Hidden Gems: Family Food! Authentic Mexican & Gourmet Pizza

by Monica Whitaker

In this edition of Hidden Gems, we will cover authentic Mexican, gourmet brick over pizza.  Last Sunday was one of the first weekends did have to travel for a youth sports. After Sunday service, our girls were asking for breakfast / brunch. As we hopped in the car and drove from Bentonville towards Rogers, I couldn't help but to notice all the chain restaurants were full and had people waiting outside.  At that point, I remarked to my husband...

The family of Taqueria Real Jacona, dad Jesus and mom Luiz Maria, along with their children and extended family.

Hidden Gems: Family Food! Authentic Mexican & Gourmet Pizza

Last Sunday was one of the rare weekends my family did not have to travel for youth sports. After Sunday service, our girls were asking for breakfast / brunch. As we drove from Bentonville towards Rogers, I couldn't help but notice all the chain restaurants were full and had people waiting outside. My family has nothing against the big chains as we all have our favorites, but when really good home-cooked food is nearby we often choose the latter. And sometimes we are just in the mood for scratch cooking instead of going to a chain restaurant where they drop chicken tenders out of a frozen bag into a fryer or make macaroni and cheese for the kids.

So we routinely venture "off the beaten path" looking for unique places that cook great food while also supporting our small business community. Over the years, we have stumbled upon so many amazing places in Northwest Arkansas and would like to begin sharing a few with your family on a regular basis. And the best part? Our kids love to each at all these places too!

Note: If your family knows of some hidden gems, please tell us as our family loves to experience new places...and maybe we will add them to a future article in this series.

1. Taqueria Real Jacona - 1713 S 8th Street, Rogers, AR (479) 372-4985 (MAP IT)

One thing we have noticed since moving to NWA over 10 years ago is people here love their Tex-Mex. And we do too. However, many of the local chains have all the ingredients sitting pre-cooked in the backroom, and just throw them togeter in different combinations based on what you order. That can leave the meat somewhat dry, flavorless, and luke warm which is why so much sauce and cheese covers everything. Why not opt for some home-made authentic Mexican that is cooked only after you order?

Taqueria Real Jacona is located just north of New Hope road on 71 in the corner of a non-descript plaza called Ella's.

Asada, Chorizo, and Carnitas tacos for lunch with a Mexican Sprite in a bottle. Muy Rico!
The restaurant is owned by Jesus Andrade who came over from Jacona, Michoacan, Mexico 13 years ago (where the restaurant gets its name). What drew me to this restaurant, besides the food which I will address shortly, is their business is a family affair. Being Spanish, our sense of family transcends everything we do, and that is clearly embodied at Real Jacona. Besides Jesus, you will find Luiz Maria (Jesus' wife), Andres (son), Jose Juan (son), Mario (son), Jesus (brother-in-law), and Leticia (daughter) all working the restaurant. You can see them all in the image at the top of this page. Based on my numerous visits, it is clear they take pride in their business and your satisfaction. Anytime you walk in, you will see the entire family in the open kitchen bringing freshly cooked food to each person they serve. All their main courses are home-made, even their chorizo which is some of the best I have had.

Real Jacona is our favorite breakfast place to eat on weekends. Although they are busy at times, we have yet to wait for a table. They make an excellent Mexican sausage and eggs (chorizo). They will also make more traditional things like ham & eggs, bacon, etc. for the kids. What my kids love is they bring each person a basket of fresh hot tortillas (corn or flour) that you scoop your egg concoction in. Even at breakfast you can expect to get chips and salsa before your meal along with beans and rice with your meal. For lunch and dinner, their authentic Mexican tacos are excellent (I suggest the asada, chorizo, and carnitas - pictured) or their massive Burrito Jacona.

The best part about Real Jacona? The value. For our family of 5, we routinely pay $60-80 at chain restaurants. Even a basic sandwich shop combo for all 5 will costs us $45. Everytime we eat at Jacona, it costs $25 - 35 or ~$6 - 7 per person (significantly less than a chain restaurant with twice the food, flavor, and service). Note: Many of the staff do not speak English well, so don't be afraid to ask for Jesus' son Andres and he will take care of you. Jesus' family are some of the nicest people around and will make it clear they appreciate your business.

2. MJ's Pizza - 838 N 48th Street & Elm Springs Rd, Springdale, AR (479) 717-OVEN (6836) (MAP IT)

As families, let's have an open and honest dialogue. Pizza is pretty hard to mess up. For those with young children, we acknowledge one notable exception of a rodent named Mr. C.E.C. who has managed to make one of the most flavorless pizzas on the planet (we used his initials to protect his identity). So two weeks ago, when I was invited to a meeting at MJ's Pizza that happens to be attached to a Macadoodles gas station off the Elm Springs exit, I wasn't overly enthusiastic. Pizza joint attached to a gas station? My expectations were guarded at best.

Wow, was I wrong! The moment you walk in you have no doubt the restaurant is not your ordinary pizza place. High quality decor, aroma, and the warm glow of the brick oven pizza in the distance overwhelm your senses the moment you enter. Their gourmet pizzas here are wonderful. On my first visit, I began asking the wait staff about the place when I learned it was owned by Michael James (James at the Mill). At that point, everything made sense. The atmosphere and food is second to none. They have a wide variety of pizza, pasta, and salad. I tried the Loaded Meat Pizza on my first visit along with a Caesar salad, and it was delicious. I honestly could have stopped with the salad. On the 2nd visit, I took my family. My kids raved about the pizza and pasta (we split an individual pizza with my kids and they were satisfied). They have been asking to return ever since. MJ's prides itself on using local ingredients, so you will see things like Arkansas bacon on the menu of pizza toppings. Small individual gourmet pizzas are ~$10 while larger ones are $20. So although it won't make our "affordable for all families" list, the value is still compelling given the high-quality of food they serve.

This restaurant brings everything you have come to expect from Michael James, but in the convenience of a walk-in pizza joint welcoming enough for the entire family. MJ's is definitely a must-stop if you are near the Elm Springs exit and looking for something to eat.

3. Taqueria Guanajuanto - 103 N Thompson Street, Springdale, AR (479) 750-1949 (MAP IT)

This one may or may not be a hidden gem depending on where you live, but anytime we are in the Springdale area over by Northwest Hospital, this is a must-visit. In a small red and yellow building on the East side of 71 just north of 412 with maybe 10 tables max, you will see a constant stream of people in and out of this taqueria. I honestly believe they do more take-out business than eat-in.

We love their authentic tacos which are arguably some of the best in Northwest Arkansas. Much like Real Jacona, they cook from scratch. What is amazing about this place is they do so much asada (steak), if you look into their open kitchen, you will often see a massive pile of meat on the grill (it looks like 20lbs+ to me!). My kids absolutely LOVE their asada quesadillas that are enormous. One adult quesadilla will easily feeds two of my older children (12 and 10) and maybe even the third who is 8. They also have a full traditional mexican menu of tortas (sandwiches), flautas, and more. But the authentic tacos are where they shine. And much like Real Jacona, they are very affordable at $30-35 for our family of 5.

Monica Whitaker.  Writer for Firefly Marketing, LLC including SupplierLife.com and FamilyLifeNWA.com

Monica Whitaker, writer with FamilyLifeNWA

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