Maria Alegria was not immediately on board when her husband, Luis, wanted to buy a restaurant in Mansfield. Neither were her daughters, Luci and Marisol. And Maria made it clear that she wasn’t cooking.
In the past 18 years, Alegria and her family have cooked thousands of meals while their restaurant, Jalisco’s Mexican Cocina, has become a Mansfield mainstay.
“We had no idea what we were getting into,” said Marisol Alegria, 28. “We had no experience. When this restaurant went up for sale, my uncle said ‘it’s a good deal.’ My dad was the only one who was really for it.”
Maria and Marisol Alegria moved to Mansfield in the summer of 1998 and transformed Alfredo’s restaurant into Jalisco’s Mexican Cocina, named for the Mexican state where her father’s family is from. Her mother, who is from Zacatecas, Mexico, and father married in Mexico, then moved to Chicago to work in factories. After 17 years, Luis Alegria’s brother found the restaurant and encouraged his brother to move.
Maria’s sister-in-law Marina stepped up to help open the restaurant, but the menu and most of the cooking fell on Maria, 61.
“Tex Mex is something we had to learn,” Marisol said. “We put things on the men that were really Mexican, like guisado (fried pork or beef in broth). I think it was well recieved.”
Some Lone Star preferences still baffled them, like when the Texans ordered tortillas and butter.
Other dishes quickly became favorites, like the nachos, fajitas and their mother’s red mole sauce.
“People really liek the enchiladas and mole sauce, that’s going to be different everywhere,” Marisol said.
“I’ve always been hesitant to tell people we had a restaurant,” she admitted. “I’m kind of humble. We think the food is great because we grew up eating it.
“It’s my mom’s cooking,” said Marisol, who has a culinary degree from the Art Institute of Dallas. “The beans don’t come out of a bag, the rice doesn’t come out of a bag, the tomatoes are not out of a can.”
And their customers have noticed. Sunni Smith of Mansfield is a longtime fan.
“I love their salsa and chips,” she said. “It reminds me of home. I ate here weekly in high school.”
She and her mom, Shari Adams, like that they see the same people every time they go to Jalisco’s and that those people remember them.
“If you go to the same places, people get to know you versus a big place where you’re just another person,” Adams said.
Four-year-old Lindy Conner of Lillian is already a devotee.
“She talks about it all the time,” said her grandmother, Diane Nielsen of Alvarado. “This is where she always wants to go.”
Luci and Marisol have always helped their parents in the restaurant, starting at ages 13 and 9, respectively. And they didn’t always enjoy it, they admit.
“It’s a lot of work,” Marisol said. “Me and Luci never got to go to Friday night football games. Now, looking back, we didn’t have any experience. It was the American dream. It was a lot of work.”
The Alegria family recently expanded that dream, adding a second patio, enlarging the dining area and kitchen, and remodeling the vestibule and bathrooms.
“We all wanted it,” Luci Alegria, 32, said. “We’d been talking about it for years.”
But they did have some growing pains. Working with the architect on the plans took approximately two years, then the family tried to do as much as possible while keeping the restaurant open. Finally, they closed for a month this summer, reopening Aug. 10. The new design is more efficient and makes communication easier, Luci says.
And they aren’t done yet. A mural on the east side of the building is planned as is decorating and enclosing the new patio, which will almost double the size of the restaurant.
The staff, though, has primarily stayed the same, with all four Alegria family members, plus a cousin and several long-time employees. Maria still cooks the main dishes with help from Marisol, while Luci is waiting tables and serving up dishes. Luis, 66, makes the salsa, caldo and guisado. The Alegrias’ oldest daughter, Suzie, stayed in Chicago, where she is raising four children.
Now there’s another generation in Jalisco’s, with Luci’s 6-year-old son and Marisol’s 13-year-old daughter that longtime customers are likely to recognize.
“I said ‘she’s never going to work here, she’s going to be in after-school activities,’” Marisol remembers. “Now, I think she needs to know how to work.”
Luci’s son enjoys being in the restaurant, she said.
“He gets dropped off here after school,” she said. “He does like to come and help. He likes to open the door for people.
“When they see our kids, (customers) say ‘I remember when you were little,’” Luci said.
Jalisco’s Mexican Cocina
102 W. Oak St.