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Posts tagged ‘Ameri-Mex’

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

Brunch Confessions: Time Cafe & Taco Chulo

For someone who couldn’t agree with this sentiment more, I’ve been doing an awful lot of brunching in the past week. I don’t know how I went from a few brunches a year to two in eight days. This does not bode well for 2008 and I’ll nip it in the bud pronto.

Last weekend I tried Astoria’s Time Café because I was assigned to review the restaurant. See? No say in the matter. I have no problem going to Astoria to dine, but I wouldn’t wake up early for the privilege. But the restaurant does seem like a welcome newish option for the neighborhood. Frankly, I was more interested in Issan Thai Poodam’s across the street.


My swiss cheese and tomato omelet didn’t blow me away but that’s the nature of brunch. It was satisfying. Who needs their mind blown before noon? Ok, 2pm. My egg dish plus vodka-heavy bloody mary and a basket of mini muffins was a fair deal for $12.

Today I ended up at Taco Chulo because I wanted to meet a friend’s half-sister visiting from Germany. It’s fun and informative to meet siblings of people you know. My sister will be here from England next month if anyone has the same curiosity. We are kind of opposites in that I’m brunette, brown-eyed while she’s blonde, blue-eyed, I love meat and she’s vegetarian (formerly vegan), she’s dog-crazy and I’m fond of cats, I hate nature and she’s outdoorsy, I generally loathe humans and she does social work. But other than those minor details, we’re very similar.


Huevos rancheros were ordered by four of my party of six, but I couldn’t resist the queso benedict. Who needs hollandaise when Velveeta sauce is more versatile. Swapping cornbread for english muffins was also not a bad idea. $5 two-for-one mimosas was an even better idea.

I promise to sleep in and only eat breakfast in the privacy of my home for the rest of the year. After all my boo hooing, I did get a small-squared waffle maker for Christmas.

Read my Time Cafe review for

Time Café * 44-18 Broadway, Astoria, NY
Taco Chulo * 318 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY

Great Burrito

I don’t really eat burritos in New York. It’s something I’ve weaned myself from, not because I’m a snob but because I just can’t find any made the way I’m accustomed to (and no, I don’t like Mission-style).


Great Burrito isn’t really about burritos (though you can see one above) and it’s definitely not about the pizza on display. Their main appeal is offering “real” tacos and tortas with fillings like tripe and tongue in a neighborhood that’s hardly a bastion of Mexican authenticity. Or any authenticity—as much as I love them, this strip of Chelsea is rife with the likes of Outback Steakhouse, Dallas BBQ and Olive Garden.

Purists might scoff at this hodgepodge 24-hour take out counter, but where else are you going to go in this part of Manhattan when a 4am urge for al pastor strikes?

Read my review.

Great Burrito * 100 W. 23rd St., New York, NY


1/2 There are moments made for mish mash. And those moments tend to involve alcohol impaired judgment. Pacifico, it turns out, is great for what it is: drunk food. Unfortunately, it almost became puke food after swilling mint juleps and bourbon slushes for five hours straight. Despite the burgoo and derby pie consumed earlier, I still needed a little padding of the stomach lining.

Beer and a carnitas quesadilla did more harm than good. The cheese and grease backfired and I was only able to eat one of my four stuffed tortilla wedges. It wasn't half bad, I just wasn't primed for eating. But I was happy the next day to have hefty leftovers as hangover food.

Pacifico * 269  Pacific St., Brooklyn, NY


We had three choices in the Target parking lot: Applebee's, Boulder Creek Steakhouse and Chevys. After a hard afternoon at Short Hills Mall, giant margaritas seemed in order.

Margaritas And they were massive, which made me worry a bit since they conveniently omit drink prices from the colorful menu. We were guessing $12.95, but then you have to remind yourself this is real chain dining, not the Manhattan facsimile. My supersized Gold Rush (Cuervo Gold, Triple Sec and sweet & sour on the rocks) was a mere $7.95–if I'd known that from the get go I wouldn't have nursed it throughout the meal.

For once I didn't feel bad about ordering an appetizer sampler since we were four rather than just the usual two. Spicy wings, taquitos, fajita nachos and a "chicken ?dilla" quartered up, isn't a wholly unreasonable starter.

Enchiladas When I go gringo I do it all the way, and that means chimichangas, but I resisted and fooled myself into believing that seafood enchiladas were healthier (perhaps minutely). Really, Chevys isn't any worse than anything else that passes for Tex-Mex in the NYC area. It's not completely horrible, and they were playing Weezer, for whatever that's worth.

As one of my favorite parts of Red Lobster is the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, Chevys charms me with their little corn blob that's like a freeform corn bread, polenta hybrid. Ah, it's called a tomalito, and here's the recipe.

That would've, should've been enough, but then we had to go and order two desserts: an Ooey-Gooey-Chewy Sundae and something else with ice cream and caramel sauce that I can't recall the name of. I don't think it was the "potato," as they call it. Sunday night in Linden, NJ (I was treating it as a Sat. since it was a three-day-weekend) is a sparse affair. This is one of the only chain restaurants I've ever been to where there hasn't been a wait, not to mention empty seats. It was so desolate they had to send someone over to the Applebee's half-way across the parking lot to borrow whipped cream for our chilled desserts. Now that's service.

