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Authentic Mexican at Jalapeno's

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Kim

Angel Moran came to the United States as a foreign exchange student from Mexico 14 years ago. He eventually moved his entire family to the Quad-Cities and, a few years ago, opened the very popular Jalapeno`s mexican restaurant, which has expanded.

They say you can't go home again, but maybe you can bring home with you.

That's what Angel Moran has tried to do with Jalapeno's Mexican Cuisine Restaurant, a venture he started about four years ago.

``I wanted my family to move here,'' said Mr. Moran, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. ``This is what we know how to do. My mom knows how to cook.''

Mr. Moran's mother, Yolanda, his father, Tomas, and sister, Leticia, do most of the cooking at the newly opened Jalapeno's at 4601 4th Ave., Moline, and the smaller one at 3008 7th Ave., Rock Island.

What began as a small, authentic Moline restaurant has grown to two, and a soon-to-come third. Mr. Moran said he hopes to open a restaurant in Davenport or Bettendorf this spring.

The new Moline site, several blocks east of the original Jalapeno's, has more than double the original seating capacity. Since its July opening, business is brisk, the parking lot often is full, and on Saturday and Sunday nights people line up to get into the brightly painted building.

When customers do get inside, they're encouraged to stray from typical Quad-Cities' Mexican fare.

``We're not talking about tacos and chimichangas,'' Mr. Moran said. ``I make them because a lot of customers are used to it, but I encourage them to try what I call real Mexican food. The other food might taste good, but it's not really Mexican.''

Authentic Mexican dishes at Jalapeno's include albondigas, meatballs stuffed with eggs in red or green sauce; and chilaquilas, fried tortilla strips topped with chicken, cheese and green sauce.

The Moran family is familiar with these delicacies because they were common in Central Mexico.

Mr. Moran came to the United States about 14 years ago as an exchange student at United Township High School in East Moline. He soon returned to take a construction job in Chicago, and eventually came back to the Quad-Cities to open his first restaurant and make a new home for his family.

However, the Morans brought more than family and food. The new restaurant is painted canary yellow on the outside and decorated with authentic Mexican crafts on the inside. Yolanda and Tomas Moran selected the decorations -- from carved statues to colorful weavings -- from craftsmen in Mexico City.

The atmosphere of family and authenticity is the key to Jalapeno's success, Mr. Moran said.

``This is the way I look at a business: I picture myself going into a restaurant that looks nice on the outside,'' he said. ``Then you go in, and it's colorful and cheerful. If the food's also good, then that's my recipe for business success.''

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (February 2, 1998)

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