Jalapeño Inferno cooks up holiday special on tamales

Terry Craig is the chef of the duo, with Laura Craig running the floor and accommodating customers. (Jalapeño Inferno/Submitted)

Twenty-three years ago, restaurateurs Terry and Laura Craig wanted to get into the Mexican food business. After some searching, they came across the bones of what they thought could be a successful endeavor.

Twenty-two years and three locations later, the Craigs opened Jalapeño Inferno’s fourth location in Park West, Peoria, bringing their fresh food, affordable prices and the Scottsdale restaurant feel to the West Valley.

“The Peoria residents were saying, ‘We’d like to go out to a nice dinner, but we don’t want to drive all the way to Scottsdale,’” Terry said. “And we put food on the plate, and we keep it fresh. I think that’s the difference.”

The mom-and-pops restaurant is entirely owned by the Craigs, both with big-chain restaurant experience, first started in Scottsdale. Terry, the chef of the duo, had never tried his hand at cooking Mexican food, but was determined to make the restaurant the best it could be foodwise, while Laura would run the floor and make customers feel the most accommodated in their care.

With this determination, the pair turned their small restaurant into a chain that spans multiple parts of North Scottsdale, including a takeout kitchen and cantina, as well as Peoria.

“We’re still the same though,” Terry said. “We still go to work every day. It’s still our restaurant, and we work hard, like any entrepreneur would, just trying to do the right thing.”

Jalapeño Inferno prides itself on its ideology of having everything made from scratch and providing the best food at a good price. Coming to the West Valley in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant hasn’t seen its full potential yet, but with restrictions getting lighter, Jalapeño Inferno is gaining more and more popularity in Peoria.

Its mission to differentiate themselves from other restaurants is that everything it makes is from scratch, from the “legendary” tamales to guacamole and even freshly squeezed limes for margaritas.

“I have two full-time people in every restaurant, eight to 10 hours a day,” Terry said. “They just stand there, and they never cook a ticket or they never fry a taco. They’re standing in the back room making everything from scratch every day.”

“We still think people can tell; the discerning eye or palate can tell that it’s not (premade) food,” he added.

This method has netted Jalapeño Inferno great success, with its sweet green corn tamale leading the way. It has taken that into account, as in the month of December only, ending on New Year’s, it is offering a holiday special that includes six free tamales — sweet green corn or seasonal red spicy pork — with a preorder of a dozen tamales.

This is to honor the traditional Mexican history behind the tamale, of being a winter food that brings family together behind some great tasting food.

“We’re so known for our tamales anyways,” Terry said. “And it is kind of a Hispanic Arizona tradition that the family stands around the kitchen and they all get together and they make tamales together. That’s a pretty cool tradition in the Southwest where we live, and so we try to capture that.”