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Jose Tejas

What exactly is the appeal of Jose Tejas, the New Jersey Tex-Mex Cajun chain restaurant that brings a surprising amount (by which I mean one-to-two searches per day—it doesn’t take much to surprise me) of traffic to this site and commands one-hour waits after 6pm?

Jose tejas interior

Without a doubt, it’s the prices. All ending in oddball amounts, nearly every dish is under $10 and the fanciest Patron margarita tops out at $8.50. I couldn’t tell you the last time dinner for two with drinks cost under $40 (ok, that’s not counting the $5.50 house margarita at the bar).

While doing my monthly Wegmans, Costco, Target, DSW rounds in Middlesex County, Jose Tejas won out over Cheeseburger in Paradise (I mulled over Ruby Tuesday, but I have an irrational reluctance to go there after throwing up dim sum in their bathroom a few years ago).

Jose tejas chorizo mexicana

You can have your ceramic dish of melted cheese two ways: Cajun ($6.94) or Mexican ($6.83). This is the latter, an above ground pool of pepper jack with chorizo, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms sealed beneath the surface.

Jose tejas fajitas

Naively, I thought fajitas might be a minutely healthier entrée than many of the fried, dairy laden options (I don’t even consider the Cajun items because that’s just weird). Grilled meat, vegetables and tortillas, right? Sure, and a whole block of grated cheese on the side. Rice and black beans or jambalaya come with all mains. 

I ordered a combination of chicken and beef, pork is nowhere to be seen on the menu and never seems to have a presence at Tex-Mex and Americanized Mexican chains. Why is that?

Jose tejas sides

You are encouraged to wrap everything unfinished to go in Styrofoam containers, even the free flowing chips and tortillas. Even though I’ve been diligent in my carb-limiting, I still packed them all in with my untouched cup of rice because I just can’t blatantly waste food.

I also wonder if part of Jose Tejas' appeal is that it gives the illusion of being a unique restaurant. It's not until you search the name that you realize it's part of a chain whose other locations in Massachusetts and Delaware are called  Border Cafe.

Previously on Jose Tejas.

Jose Tejas * 700 Rt. 1 N., Iselin, NJ

Most Wanted: Jose Tejas

Garnimal “Can you help me locate a place to purchase the sunglasses that is on the piece of fruit in the drink picture on your website?”

While this plea, important enough to send directly through email, seems nonsensical and vague on the surface, I immediately knew what the searcher was looking for. Unfortunately, I have no clue where Cheeseburger in Paradise obtains the miniature eyewear for their “garnimals” (not to be confused with garanimals).

Which isn’t to say there’s not a bevy of shrunken sunglasses available online: not only hawks sunglasses pins for zebra t-shirts, they showcase a photo of garnimals. Bingo. They are also a premier source for dickeys.

ImagineArt7 has John Lennon-style glasses.

Vintage plastic glasses for dolls.

Also, I’ve never seen a television ad for Cheeseburger in Paradise, but someone’s been auditioning for garnimal voice work.

From the search log:

2. jose tejas menu

Ok, that’s easy.

3. pictures jose tejas woodbridge

Also, a snap. And I just learned of the existence of The Unofficial Woodbridge, NJ Flickr Group. So, there’s an official one?

4. what does jose tejas mean in english

Probably whatever Carl’s Jr. means in Spanish.

Jose Tejas

I was under the impression that this nutty Tex-Mex Cajun restaurant along Route 1 was a rare independent venue. Maybe it didn’t look glossy enough or maybe I was won over by the enormous blue and white sign visible from a distance that simply reads EAT. But I was wrong; it is a chain and one that more commonly goes by Border Café. Actually, I wasn’t acquainted with Border Café either but now I know.

I can’t figure out why the receipt I received says Iselin yet their website says both Iselin and Woodbridge. New Jersey is annoying like that, every mile practically puts you in a different township and makes my pull down menu look like I’ve been all over the state when really I travel in a close radius around Middlesex and Union counties.

