Interview: Meet chef Wilson Porras behind beloved Brixton Mexican eatery Jalisco

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From zingy margaritas to and luscious pork quesadillas, the menu features everything you’d expect when craving a plateful of tacos or nachos.

Venezuelan chef and restaurateur Wilson Porras likes to have a lot on his plate.

From squeezing 20 boxes of lemons and limes for fresh margaritas at his colourful Brixton restaurant, to opening a second branch - and a Paddington pub - it’s clear he’s a busy man.

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Family-owned Jalisco - named after a western region of Mexico - is the brainchild of Wilson and wife Carolina Sanchez.

The couple, who live in Putney with their children aged 20, seven and two, opened their doors in bustling Brixton Village 12 years ago, serving their own twist on Mexican classics.

From zingy, salt-rimmed margaritas to creamy refried beans and luscious pork quesadillas, the menu features everything you’d expect when craving a plateful of tacos or nachos.

Jalisco owner and chef Wilson Porras. Photo: LondonWorldJalisco owner and chef Wilson Porras. Photo: LondonWorld
Jalisco owner and chef Wilson Porras. Photo: LondonWorld

“Jalisco is a region in Mexico where they make tequila,” Wilson explained. “It’s only tequila if it’s made in Jalisco - like the French champagne and Prosecco.”

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Their bestselling margaritas are made with Rancho Viejo tequila - with the empty bottles then transformed into water jugs for the tables - triple sec, ice and fresh lime.

And the business has been a labour of love, with Wilson over the years doing everything from creating the menu, waiting tables and cleaning the kitchen.

“Our food is Mexican with a Venezualen twist,” he told LondonWorld. “Tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas are Mexican - but they way we serve it is my own take on them.”

Burritos, however, despite featuring on the menu as a bestseller, are a “dangerous” subject.

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“Some Mexicans say they are not Mexican but a creation for American tastes, but Mexico is a big country with different regions,” Wilson shrugs. “And closer to the US they do eat them.”

Either way, if you want to order one, it’ll set you back £8.20-10, depending on toppings.

Our conversation takes place on ‘Day of the Dead’. Celebrated by Mexicans and South Americans the world over, it stems from the ancient Aztec people of over 1,000 years ago.

Día de los Muertos takes place around November 1-2 and the festival is a celebration of life, both for the living and for loved ones who have passed, represented by the iconic symbols of skulls and bones, often surrounded by colourful flowers.

But regional differences abound.

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Jalisco in Brixton Village. Photo: LondonWorldJalisco in Brixton Village. Photo: LondonWorld
Jalisco in Brixton Village. Photo: LondonWorld

“In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a big festival,” Wilson says. “In South America, we have Day of the Dead but it’s the day we go to the cemetery, we take flowers. It’s more sad.”

But happily, Mexican - and Latin American - food in London is enjoying something of a reimagining.

“In the last ten years there have been more Mexican restaurants opening,” Wilson says.

“We differentiate between - I don’t like to say Tex-Mex - but some are more fast food. Then you have other, genuine Mexican places.

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“The food they serve is heavier, more like curries - not tacos - with lots of spices, chocolate, nuts. There are only a few of those places, but also many taco places that are very good.”

Brixton is also home to a significant Colombian community.

Jalisco was even previously a Colombian restaurant, where Wilson used to eat after arriving in the UK in 1999 when there was “nothing” in the area, apart from a fishmonger, he tells me.

But that’s not the only overlap - with one of his favourite dishes being the subject of an intense regional rivalry.

“Arepas - there are Colombian arepas and Venezuelan, obviously ours are best,” he says.

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A simple cornbread, made fresh with cornflour, water and salt, it can be grilled or deep fried before being either stuffed or topped with meat, cheese, and butter.

A sorrel margarita at Jalisco. Photo: LondonWorldA sorrel margarita at Jalisco. Photo: LondonWorld
A sorrel margarita at Jalisco. Photo: LondonWorld

Wilson says: “That’s where the debate is. The Colombians put it on top, we put it inside.

“Arepas are very popular in London now - you can get them at every festival.”

Despite worrying about the business during the pandemic, and even fearing it could close down, Wilson and Carolina are now going from strength to strength.

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“We did a load of takeaway, Ubereats, during lockdown,” Wilson says.

“We had furlough from the government which helped. If they hadn’t done it there would have been thousands more businesses going under - it could have been so much worse.”

The couple have just opened their second branch in Loughborough Junction a fortnight ago.

Between Brixton and Camberwell, he’s hoping to tempt the lunch crowd, while over at The Royal Exchange, nachos, tacos and quesadillas are served up along traditional pints.

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“We don’t have a kitchen but I have a small place at the bar,” Wilson says. “I can’t stand around looking at people, so I needed to find something to do.

“The second Jalisco was plan A and the pub came up at the same time and I couldn’t say no.”

Jalisco Brixton is open from 12-5pm on Mondays, 12-10pm Tues-Sat, and 12-9pm on Sundays. Jalisco Loughborough Junction will open 12-9pm on Mon, 12-10pm Tues-Fri, 11am to 10pm on Saturdays and 11am to 9pm on Sundays. There’s also a pop-up courtyard bar with free live entertainment this Thursday and Friday evenings to mark ‘Day of the Dead’.

For more information, visit Jalisco’s website or Instagram page.

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