ABRIL COCINA, MAPLEWOOD
We wanted to try the tacos that executive chef/owner Mario Valadez and chef de cuisine Johangel Rosario—both graduates of the Institute of Culinary Education—won prizes for in the first NJ Taco Festival held in September at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta. Two of their four taco entries won prizes. Their brisket taco took second place in the best beef taco category, and their gobernador (governor in Spanish) shrimp taco won third place in the best seafood group. We had both of these winners, as well as other modern Mexican dishes at this small, casual restaurant, which opened in April.
There are Mexican-themed pictures on the walls, as well as an eye-catching mural depicting significant locations in Maplewood. The wood tables are set with dishcloths for napkins, stemless glasses for wine, a large bottle of water and a traditional Mexican plate that holds a candle.
Menu items are meant for sharing. We started with pulpo tostadas containing sliced avocado, red onion, radishes, tender pieces of octopus and shredded romaine, topped with a spicy chipotle aioli. The crunch from the tostadas and creamy avocado and aioli created a multi-flavored dish with lots of textures. The tacos are house made, and we opted for the two well-deserved winners from the NJ Taco Festival. The smoked, wild-shrimp taco was presented in a smoke-filled mason jar. We were instructed to take the shrimp out of the jar, place it in the quesadilla and dip it into a red chile sauce. Equally impressive was the brisket taco with crema, pickled celery and mustard seed that was accompanied by a spicy green chile sauce. An entrée of juicy hanger steak came with rich, fresh corn grits similar to a creamed corn and unlike anything we have had before. We declared it a dish that we could not stop eating. Vinegar onions offset the richness of the steak and an ancho-umami sauce was streaked across the plate. Three house made desserts were offered: banana pudding, buttermilk churros with dulce de leche and chocolate sauces and our pick of avocado, chile ancho and Mexican hot chocolate ice creams.
Think outside the box when it comes to Mexican food and give Abril Cocina a try. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 PM; Sunday brunch 11 AM to 1 PM.
175 Maplewood Avenue
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
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