Folklore Artisanal Taco, West Orange
Sergio Capdevielle Sr., 65, is a man of many talents. For years in his native Puebla, he taught college business management and economics, and sold tacos in street fairs when school was not in session.
“He was a hit, always sold out,” says his son, Sergio Jr.
The family moved to New Jersey in 2015, and last summer opened Folklore Artisanal Taco. Father and son rebuilt the interior together, with Sergio Sr. creating all the charming and artful signage and decorations. He is also the chef. His menu draws from many regions and includes some dishes rarely found in New Jersey, like hibiscus-flower tacos from Mexico City and cachetada from Puebla City, a tasty sandwich of Oaxaca cheese, pineapple, cilantro and onion pressed flat between two tortillas.
Most distinctive is cacaleño, from the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Mixed cheeses are pressed on a griddle. They crisp up, yet remain flexible. Topped with guacamole and pico de gallo, the cheese functions as a tortilla, uniquely textured and flavorful.—EL
57 Harrison Avenue, 973-324-2208; BYO.
La Hacienda, Paterson
Over the last 20 years or so, owner Tony Campos has made La Hacienda, squeezed between the Passaic River and highway-like McLean Boulevard, a something-for-everyone hit. A mariachi band plays on Sundays; the central bar has big screens that draw a sports crowd; the servers are friendly and enthusiastic. The menu is partly Tex-Mex, but the ceviche is fresh and good (if heavy on the raw onions), and the mole poblano over chicken pays heartfelt tribute to Campos’s native Puebla.—EL
102 McLean Boulevard, 973-345-1255.
El Guacamole, Millville
In Millville’s percolating Glasstown Arts District, you will find a wine shop, art galleries, an old theater (recently promoting a psychic showcase)—and El Guacamole, the Reyna-Herrera family’s cheerful storefront. Matriarch Paulina Reyna, an immigrant from Oaxaca—the Pacific region famous for mescal, moles, chocolate and more—opened El Guacamole with her husband, Eric Herrera, in 2015. Their daughter and twin sons wait tables, and her mother, Lidia, does all the cooking.
A number of Oaxacan specialties stand out on the pan-Mexican menu, notably Lidia’s plush tamales Oaxaqueños and her Enchiladas de Abuelita (“granny”), featuring her “secret mole recipe, a bit sweet and spicy,” says Paulina. “We believe in organic and fresh food, and we support local farmers,” she adds. “My husband personally harvests the tomatoes himself.”
As for the namesake guacamole, it’s made with organic ingredients: Mexican avocados, lemons, local tomatoes, onions, cilantro “and a secret ingredient I am not going to reveal.” You’ll just have to go.—AE
110 N High Street, 856-300-5433; BYO.
Las Lomas, Hammonton
Hammonton, famed for its blueberry farms, deserves to be celebrated for its Mexican food as well. According to the U.S. Census, Hammonton’s Latino population, which is largely Mexican, grew 65 percent from 2000 to 2010 and is still growing, thanks to immigrants who came to work the farms and stayed to raise a generation of new Americans.
Siblings José and Maria Martinez left Durango, in northern Mexico, in 1986. With their parents and siblings, they worked their way up the East Coast, harvesting fruit and vegetables, finally arriving in Hammonton in 2006 to pick blueberries.
“Young and full of dreams, we decided to settle in New Jersey,” says José, 31. In 2009, they opened Las Lomas (“the hills,” of which Durango has plenty). It features several grilled dishes of Durango. Las Lomas is the best of Hammonton’s many Mexican restaurants, and most of its items are under $10. Standouts include the succulent pork-topped tostada Toledo; braised beef barbacoa tacos; and crema poblano pepper soup, which has a vegetal earthiness and slow-building heat.—AE
8 Railroad Avenue, 609-567-3001; BYO.
El Matador, Bloomfield
Laid off from his R&D job at Novartis in 2010, Mucio Lucero started driving his mother along with her homemade tamales, pozole and stews to Upstate New York farms, where Mexican field hands eagerly snapped up the tastes of home. “My mom’s food was so popular, we decided to open a little deli in Bloomfield in 2013,” says Lucero, who had emigrated with his family from Puebla to New Jersey in 1983. Diners here went equally wild for mom Francisca’s fattily flavorful pulled-pork tacos in handmade tortillas; sopes topped with meats, veggies, scratch-made refried black beans, crumbly queso fresco and Mexican crèma; and short-rib enchiladas drenched in what Lucero, 40, calls an extra-spicy, “country-style” mole (mo-lay) poblano that takes Francisca, 65, and her sister a full week to make. (It has less chocolate and sugar than what they consider city-slicker versions.) “It’s hotter in the farmlands, so the hot chile helps us sweat and cool off,” he says. In 2015, El Matador moved to larger digs. Mom’s still in the kitchen, sisters Isadora and Christina tend tables, and a cousin delivers her luscious tres leches cake for dessert. It’s a family affair you won’t want to miss.—PR
418 Broad Street, 973-748-1707; BYO.
Mexico Deli Restaurant, Passaic
Even in a cuisine known for large quantities of enjoyable food at a modest price, Mexico Deli stands out for value. On a menu where the most expensive item is $9, the pambazo sandwich costs $7.50—but you get two, both huge.
The 12 types of tacos, served on double tortillas, cost $1 to $1.50 each, and the quality of the meats (we tried al pastor, carnitas, chorizo, lengue and cabeza) is excellent. Cabeza, essentially beef cheek and other head meat, can be gristly; ours was all tender meat. The server offered to put the chopped cilantro and raw onions on the side, maybe because we were the only Anglos in the restaurant (at lunch on a busy weekday). We declined, but if you have a limited tolerance for raw onion, it’s not a bad idea, because it lets you concentrate on the flavor and texture of the meat.
The restaurant is an offshoot of the original Mexico Deli, a takeout, two doors down. The restaurant is lively and colorfully decorated with tasseled, piñata-like sculptures suspended from the ceiling.—EL
141 Market Street, 862-249-1114; BYO.
El Michoacáno, Vineland
Covering about 70 square miles, Vineland is the state’s largest city by area and the agricultural hub of South Jersey. Its farms support generations of Mexican immigrants who have put down roots here.
José Garduño, 62, founded El Michoacáno in 2004 to celebrate the cooking of his native state, Michoacán, in southwest Mexico. Michoacán is famed for its carnitas—chunks of fried pork—and as you’d expect, the carnitas tacos here are a specialty. The carnitas work especially well as the filling in tacos dorados—tortillas rolled up like cigars and fried until crispy.
About 70 percent of El Michoacáno’s customers are Latino. On Sunday, Garduño serves a prized delicacy: birria de chivo (braised goat) tacos, with a traditional side of meaty broth. The dining room, painted tropical red and orange, is decorated with sombreros and a giant anthropomorphic taco character depicted on one wall.
On my visit, a Mexican-American mother was coaching her young son to roll the r in tortilla. You’ll feel welcome whether you can roll an r or only a soft tortilla.—AE
216 South West Boulevard, 856-690-9191; BYO.