Speaking of the neighborhood, not too long ago a friend started dating a guy who lives about ten minutes from Jose Tejas. This is a very exciting development because New Jersey chain dining has always been a solitary activity. I mean, another and myself are involved but it’s not like we ever have company along (for good reason, certainly). Can you imagine anything sexier than a double date at Bonefish Grill? Unfortunately, I suspect a Valentine’s reservation has already been made somewhere and not likely in the garden state.

It hasn’t taken much for me to conclude that there just aren’t enough giant chain restaurants to satisfy the tri-state population (and what’s this I hear about the Cheesecake Factory being a freaking hotspot in Hartford, CT?). No matter where and when you go it’s a madhouse. And the unusually cheap prices at Jose Tejas—my $8.97 enchiladas were one of the more expensive items—certainly contribute to the popularity. But I cannot allow human obstacles to get in the way of my chain discovery missions.


We went between lunch and dinner on a Saturday and were quoted a 35-minute wait. Normally, I would’ve left but trying to get on the correct side of the highway and then finding parking had already wasted twenty minutes and I couldn’t fathom a plan B. Even the large bar area was jam-packed, and a nasty old lady tried picking a fight with us for blocking her way. I have zero patience with the nice elderly so I had to restrain myself from knocking her block off.

I don’t trust margaritas from machines, not so much out of hygiene or authenticity issues but because I fear a light hand with the alcohol. A bottle of Dos Equis and a requisite basket of corn chips with salsa suited me fine while waiting. And immediately two stools opened up. It was as if the hand of god, or possibly the ghost of Jose Tejas (assuming he's a real human being and that he's no longer living), reached down and cleared a space for us.


Eating lightly would’ve been smart in preparation for the next day’s inescapable Super Bowl gluttony. But how does one even accomplish such a thing at a restaurant with salads that come in those ‘80s fried tortilla bowls? No, we went all out and shared the chorizo flambado, which is essentially a shitload of melted cheese dotted with chorizo. I swear the chorizo was actually ground beef or Italian sausage but the grease and fat effect was still achieved. You eat this concoction with warm flour tortillas, creating scoopable quesadillas.

I wasn’t touching the Cajun side of the menu. That cuisine is hard to pull off properly even in its own element but in NYC it always tastes like dry, spiced mud. Actually, we joked that dirt might be a secret ingredient while in New Orleans a few years ago; the food all has this earthy flavor that seems to go beyond cumin and cayenne.


I usually order seafood burritos or enchiladas in these types of places, which doesn’t seem intuitive. It’s just that the chicken is always dry, the beef is ground (I don’t like ground beef outside of hamburgers) and pork is rarely on the menu period. I’m also not crazy about fish tacos because battered fried seafood makes me hurl (however, battered fried candy is A-OK). And my crawfish and shrimp stuffed tortillas came sauced to the nines. At least I diligently ate half of everything and saved the rest for a late night dinner. Since this was my first meal of the day, I didn’t feel so bad about the caloric value being spread out over twelve hours.

Jose Tejas * 700 Rt. 1 N., Iselin, NJ

Nurnberger Bierhaus

1/2 Like many rewarding experiences in life, the most fun are often those you never saw coming. While errand running in New Jersey I didn’t imagine that by 11pm I would be surrounded by karaokers in a Staten Island German restaurant. It happens.

Relying on a GPS for food advice has rarely panned out. With its perpetual crowds out the door, cheap Tex-Mex go to, Jose Tejas, is unapproachable before 9:30pm. We turned to the Garmin Nuvi to find other nearby Mexican/Spanish options (I’ll never understand why people think burritos and paella come from the same geographic region) and were directed to downtown Linden. I love the township’s down and out fading Polish main drag and was once lured into a tavern, but wasn’t sure I wanted to eat in the neighborhood (I only recently read about White Diamond and can’t figure out why I hadn’t encountered them yet). It turned out that both recommended restaurants, Don Alex and suspiciously named, The Mexican Restaurant, were nowhere to be found. Thanks for nothing, GPS.

