El Chico's culinary artists paint their tortilla canvases with melted cheese and spiced meats to curate a menu of fiesta-worthy Mexican feasts. Sizzling fajitas surf in to tables on hot skillets, announcing their arrival with aromatic waves of seared beef, chicken, shrimp, or baby back ribs ($15.99) before lying out to sunbathe on soft flour tortillas. Forks and knives slam against chili relleno enchiladas ($9.99), which burst like savory piñatas with cheese and mushrooms or beef. Chipotle-wine sauce imbues the chicken burrito ($10.49) with an air of sophistication as it commingles with tender spiced chicken, rice, and frijoles rancheros. Boulders of fajita steak and avocado speckle the corn-tortilla landscapes of three tacos ($9.49), and pork-tamale trios ($9.99) unwrap their husks to reveal elaborate cave art scrawled in a thick sauce of chili con carne.
The owners of Pop’s Garage know how to run a restaurant. In fact, they have run five of them along the Jersey Shore, as the New York Times points out. At Pop’s Garage, they pour more than 85 years of restaurant experience into their kid-friendly, BYOB Mexican taqueria. While evoking the festive, summer atmosphere of Sayulita, Mexico, the restaurant's ambiance exudes an upscale dining atmosphere.
Pop’s menu consists of made-to-order dishes, each handcrafted from locally sourced, natural, and organic ingredients, including fresh lettuce and vegetables. Taco shells are packed with chicken and chorizo, quesadillas ooze with cheese, and burritos are stuffed with ruby rice. Just as genuine as the ingredients are the recipes they are made from. Explaining to the New York Times, “Our intent is to be authentic. . . . One of [the chefs] makes his mother’s mole, a red mole,” which is just one of the menu’s several mole sauces.
When Baja Fresh opened its doors in 1990, freshness wasn’t on the menu at many fast-food restaurants. Disappointed with soggy burgers and floppy fries, the founders built a casual Mexican eatery around fresh, colorful produce and a commitment to healthy living. Cooks prepare meals by hand, using ingredients that hail from real-world farms rather than freeze-dried packages. Tacos and burritos brim with a choice of meats, including pork carnitas and charbroiled steak. Filled with shrimp tacos, tortilla soups, and grilled-chicken salads, a Healthy Choices menu guides diners toward meals that are low in fat, calories, carbs, and smog.
Chevys serves up Mexican fare in Texas-size portions, with salsa and tortillas made from scratch daily. Begin by ordering a bowl of guacamole to witness a server capture, skin, and gut a live avocado right at your table before hand-mashing it into fresh guacamole. From there, let your taste buds tango across tender tamales wrapped by hand each morning, or play mad scientist and suture together an electrified monster plate from enchiladas, tacos, grilled chili rellenos, tamales, and chimichangas ($10.29 for any two, $11.99 for any three, $12.99 for any four). Seafarers, meanwhile, will want to try the grilled fish tacos—a mélange of grilled fish, chipotle aioli, lettuce, and pico de gallo, warmly embraced by the floury flaps of El Machino tortillas and topped with a sprinkling of crumbled cotija cheese ($10.99). To keep the hot peppers and piquant salsas from singing the sinuses, douse your mouth-flames periodically with drinks such as the Kraken fruit punch, black spiced rum coupled with spicy mango and orange juice ($8.75), or the Blue Agave margarita, a mixture of El Mayor Reposado tequila and blue Curacao ($6.75 regular, $11.50 grande).