Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: Photography By anne
Just across the bridge, unless you happen to reside on the Mainland, in which case it is just before the bridge, you will find a lively little Mexican-style restaurant that is a family place in two senses of the word.
Jalapeños Mexican Grill, located in the Bridge Center, is the first venture into the Lowcountry area market for the family-owned chain that has already been a favorite around Savannah and Statesboro for more than ten years. “We opened this one in March last year,” said co-owner, Allen Ray. “This is our sixth location.”
Ray attributes the Jalapeños success story to diligent hard work by all involved in the business. That group includes Ray’s mother- and father-in-law, Francisco and Angela Guzman, their son, Arnold, and his wife, who were the original partners when the first Jalapeños opened in a small space off of Savannah’s Abercorn Street in 1997. “I met my wife (the Guzman’s daughter, Sujey) in college and went to work as a bartender in that first restaurant,” said Ray. “That’s how I was introduced to the business.” Today, Sujey is an interior designer and handles all of the planning and design for the Jalapeños restaurants.
“It was a humble beginning. We didn’t have a huge budget, but over time we made it work. The family was always on hand, keeping an eye on things and making sure the customers were happy. As word spread, we spread. We had the first restaurant for four years when we opened the second location on Skidaway Island. About a year after that we opened the third and on from there we went,” said Ray.
Ray describes the Jalapeños menu as familiar Mexican items with a twist. For example, the Arroz Texano, which is grilled steak, chicken and shrimp with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes on a bed of rice and covered in nacho cheese. Other specialty dishes include: Cream of Mushroom Pollo, grilled chicken strips and onions sautéed in mushroom and cheese sauce; the Gringa, a flour tortilla with grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, vegetables and cilantro topped with nacho cheese; and the Fajita Baked Potato, which is, not surprisingly, a baked potato stuffed with chicken or steak fajitas and topped with nacho cheese.
“Basically we’re taking things like tortillas, meats, cheese lettuce, tomatoes and other ingredients and playing with them in different ways,” said Ray. “It’s something we’ve been successful with over the years.” All of Jalapeños specialties are priced under $9 and most are less than $8.
The rest of the dinner menu includes nachos, poppers and salads for appetizers; selections of fajitas, seafood, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and steaks; and a list of 30 combination plates, all priced under $7. Kids’ meals and vegetarian plates are also available and lunch specialties, ranging in price from $3.95 to $6.45, are served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
The Jalapeños atmosphere is very family-friendly, but it is also a popular spot on the happy hour and evening bar scene. “Families like our friendly atmosphere in the dining room and things are a little more lively and upbeat outside on the patio,” said Ray. “We have a band out there on the second and fourth Friday of every month. There’s good separation between the two segments, so we can cater to a bar crowd outside while still focusing on our core target, family dining, and all will feel welcome and enjoy themselves.”
Jalapeños Happy Hour runs daily from 4-7 p.m. “We do two-for-one margaritas, happy hour priced well drinks and 12- or 32-oz. draft beers served in ice cold mugs,” said Ray. By the way, the Jalapeños Margarita is a perennial “Savannah’s Best.”
The nice thing about the Jalapeños’ location in the Bridge Center, according to Ray, is that it is attractive to both Hilton Head and Bluffton residents. “We provide a happy middle for islanders who don’t want to venture too far off-island and Blufftonians who would rather not travel to the island,” he said. “We’ve established great relationships with our customers. We have people who are so regular that we really notice if they don’t show up as usual.”
Jalapeños is located in the Bridge Center at 1540 Fording Island Road, across 278 from Moss Creek. Call (843) 757-5831 for information.