Restaurant Reviews

Jose Pepper's worth the wait

Review: Jose Pepper's

Rating: 3 forks out of four

Where: 11423 E. 13th St., 316-260-6404

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Type of food: Mexican

Alcohol: Full bar

Reservations: Not accepted

Web site: www.josepeppers.com

Yes, you are itching to try Jose Pepper's, the new Mexican restaurant that just opened in the Plazzio development at 13th and Greenwich.

It has buzz. It has location. And it has that spinach queso dip famous throughout the greater Kansas City area.

But it also has a wait, a wait that possibly will grow longer with the printing of this review.

Go prepared to wait, though, and you will be rewarded with Tex-Mex fare that's a bit different from that served at Abuelo's, On the Border and at the variety of Tex-Mex restaurants and taquerias operating throughout Wichita.

Jose Pepper's is a regional chain of 10 Mexican restaurants, including two that are called Cactus Grill. Wichita's restaurant, which opened earlier this month in the former B.G. Bolton's spot at 11423 E. 13th St., is the first Jose Pepper's outside of the Kansas City area.

ON THE MENU: Kansas Citians love their Jose Pepper's, and a couple of visits last week gave a hint as to why. The food, for the most part, is tasty and unique, with menu items that combine unexpected-in-Mexican-food flavors such as Parmesan and shrimp or steak and goat cheese. The staff likes to boast that everything is made fresh on premises, save a few kids' meals.

The menu consists of several appetizers (including the famous espinaca con queso), a variety of salads, soups, quesadillas, fajitas, seafood specialties, tamales, enchiladas, tacos and burritos stuffed with well seasoned meats, fresh veggies and lots and lots (and lots) of cheese.

DON'T-MISS DISHES: One of the memorable dishes we tried at Jose Pepper's was a Parmesan-crusted shrimp quesadilla ($7.99), which featured plump grilled shrimp stuffed inside a tortilla coated and baked with Parmesan cheese and also stuffed with avocado and cheeses. Parmesan is not a cheese one expects at a Mexican restaurant, but it added a salty uniqueness to the dish that made it memorable.

Also good were Corona fish tacos ($9.99), featuring beer-battered fried shrimp in flour tortillas served "San Diego" style with shredded cabbage and topped with lime sauce, pico de gallo and cheese. The serving was plentiful, and one was more than enough. The only complaint — the beer battering on the shrimp had the slightly off-putting flavor of old grease, sort of like a food court funnel cake might have.

We asked for a recommendation from a long list of "Family Specialties" on the menu and were pointed to the pollo magnfico ($9.49), a sinful burrito stuffed with a spicy chicken (described on the menu as "healthy," though rest assured, it was the only healthy component of the dish). The chicken was rolled in a flour tortilla then lightly fried and topped with jalapeno cream cheese and Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses before being baked. It was a fabulous, fat bomb of a dish that left our stomachs bloated for hours afterward. (We have yet to decide if that's magnfico or no magnifico.)

The flame-grilled steak fajitas ($12.99) were good, served with tender bites of steak and all the expected fajita fixin's plus a cup of rich garlic butter to enhance the flavor (and the fat) even more. They were tasty enough, but we've become trained to expect fajitas to emerge from the kitchen sizzling, and these had clearly been sitting for a while.

From the appetizer menu, the famous spinach-laden cheese dip was indeed delicious, though Jose Pepper's super-thin tortilla chips almost can't handle their transportation from bowl to mouth.

AMBIENCE: The B.G. Bolton's space has been completely remodeled, and all that's recognizable from before is the bar area. The restaurant is clean, open and decorated with bright colors.

PRICE RANGE: Dinner entrees average about $10. A nice feature of Jose Pepper's is that it offers a lunch menu with smaller portions of dinner items at lower prices, and customers can order those smaller entrees during the dinner hour, too.

SERVICE: Very good. In its early days of business, Jose Pepper's appears obsessed with quality service. Employees are constantly on the roam, trying to anticipate the slightest diner need.

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