Chevys * 1150 South Stiles St., Linden, NJ



I really dont get the appeal of overstuffed burritos, particularly ones rife with rice. But I was looking for something quick, cheap and near Sixth Ave. and 12th St. where I would be attending a Halloween party an hour later. So, I went the taco route instead. But I wasnt aware of all the options, I dont like fast food places like Subway or those salad counters where youre on the spot and have to pick and choose. Choice is nice, but I'd rather just have some solid standards. I ended up with three sad soft tacos with some shredded pork, hot sauce, white cheese and sour cream. Each bite was dominated by the chewy creamy combo of flour tortilla and dairy, like an unbaked quesadilla. It certainly didnt kill me, and provided padding for a not-smart-for-a-Monday-night drinking binge.

Chipotle * 510 Sixth Ave., New York, NY

El Rincon Familiar

A girlfriend of an acquaintance recommended this place to my boyfriend. If anyone, she would know Tex-Mex since she grew up in the Lone Star State. I wasnt so wowed. I wanted gooey, greasy, cheese-laden fare, and this felt almost like spa food. Everything was clean, dry, fat-free and flavorless. My chicken enchiladas had no taste. The meat was too lean, Ive never understood the appeal of chicken breasts (though I use them extensively at home, we have the giant Costco bag in the freezer, but thats exactly why I dont want to eat chicken breasts at restaurants). The refried beans tasted dull and almost healthy. Not a lick of oil slicked the plate. It was all very Park Slope (despite being in that no man's land that's technically Sunset Park) and so not what I'd had in mind. I'd just as well stick with Mezcals for this sort of Americanized border food.

El Rincon Familiar * 651 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

San Loco

Ooh, I can’t believe I ate at San Loco. Sometimes I have to let my guard down and lower my standards so I don’t ostracize and annoy friends with what I call little kid palates. So, a chicken chipotle burrito before The Organ show at Rothko didn’t kill me. I will admit being disturbed by my dining companion ordering a rice burrito. I’ve always abhorred rice in burritos, it so doesn’t belong there, and neither does spinach. But a burrito entirely centered around the grain?! What the fuck? Ha, and then she ordered a rice krispie treat to cap things off. But I love those, so it was ok, albeit a lot of rice for one meal. (4/27/05)

San Loco * 111 Stanton St., New York, NY

La Fogata


Yes, it's one of those suburban strip mall, big margarita joints. I don't
mind that type of food, in fact I crave it every now and then (luckily NYC
isn't so highbrow in the Tex-Mex department–there are plenty of
salt-on-the-rim, chips-and-salsa places to choose from). But Portland's west
suburbs actually have a Mexican population, hence "real" Mexican food. I saw
taco trucks in parking lots and read about tiny tacquerias in Hillsboro, my
mom's environs.
It just wasn't right to be so close and not even get to try the regional
offerings. But my sister is vegetarian (they're fine people, but the worst
for food exploring) and I didn't have the urge to get my mom and husband in
the mood. Trekking out on my own wasn't really an option since I didn't have
a car or any solitary time to spare.
This was hardly a culinary getaway. I was there from NYC, my sister from
England on short notice to see our father who'd unexpectedly been put on
life support. Hardly festive and appetite inducing. And in a way La Fogata
was wholly appropriate. My dad was a most un-Mexican Mexican. He loved these
sorts of Gringo-filled combo platter restaurants. He didn't speak Spanish,
though he must've grown up on at least some traditional Mexican food. I'm
guessing he wanted to be more American and he did a pretty good job (he was
exactly like Hank Hill if he were Hispanic). I wouldn't mind being a little
less, but honestly I wouldn't argue with a scalding hot plate of oozing
refried beans with a thick skin of pepper jack cheese and a nice crisp
chimichanga, authentic or not.

La Fogata * 3905 SW 117th Ave., Beaverton, OR


I can't believe our first American meal after our Asian vacation was Mezcals. It just kind of happened. We were craving Mexican food and unfortunately, there arent any realer Mexican joints walking distance from our apartment. I'm still guessing that Mezcals is better than something like El Taco Loco in Hong Kong. You just know theyd put mayo in the guacamole. (9/10/05)

I guess Mezcal's is sort of cheesy (in both senses of the word) but sometimes that's just what you need. It was my suggested diversion from James's Friday night impulse for red sauce Italian. We're certainly in the right neighborhood for it, but I wasn't feeling the same urge. For some reason, mediocre Mexican food for white people doesn't bother me in the same way icky Italian-American food does. Nachos, chimichangas and pitchers of margaritas beat spaghetti and meatballs and Chianti any day.

So, chimichangas (filled with seafood and oozing cream sauce) and surprisingly fancy nachos, delicately placed around the plate with individual slices of medium-rare sirloin tucked on top, hors d' oeuvres style, totally hit the spot. I would never brag about eating at Mezcal's, but there's less shame involved than one might expect. And it's not like there are any authentic taco joints walking distance from our apartment anyway. No harm, no foul. My only suggestion is that they consolidate menus. I swear they hand you like five different documents, some laminated, some on paper, some handwritten, some using ten fonts and as many colors on one page. It's enough to induce a seizure. (6/25/04)

Mezcal's * 522 Court St., Brooklyn, NY