Nurnberger bierhaus mantle
Apropos to nothing, I decided I could use something porky and big mug of beer. Easy, we have to go through Staten Island to get back to Brooklyn, anyway. My only sadness with Staten Island German (Killmeyer’s being the other) is that they don’t offer pork knuckle, one of the finest examples of porcine extremes: the crackliest skin housing a mound of tender, moist meat. I just realized that I’ve bemoaned the lack of pork knuckles and shanks in practically every German write-up I’ve ever posted. I guess I really like pork knuckles. They do a great rendition at Bay Ridge’s Schnitzel Haus and possibly the best version I’ve had was at King Ludwig’s in Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong—I can’t live on congee and dumplings, alone.

Nurnberger bierhaus kassler rippchen
Instead, I settled for kassler rippchen, smoked pork chops. They’re nothing like a knuckle, all soft and yielding with little textural contrast, but there is charm to salty smokiness buffered by a scoop of mashed potatoes and a bed of mild sauerkraut.

Nurnberger bierhaus sausage
Hmm, I thought we asked for the game sausage trio, the same appetizer we had on our last visit, but were presented with three all-the-same sagey links that I figured out where rostbratwurst, baby brautwurst. I’m not sure if we were misunderstood or if after 10pm (the remaining tables were all wrapping up by the time we sat down) you get what you get.

As we finished up leisurely, half the waitresses began changing out of dirndls and into street clothes and some of the staff began pushing dining tables to the edge of the wall and setting up speakers and lights. A new boisterous crowd, composed of quite a few revelers who barely looked out of high school, supplemented by a few middle aged men, slowly started trickling in. Laminated spiral bound books were being placed on tables. Ah ha, karaoke.

“Ok, time to go” immediately popped out of James mouth.

Not so fast. I wasn’t feeling so quick to flee. “No, we have to stay for at least one song,” I pleaded.

“This is going to be bad,” James countered, not instilling confidence with his kill joyness.

“No, this is going to be good,” I affirmed. And another beer would certainly improve matters, so we shifted to the bar to watch from a safer distance. I don’t sing.

Nurnberger bierhaus bar
I will admit to brief hesitation, my only ever NYC neo-nazi encounter occurred in an outer borough German bar attached to a restaurant, but I can judge each far flung German bar in the city as an individual.

Nurnberger bierhaus bavarian bizza Would it surprise you that the first song was “99 Red Balloons?” Thankfully, that was the bulk of ’80s nostalgia, things sped rapidly into the ’90s with the exception of an older gent’s rendition of The Eagles’ “Take it Easy,” a song I always associate with being made to jog in circles around the gym in grade school. (In a similar not terribly blood-pumping vein America’s “Ventura Highway,” somehow managed to get on my iPod shuffle I use at the gym and nearly conjures P.E. nightmares.)

No pork chops after 11pm, that’s when the bar menu inserted on the front page of the song choice guide, becomes standard. I’m still marveling over the concept of “Bavarian Bizza.” (6/14/09)

Despite a few somber, scary image problems, German food has always equaled fun to me, maybe in the same way that festive is synonymous with nachos and margaritas to others. I’m playing into stereotypes and kitsch but it’s not as if there are tons of haute Teutonic options in the city (Austrian and Alsatian is another story). I’m sure young Berliners aren’t clinking steins and hunkering over platters of sauerbraten.

I know I’ve mentioned Portland’s Rheinlander before because it was the German food of my formative years. I don’t even think it’s all that German (my favorite dish of theirs was always fondue. Hmm, I just looked at their menu and it appears that they’ve changed with the times. They’ve added touches like lemongrass beurre blanc, mint-cilantro oil and “hand-formed” salmon cakes to their stodgy roster). The roaming accordion player, cuckoo clock, chalet-style eatery is where we very rarely celebrated milestones. It was special occasion food. At least I treated it that way.

My oversized Taz t-shirt loving stepsister that I thankfully never lived with, once horrified me while eating a Rheinlander chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce and saying to the waitress, “Those mushrooms were good. Can I have some more?” Um, since when were seconds standard restaurant practice? (I swear I read a reader comment on some Vegas travel or food site from a guy who said that he got received more of a dish he liked a L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Who would have the audacity to ask?) She got more mushrooms and gravy, though.

