Raquel Torres has more than 20 years of experience in the restaurant business. Despite some unexpected delays brought on by COVID-19, she is making her mark on the local dining scene with the June opening of Jalisco Mexican Grill at the Milledgeville Mall.

Torres has been part of various restaurant projects in central Georgia over the years, including opening Los Torres with her brother in downtown Greensboro. In 2016, Torres branched out and opened Jalisco Mexican Grill’s original location at Parkside Main in Greensboro. After establishing a presence there, she was looked to open a second location in Madison but changed gears based on some customer feedback.

“People at Lake Oconee loved it, and a lot of our customers live in Sparta, and they’ve always said, ‘Milledgeville’s closer to us. Would you ever consider opening in Milledgeville?’” said Torres’s daughter, Paulina Macias, who serves as a manager at both Jalisco locations.

Jalisco moved into its Milledgeville Mall location and set about updating the space with a projected March 2020 opening. The location was most recently occupied by Puebla’s, but having sat empty for a period, it needed several upgrades. Torres and her team updated the plumbing, electrical, light fixtures and restrooms and repainted the entire restaurant, giving it a fresh, new look. Kitchen equipment was updated, and significant portions of the bar were rebuilt and refinished. The result is a clean, contemporary and family-friendly dining space.

With almost all of the pieces in place for a March opening, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in processing some of the final paperwork and the installation of the new walk-in cooler. Everything was resolved, however, in time for Torres to open Jalisco’s doors in early June.

Jalisco Mexican Grill offers a broad menu of Mexican favorites including quesadillas, tacos and chimichangas. Popular selections among Jalisco customers include their specialty burritos and signature chicken soup.

“Everyone loves our fajitas,” said Macias, adding, “Our most famous dish is Jalisco Rice. That’s steak, chicken and shrimp, onions, bell peppers, and cheese up on top, on a bed of rice below.”

Macias said the diversity of the menu resonates with customers, but she feels the recipes are what really sets Jalisco apart. Macias said her mother wanted to bring a different taste of Mexican food to Milledgeville and that she accomplishes this through her selection of ingredients and seasonings.

“A lot of people love our salsa,” said Macias. “They always say it’s different compared to other Mexican restaurants.”

Jalisco also attracts customers with its popular promotions.

“We have specials throughout the week, Monday through Friday, and also we have specials for college students,” said Macias.

Weekly specials include Margarita Mondays with $5.99 medium lime margaritas, Taco Tuesdays with $0.99 tacos all day and Burrito Wednesday. On Thursdays, Jalisco’s popular chicken soup is $5.99 all day, and Fridays are Chicken Fajita Fridays. Daily happy hours are from 3 to 6 p.m. with $4.50 medium draft beers and $3.99 small margaritas.

College specials are available every day with a valid college ID and include Jalisco Rice, Quesadilla Gringa or Enchilada Tapatillas for $8 and Pollo Loco or Chicken Fajita for $9.

Macias said that the biggest challenge in running a restaurant in the face of COVID-19 is ensuring parties are seated with proper spacing between groups. Every other table is left unused to ensure proper spacing. Jalisco also closes the front dining sections for deep cleaning on less busy days and completes a thorough deep clean of the entire facility at least once a week. Hand sanitizer is available for customers, and staff members wear masks at all times and limit their contact with customer plates as much as possible. For those who prefer not to dine in, Jalisco offers both takeout and curbside service.

While the restaurant is in a busy part of town, the staff at Jalisco had to work to get their name out in the beginning. With the mall set off the road and no individual signage available to them roadside, Torres took to radio ads and social media to spread the word and let people know something new is now in the previously vacant location. With more people getting comfortable with coming out to the mall since the earlier months of the pandemic, traffic is picking up, and the team at Jalisco is excited to welcome more and more new customers.

“Little by little, people are starting to come out and notice us,” said Macias.

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