Mexican in the Mountains

20 07 2007

Two of my unwritten (until now) rules of cheap eats are avoid Mexican restaurants near interstates and avoid seafood in the mountains. Mexican restaurants near interstates are usually dishing up Taco Bell style food that will have you stopping at the next rest stop for an extended potty break and seafood in mountains usually consists of Mountain Oysters (if you don’t know what that is, Wikipedia it!). However, after driving almost the full length of I-64 in Virginia, my family was getting pretty hungry and we just couldn’t resist the site of a Mexican flag painted on top of San Juan Restaurant, a roadside dive in the mountain town of Covington.  We pulled into the last safe spot in the gravel lot and headed inside. When you enter you can either go left, to the non-smoking or right to the smoking section. And never the twain shall meet, because of the closed in kitchen and bathrooms. (One bonus point for not smelling like smoke!)


You won’t find your typical interstate dining Mexican dishes that lack flavor or spice at San Juan. No, these dishes were the first in Virginia to remind me of those full flavored spicy Mexican dishes that we enjoyed in Baja and SoCal last year. In fact, the prices matched that of Mexico with plenty of great dishes that can be split for under ten dollars. In fact they have 30 combination dinners that cost no more than $7. Even cheaper, though slightly smaller, are the 13 lunch specials ranging from $3.75 (a Speedy Gonzales consisting of an enchilada AND a taco PLUS rice or beans) to $6.25.


However, since I am breaking rules, I want to tell you about a dish that comes in at 12.75-the shrimp fajita. Yes, I said shrimp. Yes, I am in the middle of Appalachia and I am recommending shrimp. Now, I never would have ordered this but we were still on a seafood kick from a trip to the Outer Banks and Bethany had to have some shrimp. Yes, it’s a roadside Mexican restaurant. Yes, we’re in the mountains. But, we ordered it anyways. A few minutes later, out comes a steaming fajita filled with HUGE shrimp. These weren’t your Wal-Mart special frozen salad shrimp. No, these were more like the seafood counter select fresh jumbo shrimp. Not only were the huge they were tasty and firm-not chewy or mushy like most fajita shrimp. In fact, we liked it so much that several weeks later when we passed through Covington we stopped there again and helped ourselves to some rule breaking shrimp fajitas!


San Juan Restaurant

1005 Valley Ridge Road

Covington, VA




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