After trolling the Staten Island Mall and nearby Costco (I hate Manhattan shopping and needed to return a Liz Claiborne down coat that I’d purchased the week before and had only worn once because I decided that I hated it and the zipper was already giving me trouble and after Friday’s massive rainstorm I realized I needed a hood. It wasn’t until yesterday that I figured out that I’d left my new Metrocard in the pocket) we considered trying the parking lot Carrabba’s because I’d never been to one and I enjoy feeling like a casual dining chain aficionado. Unfortunately, I’m quickly discovering that Saturday night mall restaurants are out of the question. The Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse were also nightmares. We almost went to the Chinese cocktail lounge, Jade Island, in a strip mall down the street. I’ve since discovered that it’s high tiki and must return soon. At the time I was set on finding the other Staten Island German restaurant, not Killmeyer’s.

After following some crazy Google Maps directions that put us down a tiny back alley called Regan Avenue, we were right in front of Nurnberger Bierhaus. It was a less cavernous place than I’d anticipated. The bar in front takes up nearly as much space as the dining room but tables line one side of the drinking area and are considered part of the regular seating. While waiting for an opening I tried a Paulaner. I later noticed the Nurnberger Sauerkraut on the drink list. Talk about a dirty martini—I’d never heard of a Bombay gin and pickled cabbage combo.

We had a generous four-seater before I was halfway through my beer. No faux beepers, crying kids or hour-plus waits. There were lots of heavy New York accents, moustaches and crew cuts, though. And everyone seemed to know everyone. We jokingly speculated whether or not we’d be embraced into the Aryan fold (not that anyone was even remotely racist, but I did have a charming vicarious neo-nazi experience at a Glendale German restaurant some time ago). For the record, the down-to-earth service was nice as can be, and the owners who had taken over a large round table to dine with a group of guys both made a point to wave and say goodbye to us on our way out.

Even though I’m generally indifferent to sausages (and loathe wieners, franks, whatever you call them—I don’t enjoy hot dogs, one of my few food aversions) the game sampler sounded worth trying. Supposedly there was a rabbit, duck, boar and lamb link. Our waitress couldn’t visually discern between the two ruddy brown cylinders in the middle of the row of meat and that’s because I’m pretty sure they were both boar. Nothing on the plate tasted like poultry. The boar was close to the flavor of breakfast sausage, a little too Jimmy Dean for me. The rabbit was light and naturally spicy, my favorite.

I love sauerkraut (and cabbage in general) so I thought the double dose, white as a bed for my smoked pork chops and red in a separate small dish, was smart. I had to hold myself back from ordering the pork sampler plate like I normally might and stuck to the two kassler rippchen, hardly dainty. I was kind of hoping they’d have a massive pork shank like I had at Bay Ridge’s Schnitzel Haus not too long ago.

The small Xeroxed ad in the front window for Saturday night karaoke didn’t register until our waitress mentioned it to us. I was really tempted to stick around and see what type of crowd and music would possibly be on display but we didn’t have the energy to kill an hour until the 11pm kick off. On my next Staten Island visit it’s going to be a tough call between German karaoke and the tiki lounge in a Kmart parking lot. (3/7/2007)

Nurnberger Bierhaus * 817 Castleton Ave., Staten Island, NY

Next-Gen Chimichangas

The one and only Who Song & Larry's via 360 Drinks

The one and only Who Song & Larry’s via 360 Drinks

In news that might possibly only be of interest to those who grew up in the suburban Portland-Vancouver metro area, Who Song & Larry’s, the Jose Tejas of the Northwest (Who Song & Larry’s is really an El Torito in disguise while Jose Tejas is a stealth Border Cafe) is revamping. Or rather, the name is being appropriated for a new concept altogether.

Who Song & Larry's for young people.

Who Song & Larry’s for young people.

It will become a “Mexican gastropub” for the millennials, you know? There will be communal seating, shared plates, and food and drinks served in jars, obviously. The menu isn’t online yet, but I’m 85% certain kale and a moscow mule variation will make an appearance.

No comment.

No mustache motifs?

New generations of teens will never know the joy of spending Easter eating chimichangas and virgin margaritas with their parents, then ditching the family to go drink 40s in the Rose Garden afterward.

