“Mi casa es su casa,” as they say in Spanish. “My house is your house.”
Nowhere has that sentiment been more happily translated into a restaurant setting than at the new location of Taste of Mexico at 180 Nassau Street. No one is a stranger here. The warm, friendly atmosphere welcomes customers, inviting them to enjoy the southern Mexican cuisine.
“I love restaurants! I sleep and eat restaurants!” says owner Felipe Cruz, who is also proprietor of Taste of Mexico in the Princeton Shopping Center and El Oaxaqueño in New Brunswick.
“I had been wanting to expand,” he explains, “and then the opportunity to move here became available. It was perfect. I think it was meant to be.”
The location is the site of the former Calico Restaurant, just behind Cox’s Market. Cox’s came with the restaurant, so Mr. Cruz is now also running the deli as well as all of his restaurants! He is not daunted by this challenge. With many years experience in the food industry, including managing restaurants in New York and the Princeton area, he looks forward to the opportunity.
“People in Princeton love to try new things,” he points out. “They have traveled and have experienced other cuisines. We are encouraged about the customer base that we are building. We already have regulars. The town has also been very welcoming to us.
“Another thing, the advantage of having multiple restaurants is that if you should run out of something, you can always get it from one of the other places.”
Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Mr. Cruz came to the United States when he was 15. He always enjoyed cooking, and from his early years in the restaurant business, he looked forward to having his own place. His first, Taste of Mexico in the Princeton Shopping Center, has been a success for 16 years, and El Oaxaqueño for eight years.
He has every expectation of that success continuing at the new Taste of Mexico. “We have a unique product, the most authentic Mexican food around here. We have our own special recipes that have been passed down, and our chef’s recipes are one-of-a-kind. In authentic Mexican cooking, we use the freshest ingredients — cheese, vegetables, meat.
“We very much focus on healthy eating. Most of our items are grilled, and we use olive oil and very fresh vegetables. It’s healthy food, but with all the great flavor. I try to keep the originality of the flavor and the food with our recipes. We definitely stress our own way of doing things, our own special way of cooking and preparing dishes. You won’t find our kind of cooking everywhere. It’s our own special touch.”
Authentic Mexican Food
Two Princeton University students, one a repeat customer, one sampling Taste of Mexico’s dishes for the first time, agreed. “This is really great authentic Mexican food, and there is also a really nice atmosphere here.”
Many customers have already found their favorite dishes, reports Mr. Cruz. “Mole Oaxaqueño, the traditional dish with chicken and mole sauce; enchiladas with soft rolled corn tortillas with chicken or cheese, and green or red sauce; and fajitas, and tamales are all in demand for lunch and dinner.”
Among the appetizers, guacamole is a clear favorite, reports Mr. Cruz. “This is a real specialty for us. It is one of the most popular dishes, and people want it all the time. We also have a lot of vegetarian dishes, and more and more customers are wanting them. They are available in burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, fajitas, tamales, and enchiladas. Also, all our dinner and lunch specials are served with chips, salsa, rice, and beans.”
Special low fat platters are also available, including grilled quesadillas, shrimp, chicken, and steak, as is a variety of salads.
Lunch, dinner, and take-out are very popular, and on Saturday and Sunday, breakfast is also served. “Breakfast is getting more and more popular,” says Mr. Cruz. “We have specials like breakfast burritos, breakfast quesadillas, and also pancakes, waffles, French toast, and fruit platters. Orange juice is hand-squeezed.
“Two of our most popular breakfasts are Huevos Ranchero with fried eggs, black beans, and ranchero salsa, topped with queso fresco (fresh cheese), and flour tortillas; and the Spanish Continental, with fried eggs, black beans, and tomato salsa, topped with queso fresco, served with fried plaintains and flour tortillas.”
A variety of Mexican sodas and juices is available, and customers are welcome to bring wine and beer.
Prices include breakfast dishes at $6.99, appetizers from $5.99, lunch specials at $7.99, and dinner specials at $10.99. A children’s menu offers items from $4.99.
Catering is another specialty of the restaurant and also Cox’s Market, points out Mr. Cruz. “We cater anything, and we do a lot of lunches. Cox’s has the best panninis! We do a lot of catering for Princeton University.”
He is pleased, too, that even within the intimate setting of seating for 31 (with additional outside patio dining in seasonal weather), the restaurant has been able to accept groups and private parties. “We do our best to accommodate everyone, and that includes groups.”
Mr. Cruz looks forward to more people enjoying Taste of Mexico’s unique atmosphere with its bright and vivid decor and beautiful ocean mural, and of course, its signature cuisine. “People who come here will have the most authentic Mexican food. It’s the real deal! I am very encouraged, and the best thing is that people are coming back again. It’s everyone — all backgrounds, including lots of families, kids, and Princeton University students.”
Owning and operating a restaurant involves long hours, dedication, and determination. As Mr. Cruz points out, however, “Warren Buffet has said that if you find out what you’re good at and find your passion, you will be successful. Then, you don’t mind getting up early and staying late. You have found your passion.”
Taste of Mexico is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday until 10, Saturday and Sunday 8 to 10. Call (609) 924-0500 or go to www.coxmarket.com.