When in Clarksville, skip the chains and hit Taqueria Don Juan

Taqueria Don Juan is a fine addition to Clarksville’s many authentic Mexican establishments along Eastern Boulevard. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Clarksville, Ind., is known by many for its bustling Veterans Parkway, home to countless chain establishments, from Olive Garden to Taco Bell to Cheddar’s.

But a couple of miles south is Eastern Boulevard, once the heartbeat of the small town. And there can be found several small Mexican eateries serving up authentic fair for reasonable prices. In other words, if you want to steer clear of The Bell, Clarksville has you covered.

One of those eateries, located in the space that used to house El Molcajete Norteño, is Taqueria Don Juan. With a focus on seafood — from ceviche to oysters to seafood cocktails and caldo de camarones — it’s a solid player on Clarksville’s taco row.

The small space is brightly colored, with a couple of booths and a few tables, along with a bar. One of the features of the restaurant is the beverage program, which takes up nearly a quarter of the two-page menu, touting micheladas, cervezas, margaritas and other cocktails, not to mention horchata.

Oyster shooters | Photo by Kevin Gibson

(We opted for a pair of Mexican Cokes.)

I met my friend Jill at Taqueria Don Juan for lunch there recently and we both were excited to find oyster shooters on the menu. Served by the half-dozen or dozen, we quickly ordered the former to share as we decided what our main meals would consist of.

The oysters came out perched on a wooden paddle, each square-shaped glass containing a medium-sized oyster with a splash of spicy sauce. A colorful spice blend garnished one corner of each glass, and each oyster came with a lime wedge.

Simply squirt the oyster with lime and shoot, making sure to slide the oyster along the spice. Not only were the oysters fresh and tasty, each shot packed a bold, spicy kick.

In retrospect, we probably should have ordered a full dozen; instead, we quickly placed an order for shrimp ceviche, choosing not to venture into octopus or marlin this time around.

While we waited on the ceviche to come to the table, we also each decided on a pair of tacos. I chose lengua and chorizo, while Jill asked for lengua and cabeza (head meat).

Shrimp ceviche | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The ceviche was served with three crunchy tostadas and a few packs of saltine crackers, topped with slices of avocado. Fresh and tasty, the dish was beautifully presented and ample, given the $9.99 price tag (a single order is $5.99, while the “grande” portion is $19.99 and likely would have served four or five people).

My only complaint about the ceviche was the preponderance of cucumber; most ceviche I’ve had includes cucumber, but this particular ceviche seemed overstocked with the distinctive flavor.

When our tacos came to the table, we both had a moment of confusion, having expected them to be topped with the requisite chopped onions and cilantro, garnished with lime wedges. Instead, they were just plain meat and shells.

Sensing the confusion we first-timers were experiencing, our server directed us to a small station near the bar where we could top our own. Sign me up for the taco bar experience.

The bar featured three different salsas, plus radish slices, cucumbers, beans and the anticipated lime, cilantro and onions. We loaded up, and I made sure to grab a dollop of the chunky, light orange salsa, which was labeled “Hot!” My prediction was correct: It was basically just blended habanero peppers. Delicious, citrusy and bright, and it did indeed bite back.

Tacos, post taco bar visit | Photo by Kevin Gibson

My chorizo was moist, messy and flavorful, only moderately spicy, and I had to request a fork to pick up the chunks that fell back into the basket the tacos came in. Meanwhile, the lengua was chopped and was a tad on the dry side, although it was quite flavorful and played well with the salsa.

Jill had ordered her tacos “Gringas” style, served in a quesadilla-style flour shell with melted cheese. After she took her first bite of the lengua taco, she uttered, “Oh, that’s gorgeous.” I assume that meant she was happy.

She did manage to make it through the cabeza version, although she was not fully prepared for the richer flavor of cabeza, which typically is taken from the full roasted head of a cow. But she was game, and simply added a bit more sauce and powered through.

Despite tasting cucumbers on and off for the rest of the afternoon, my experience at Taqueria Don Juan was return-worthy. Heck, I would go back just for the oyster shooters.

Taqueria Don Juan, located at 615 Eastern Blvd. in Clarksville, is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.