
PRICE RANGE: A Gringo taco is just $2.95, with the most expensive items — including the chicken quesadilla (a flour tortilla with marinated chicken, cheeses, sour cream and pico) — at $4.95. Two to three tacos are recommended as a meal.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.