Dining at Guadalajara Original Grill feels as though you are eating in a courtyard on a sunny afternoon in the eponymous city in Mexico.
The subtle ambient lighting mixed with the inlet of natural sunlight and authentic aromas bring the experience to life.
Greeting you as you enter are painted people waving from their two-dimensional balconies. For a moment, you might be distracted but the smell of freshly made corn tortillas and Chile Verde will quickly snap you back to reality.
With fresh ingredients used daily, you can’t go wrong with the choice you make from the menu.
Emma Yolanda Vera owns the restaurant and brought her passion for food and Mexican culture with her when she moved to the United States from Guadalajara.
The menu she constructed is full of traditional recipes and innovative twists, utilizing crafty seafood dishes and specialty plates to ingrain her Mexican influence into other culinary realms.
“I always wanted a restaurant with the freshest ingredients,” Vera said. “We cook fresh every day and don’t open any cans or have any freezers in the kitchen and I think people can taste that.”
Vera previously worked as a travel agent. “I have dreamed of owning a restaurant for as long as I can remember,” she said.
“When the travel agencies started to close, I looked at it as the perfect chance to start my own business. I feel lucky to not only have this location, but also our new one on Oracle, which opened in February of 2016.”
With nearly three quarters of new restaurants closing down within their first three years of business, Vera knew she had to incorporate amenities that would make Guadalajara Original Grill stand out if she wanted it to be successful. It opened in 2002.
“[…] I decided to have fresh table-side salsa made for every table in the evenings,” Vera said. “This has been very well received and people think it is a great complement to their experience as a whole.”
“It’s free and a gift from us to our customers,” she said. “I love food and I love people. We put it all together and it’s like a party in here every night.”
Not only does the restaurant offer free table-side salsa but it also features live mariachis multiple nights a week!
“I’ve noticed that people typically expect a Mexican restaurant to have good food but a dark and kind of grungy atmosphere. I wanted a restaurant with lots of light and warm colors,” Vera said. “At Guadalajara Original Grill, we set the bar higher than the standard expectation of what a Mexican restaurant should be like.”
The menu features both traditional and experimental dishes, which highlight the versatility and scope of Vera’s culinary history and influences.
One such example is the Plato Bandera. It features three different enchiladas, each containing ingredients to mirror the green, red, and white of the Mexican flag. Another is the Tropical Chilean Sea Bass sautéed with pears, pineapples, onions, and garlic.
Vera’s culinary escapades can be experienced through eclectic dishes such as these.
“I learned the traditional recipes growing up in Guadalajara watching my mom cook. She owned a little restaurant and that’s where I started serving and learning more about owning a restaurant,” Vera said. “As I got further into the industry and opened my own restaurant, I learned how to incorporate new elements into my dishes in order to cater to a larger amount of people.”
“We offer vegan and gluten-free options to meet people’s dietary restrictions while still allowing them to have the traditional taste,” Vera continued. “We are working on making a full menu section that is all vegan and gluten-free.”
The large portion sizes make it easy to order multiple dishes to share at the table. This emphasizes the communal and joyous experience many seek when sharing a meal.
Queso Fundido con Chorizo is a great dish to get the meal underway.
Corn tortillas are supplied to scoop a blend of Spanish manchego and Monterey Jack cheese, melted into a fondue with diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, and mushrooms, topped with savory grilled pork chorizo, all served in a piping-hot cast iron skillet.
Before moving to Tucson, Vera lived in Alaska, where members of her family work as commercial fishermen and inspired her to incorporate more seafood into the menu.
Plato Capitan has a bed of sautéed zucchini with green and red onions. Resting on the bed of vegetables is a 6-ounce salmon fillet cooked in butter, garlic, and freshly ground pepper. Accompanying the salmon are tender tail-on shrimp and large seared scallops drizzled with a spicy chipotle crema.
The Mexican Paella is a filling, sharable stir-fry of steamy mussels, shredded pork, chicken breast, shrimp, lobster, and chorizo sausage. It’s cooked with Spanish rice, jalapeños, and a touch of saffron.
Not only does Guadalajara Original Grill serve up delicious specialty dishes, they also have massive margaritas.
The Bandera Margarita comes in a high-rise glass with three frosty layers of flavors.
The base layer is a tangy (green) melon and lime mix topped with their classic house recipe and followed up with a (bright red) sweet strawberry layer to emulate the Mexican flag.
The Coronarita is a fusion of the house margarita with the neck of a Coronita bottle completely submerged in the glass, creating a slow release of beer into the drink.
If you like to mix sweet and spicy, try the Jalapeño Margarita. It’s made with house Reposado Tequila aged with jalapeño and cilantro.
The selection of fresh ingredients, house-made tortillas and warm, welcoming environment make Guadalajara Original Grill a top contender for quality Mexican food in Tucson.
Guadalajara Original Grill, located at 1220 E. Prince Rd. and 7360 N. Oracle Rd., is open from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For more information, visit guadalajaraoriginalgrill.com.
Jake O’Rourke is a Tucson native, writer, editor, and musician. He enjoys tasting his way through Tucson’s copious food and craft beer options, listening to live music, and writing about the experiences he has within these endeavors.