Joel’s Mexican Food, Sandpoint, ID

"Authentic" Mexican food?  Whether it is, or not, the food is fantastic.  Joel's rates as a 'Destination Diner', absolutely

“Authentic” Mexican food? Whether it is, or not, the food is fantastic. Joel’s rates as a ‘Destination Diner’, absolutely

When we announced our pending road trip through Sandpoint, ID, our niece Alica and BF Tyler excitedly instructed, “You MUST go to Joel’s.  They have the best, authentic, Mexican food.”

Hmmm.  Having a Canadian make pronouncements on the ‘authenticity’ of Mexican food is suspect.  That’s like relying on somebody who’s lived all their life in a small, Western Canadian prairie town about recommendations for “authentic” Chinese food, an opinion based on frequenting the local Chinese restaurant all their lives.  But Alicia’s recommendations carry heavy weight.  Her mom and dad are genuine ‘foodies’ and seriously outstanding gourmet cooks in their own right.   So we made a point to find Joel’s, and it was easy.  Sandpoint is a small town.

While checking in to the La Quinta Inn in the heart of Sandpoint, I asked the young woman desk clerk, “Do you know of a Mexican restaurant called Joel’s?”

“Joel’s?  Yeah, Joel’s has the best Mexican food, and it’s authentic Mexican food!”, she said, almost gushing with enthusiasm.  “It’s not too far from here, and if you hurry, you can make it before they close.”  It was 4:20 PM, and our enthusiastic clerk (who hailed from Northern California and ought to have a good familiarity with ‘authentic’ Mexican food) was wrong about Joel’s hours.  They close at 4:00 PM.

We made our way to Joel’s for lunch the next day.

Joel’s is a cafeteria style eatery, with two small inside eating areas that flow out to two patios.  You order at the counter and the staff bring your order to your table.

Established in 1994, Joel Senior works the kitchen.  Up front, Joel Jr., his brother and sister and another person take time to explain the various menu items, make recommendations and take orders.

I order the fish tacos, but one of the brothers says, “Our fish taco is good, but we have a Steelhead blackened salmon taco ‘special’ today.”

I think it’s good taking the advice of the folks working in restaurants, so I order the ‘special.’  It comes with a two flour tortillas, chipotle sauce, vinaigrette, crisp fresh veg, pico de gallo, cheese and silantro, $8.50.  There’s a squeeze of fresh lime juice and they’re the best tacos I’ve ever had.

Ingrid doesn’t know what to order.  “How hungry are you?  Small, medium or very hungry?”, asks the fellow behind the counter.

“Medium”, Ingrid answers.

“Do you want fish, pork, beef or chicken?”, he asks, gently drilling down into Ingrid’s preferences.

“Pork”, she replies.

“I’ve just the thing for you.  Two pork tacos with red beans.  OK?”

Ingrid OKs the order and her food comes garnished with hicama, silantro, pickled carrot, corn, vinaigrette and rice.   ($6.00)

Within minutes of our arrival, customers are lined up, and the staff are as patient and helpful as they were with us.

“This place is a licence to print ten dollar bills”, Ingrid observes.  The majority of customers are grabbing lunch, and it’s costing less than ten bucks.  A bargain.

During our two week road trip through BC, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana, lunch at Joel’s was one of the best meals we had.

Highly recommended.  Joel’s is a true ‘Destination Diner.’  Make the effort to get there.  You won’t be disappointed.

Joel’s Mexican Food, 329 Church St, Sandpoint, ID, 208-265-8991

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