Best in the West
By Nancy Powell
Many a lunch hour would I sit around the cubicle and reminisce about a bowl of spiced chili verde and sopapillas drizzled in honey from Anita’s in Fullerton, which used to be the only game in town when it came to New Mexican-style cuisine. That is until Jodi at Big Jim’s Grill put Anita’s to shame. Big Jim’s is about as far in BFE as one could possibly go, or as close to Santa Fe as one could conceivably imagine this side of the IE, surrounded by dirt, dirt and more dirt.
It’s a total locals-only dive haunted by geezers in caps, button-down plaids and jeans, oversized sheriffs on break from routine patrols and pony-tailed sports types nursing mugs of beer. Even during the Jets and Steelers game, the cavernous dining room adorned with BMX and hang gliding paraphernalia remains relatively quiet, probably so Jodi’s particular brand of Southwestern charm can weave its magic through empty stomachs.
Jodi and fiancé Jim, who had staked their claim to fame as the go-to breakfast mavens in the area, opened their Elsinore digs some four years ago and expanded their menu to include its present incarnation of grill food: burgers, sandwiches, salads and the near full page of Southwestern delights courtesy of imported reds and greens from the Land of Enchantment. The most popular item on the menu is Jodi’s New Mexico Burrito, a hulking behemoth of shredded beef, beans and Jack and cheddar cheeses smothered in her version of chili Colorado, and buried in more layers of cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a giant dollop of sour cream. There is an in-your-face kick to the refried beans and brown salsa, a tribute to Jodi’s belief that “the bigger the spices, the better.”
Another fan favorite is the Texas Burger, which really translates to a heart-attack on amphetamines. Bacon, avocado, pickled jalapeños and onion rings grace a beef patty sandwiched between two slices of Texas toast and finished off by chipotle mayo, lettuce and tomatoes. This burger, though a sight to behold, does take a considerable effort to consume for fat and thin alike.
My personal favorite off the menu is the High Octane, a thick and chunky chili verde served with rice and beans. Although the beef itself is fall-off-the-bone fork tender, the slow-roasted green chili is really the star that shines. It pops with so much acidic sizzle and smokiness that it vanquishes any carb-laced stupor the appetizers bring. While the chili Colorado remains a very fine product that will please any aficionado of New Mexican cuisine, the chili verde without a doubt takes the prize for best in the west (of the 15, that is).
Other nice-to-haves include a homemade peach pie (more of a peach turnover) served with ice cream and drizzled in caramel to get the saliva running before the feast; fried jalapeño slices, known as “Bottle Caps.” As it stands this NFL playoff weekend, I can barely get past my burrito let alone the added excitement of a night drowning in more carbs.
Jodi and Jim plan to roll out a new menu in February with even bigger and bolder recipes culled from Jodi’s fine family repertoire. Let’s hope that future includes sopapillas.
Big Jim’s Grill, 19980 Grand Ave., Lake Elsinore, (951) 678-1872. M/V/D.