Staten Island Shutter Shocker

jose tejasOf limited interest to even residents of Staten Island and Woodbridge, New Jersey, but big news to me: the Staten Island Mall Bonefish Grill closed after little more than a year in business. Sad news (Carrabba’s, the previous tenant owned by the same company, fared no better–if a chain can’t even succeed on Staten Island) but the real story may be the poll conducted by the Staten Island Advance showing that 38% of locals wish Jose Tejas would replace the dead Bonefish.

I’ve never been able to understand the wild popularity of Jose Tejas (and I was just there a few weeks ago) a Tex-Mex-Cajun restaurant that has an un-suburban wait for tables even on a weeknight after 9pm. The rock bottom prices must have something to do with it, but I’ve also speculated that diners might think it’s not a chain because the other branches go by Border Cafe. The Chevy’s down Route 1 is never full, for instance. And my theory has now been supported; the Advance just reported that Jose Tejas is not a chain.

How Do You Say Tiki in Staten Island?

Jade island drink

Guy at end of the bar to guy on neighboring stool: "How
do you say Tony Romo in Spanish?"

Answer: "Mark Sanchez."

The small separate but open-doored front portion of
Jade Island devoted to drinking (not to be confused with the main event, a strip
mall restaurant serving a Chinese-American Polynesian amalgam to 90% locals/10%
Zipcar drivers) is really a sports bar that happens to serve tiki drinks. And
to steer from bottles of Bud Light or practiced classics with mixes at the
ready is to ask for trouble–or at least a suspicious glance. Don't even think about
Batavia arrack or allspice dram.

I did not get that joke, by the way. And I'm not
convinced that following football (I do not) ups the hilarity.

There may not be more than five patrons on a Friday
night, but the odds are they will all be middle-aged men, not unfriendly, even
the one who talks to himself and rides a bike, not for fitness or carbon
offsets but in the way that grown men sometimes do in the suburbs, perhaps the
result of poor decision-making, maybe due to a banning from the accepted mode
of transport. They talk of Jose Tejas, the popular (I've attempted to go three
times in the past year, most recently this weekend and can never bear the
hour-plus waits. Chevy's is a compromise, but they do serve Bulldogs,
i.e. margaritas with shrunken bottles of Corona tipped in
) Tex-Mex restaurant on
Route 1, in the nearby part of New Jersey, my favorite part, that blurs with
Staten Island, despite the Goethals Bridge separating them.

Ask for a Harvey Wallbanger and
invoke the wrath of the bartender, Chinese by way of Hong Kong, who may have
been there as long as the NYC-mandated signs warning they will card, dated from
the '80s (the restaurant, itself, can't be much older; it's not a mid-century
relic). "Those are old drinks!" Never mind that those old drinks are
listed on the menu. I knew better to even look at that section after an
encounter with a jordan almond blue Grasshopper and being denied a Pink Squirrel on my first visit five years ago.

Even something as mundane as Jack Daniels, requested
by a regular, has the potential for exasperation and consequential trip to the
basement to look for a bottle. Like I said, beer or Scorpions.

Bartender: "How do you say Mark Sanchez in

Answer: "Tony Romo!"

Er, ok. You couldn't accuse the
bartender of being entirely humorless.

Jade Island * 2845 Richmond Ave., Staten Island, NY




On The Border

Jose Tejas, the incongruously named Border Café that give the illusion of not being a chain, rules the Tex-Mex scene in Middlesex County. It’s always packed, the parking lot overflowing well past the time other restaurants in the area are thinning out for the night. Chevy’s in nearby Linden doesn’t really compare, so we kept going south down Route 1 until we hit On the Border in New Brunswick where you can always see a new movie in an uncrowded multiplex.

Not surprising for a Saturday night, the restaurant was bustling and we were quoted a short wait. What I was surprised by was the predominantly Indian clientele. That’s why I like New Jersey so much. Sure, it’s the suburbs but it’s not the all-American West Coast suburbs of my youth. The setting would've been ripe for painful Outsourced-style humor involving Sikh turbans.

On the border apps

The chicken-and-cheese stuffed jalapeños (they didn’t call them poppers) aren’t so different from mirchi bajji, really.

