Tag Archives: New Jersey

The Growing Popularity of Mexican Food in Southern New Jersey

18 Dec

The obsession with Mexican style food is a national phenomenon. Books like Gustavo Arellano’s Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America detail the history of Mexican food in the states how it has become so incredibly popular. He also touches on what exactly classifies as Mexican food. South of the border cuisine has been growing in popularity across the Garden State.

In the past ten years, Mexican restaurants have popped up across southern New Jersey. Restaurant chains touting Tex-mex and Mexican style foods such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill have been opening many new locations. Chain restaurants such as these have proliferated across the region, along with smaller independently owned eateries. You can view a timeline, linked above, to see when and where South Jersey Mexican restaurants have opened.

Before 1990 there were only a few independent Mexican eateries: Los Amigos established in 1976, The Mexican Food Factory established in 1979, and Tortilla Flats established in 1984.  These restaurants have stood the test of time, surviving economic downturns and standing up against competition. “We’re affected by economy more than the competition. The competition comes and goes. Flexibility as far as our chefs, diversity helps us,” said Fred Jones, manager of Los Amigos in West Berlin, NJ. The restaurant has a loyal following of customers, and focuses on keeping returning patrons excited about the restaurant. They have specials that change several times and week.

“The competition comes and goes. We strive to be the best we can be, to always be innovative,” Jones explained. A diversified menu and professionally trained chefs have set them apart from other restaurants.

Newer independent eateries must compete against big chains and each other. About 20 restaurants have popped up since 1999, all of which are listed in the SJ Taco Time map. They are vying to stay in business. “There are a million Chipoltes’ and Moes’ out there. The difference is serving up fresh ingredients and authentic food. Regulars really help keep business going” says Joe Cozzan, owner of Rojo’s Tacos in Ocean City, NJ. The eatery started as boardwalk taco place in 2004 then moved to a street location.

“It’s very hard to compete with chain restaurants because they have so much money and advertising power. So you have to set yourself apart from them. We specialize in tequila, we’re not just a restaurant, we’re a destination.” Says Saul Cordova, Jr. of La Esperanza, which has been open for ten years in Gibbsboro, NJ. Newer restaurants are making their way through the crowd by focusing on minute details like offering a large selections of tequila and using new web marketing techniques.

Cordova explained the importance of innovating marketing, “We try to stay current and relevant in the media. We have a Facebook, we’re part of the SJ Independent Restaurant Association. We have Instagram now, we have to keep with the times.”


The SJ Taco Time Map


SJ Taco Time: Reflections

18 Dec

This blog started as an assignment for my Online Journalism class. When I picked a topic, Mexican food in South Jersey, I was familiar with it but over the course of the semester I have learned so much more about Mexican food and culture. I’ve sampled Tex-Mex, classic Mexican food, several gallons of horchata, a few quarts of salsa and mole sauce.

Through visiting restaurants, talking with chefs, friends, and servers I’ve learned that Mexican food is all about feeling at home. It’s about expressing yourself with materials as simple as beans you made yourself or horchata that you prepared for your guests. It is both humble and complex (if you don’t believe me try to make a mole sauce like Plaza Garibaldi).

The focus of this blog is Mexican restaurants but the most popular entries were about cooking at home. A few of my greatest hits:

Making Horchata

Mexican Food In Your Kitchen

Shopping At the Collingswood Farmer’s Market

More than just Tacos at The Tortilla Press in Collingswood

SJ Taco Time Mexican Restaurant Map (newly updated!)

This has been a wonderful learning experience.

El Azteca: Spicy Mole, Fun Atmosphere

11 Dec
Chicken taco from El Azteca

Chicken taco from El Azteca

El Azteca in Philadelphia appears to be a quaint little store front on Chestnut St. between 7th and 8th St. It’s a BYOB that also has a full bar. However, there is a $5 cork fee.

I got a chicken taco and cheese enchiladas with mole sauce. The food was pretty good, the mole definitely had a kick to it.  The atmosphere inside was lively and exciting since there were several large parties celebrating in the restaurant. The price range is middle of the road: dinner entrees range from $11-$15 with a variety of sides. They also have a vegetarian menu.

Enchiladas from El Azteca

Enchiladas from El Azteca

I would recommend visiting the Philly location if you want to have a nice dinner with friends. There is more than enough space to accommodate large groups.

El Azteca also has locations in Mt. Laurel, NJ; Pottstown, PA and Levittown PA.


SJ Taco Time Mexican Restaurant Map

1 Dec

I’ve created a map with exact locations of every restaurant reviewed and a few that are to come. I will be updating it accordingly.

Chef Batista Ernesto on Mexican Food the Puebla Way

13 Oct

Chef Batista Ernesto and myself at The Mexican Food Factory

The Mexican Food Factory has been around about as long as rice and beans, since 1979 to be exact. I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The food was simple, colorful and flavorful.

The chef, Batista Ernesto, came by at the end of the meal for a quick chat. He was relaxed and friendly, true to Mexican-style hospitality. He’s from Puebla, a large city in central Mexico.

 How long have you been a chef?

“About seven years.”

 How did you learn to cook?

“I learned from my uncle, he was actually a chef at an Italian restaurant. I cooked with my sister too. I like food, I cook for friends a lot.”

 What is your favorite food to prepare?

“I love to cook fish. Salmon is my favorite, also snapper and tuna.”

 And your favorite food to eat?

“Rice and beans, but mostly beans. My parents say beans are good, the doctor says beans are good. I love them. They’re comfort food.”

What is the most traditional dish on the menu?

“Fajitas are the most traditional mixed with onions, peppers, and cilantro.”

Ernesto moonlights as DJ Tazz in Philadelphia and Camden, he was looking over a set list when I left. The Mexican Food Factory is located on Route 70 West in Marlton, NJ.

Lindenwold’s La Esperanza, “A symphony of flavor”

29 Sep

Tacos de Pollo at La Esperanza

Last night I went to a highly recommended  restaurant in Lindenwold named La Esperanza located on Gibbsboro Road. It’s  impossible to miss, it’s a large pink building. The atmosphere was very cozy and inviting. There is a bar at the front of the restaurant so if you weren’t in the mood for an all out dinner, you could certainly have a seat and a drink.

The guacamole appetizer was enormous and very good. I decided to get tacos de pollo (chicken tacos) which were delicious, and so generously proportioned that I could only eat one. My friend decided to get the tacos de carne asada (grilled steak tacos). He described the taste as, “A symphony of flavor.”

The house margaritas were excellent and not too sweet or watery. There was a large variety of cocktails, margaritas, and imported beers

The overall experience was great, the staff was attentive and helpful, food was very fresh and portions were quite large. Esperanza is also very affordable; the bill was around $50 for two meals, appetizers and drinks. I will definitely return.