Despite being located next door to popular Freeport wine bar Conundrum, El Jefe Taco Bar is really hard to find, in large part because most of the signs still say “Old World Gourmet Deli & Market.” El Jefe opened close to a year ago, so I’m not sure why it hasn’t changed the sign. Maybe it’s trying to be a speakeasy for taco lovers.
But this “Texpat” was not to be deterred, and I eventually found my way inside without having to use a crowbar. The lighting was a little dim, but I could still easily marvel at the chalkboard menu of 30-something craft beers (and, of course, a few Mexican options). Lively Latino music was playing at the perfect volume, and the seating was spacious, including options at the bar, at regular tables and in armchairs. One room even offered shuffleboard and two free video games. The bar had jars of cookies and whoopie pies, as well as napkins within easy reach (essential if you’re a spiller like I am), and the barstools had backs on them. We were off to a good start.
As one would expect at a taco bar, the margarita game was strong. One of my friends ordered a prickly pear margarita; I ordered a strawberry jalapeno one. Margaritas are normally $11, but at happy hour – 4-5:30 p.m. every day it’s open – all drinks are $2 off. My other friend ordered a regular cocktail, the $10 Strange Brew, an intriguing combination of Absolut vodka, Malibu rum, apple cider, Earl Grey and jalapeno puree. I am not making this up.
The margaritas arrived in mason jars and were excellent; it was all I could do to stop at one. The Strange Brew was one of those drinks that evolved over time, first shocking you with its fiery jalapeno side and then caressing you with a soft coconut-flavored apology. It would be hard to drink more than one, though, and indeed my friend did not. His next drink was The King’s Emissary, a mixture of Altos Tequila Plata, Ancho Reyes Liqueur and lime, finished off with a chili salt rim. Unfortunately, the chili salt rim looked like cocoa powder, and having not read the ingredients before diving in, my taste buds were a little surprised.
If you’ve read this far thinking that we left without trying any food, you’d be mistaken. What kind of Texan doesn’t order chips and queso at every opportunity? El Jefe’s $11 queso was a delight, featuring authentic Oaxaca cheese and accompanied by fresh (albeit a bid bland) guacamole and a slightly sweet (in a good way) medium-hot sauce. We also couldn’t resist giving the $12 chicken wings a try, given their ingredients: sesame, mango, sriracha, soy sauce, maple, cilantro and scallions. They were incredibly delicious (I may or may not still be thinking about them), but definitely reminded us much more of an Asian dish than of something you’d find in a Mexican restaurant.
The menu also features sweet potato fries, Mexican street corn, burritos and tacos, with typical prices ranging from $4 to $13. Great job, El Jefe. Now please go change your sign!
WHERE: 117 Route 1, Freeport
PHONE: (207) 865-0344
HOURS: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
AMENITIES: Parking lot, outdoor seating, shuffleboard, free video games, happy hour, extensive craft beer menu, friendly and attentive staff
BOTTOM LINE: More than just tacos, El Jefe would be jam-packed all the time if it were in downtown Portland. Perfect location for happy hour on the way to or from Freeport.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes (through one of the two entrances)