On the border fajita

Their fall Hatch chiles menu is kind of on trend. This year in particular, they’ve been getting a lot of press. The weird thing was that I didn’t really taste the green chile and I didn’t expect cheese on my grilled meat. Of course, melted cheese in the trademark of any fine chain, but I was asked if I wanted cheese or guacamole, and I went for the latter if only to lower my cholesterol marginally.

I ordered one agave margarita, which tasted bitter and lingered like it contained artificial sweetener. My second, a standard version, tasted exactly the same, so then I was confused. I will say that one thing Jose Tejas definitely has over On the Border is the margaritas.

On The Border * 51 US 1, New Brunswick, NJ


Feeling Good in Certain Neighborhoods

Chain restaurant queries that lead searchers here range from:

The typical
jose tejas coupons woodbridge nj

To the thought provoking (it doesn’t take much to provoke me). I never associated Cheesecake Factory with cheese.
cheesecake factory cheese platter

To the distressing. I tried Tyler Florence’s now-gone menu a few years ago at the Linden Applebee’s and will now associate this misbehavior with him.
semen in my food at linden applebees

Clamming Up

Linwood inn

We had time to kill between early dinner/late lunch at Chevy’s (first choice Jose Tejas was ten people deep waiting at the bar. Any time before 9:30pm on a weekend and you’re asking for trouble) and a 9:45pm showing of Gran Torino at the theater next door (it was the only vaguely watchable movie playing. Notorious was sold out and My Bloody Valentine was only in 2-D, lame) so I decided to find the answer to a pressing question I’ve always had. Where do people drink in the suburbs? At Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse? You occasionally see strip mall sports bars, but seriously, where do people go?

This required detouring off chain-clogged Route 1 and scouring side streets. In this case, Wood Avenue in Linden, New Jersey, my favorite blue collar semi-suburb across from Staten Island. There were actual taverns along the little downtown strip dotted with Polish-Czech video stores and Eastern European butchers. Linden reminds me a little of Roseanne’s Lanford with the addition of minorities (the ratio of black teens to white adults at the movie theater was like 9-to-1).

I couldn’t decide which place to pick. Darkened windows with beer brand neon give little clue to what you might be getting into once you walk through a door. But when I spied anthropomorphic clams, one with a bottle of beer and another chomping on a piece of pizza, I knew Linfield Inn was our bar.

Still, I’m hesitant to walk into dive bars in neighborhoods I’m not super familiar with. Will it be tight-knit and cold shoulders or easy going and friendly? I never ventured into a single old man bar along Fresh Pond Road the three years I lived in another Eastern European enclave, Ridgewood, Queens because I’m just not the type who wins over strangers everywhere they go. I’m not a regular anywhere. (I’m still not sure why my coffee cart guy seems so fond of me [I feel incredibly guilty since moving floors and getting a coffee machine. I only stop by every few weeks now and my absence has been noted]. Maybe smiling and saying please and thank you is enough for some.)

Linden historical society
After I opened the door in the back entrance in the parking lot, I was taken with the sign on the interior door beneath the Bud Light logo pointing out the bar and restaurant on the left and a historical society and reference library on the right. Really? Now we were talking. My photo is blurred because I was paranoid someone was going to push the door into me while quickly snapping it.

A few tables were finishing dinner as we entered and the rest of the clientele was made up of a handful of 45+ year old guys who all seemed friendly with the younger bartenders. A little later two college-aged couples came in together and ordered platters of fried food. A gruff Walt Kowalski (technically, I didn't have this thought until after seeing Gran Torino) type showed up and started busting the bartenders' balls and made me wonder when racial epithets might start flying. A disproportionate amount of customers were drinking cranberry juice and vodka.

I turned down the offer a menu because we’d just eaten, but now I regret not at least seeing what was on it. Was the burger advertised on the sign outside worth trying? And what about those clams? I also regret not having time to stay for a second drink or for the live entertainment promised at 10pm. To date, my only experience with live entertainment near Route 1 was the guy belting out ‘90s covers at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

In 2009, I vow to explore more side streets and independent operators. Ignoring the siren call of suburban chain restaurants won’t be easy but I’m up for the challenge.