In the 1990s, Rogelio and Paulina Garcia left their home in Puebla, the central Mexican state an hour south of Mexico City. With their son, Alberto, and daughter, Merced, they settled in Westmont.
After working in local restaurants, they opened Fiesta Mexicana in Haddon Township in 2009. Then in 2015, they moved to a big-windowed corner storefront in nearby Collingswood, formerly a pizzeria, and reopened as Oasis Mexican Grill.
It’s a humble space with white-tiled walls and tables set with plastic placemats in shades of sapphire and lime. Rogelio, 50, does all the cooking.
“He started cooking in restaurants in Mexico when he was 16 and is entirely self-taught,” says Alberto, who manages Oasis Grill and translates for his father.
In addition to Mexican national dishes (like a fresh, chunky guacamole) and Mexican-American faves (burritos as thick as your forearm), the menu features specialties of Puebla like pipian verde, or green pumpkin-seed sauce. The menu offers it over enchiladas. I had it as a special over seared pork chops. The garlicky, herbaceous sauce was so distinctive and involving that I minded less than I otherwise would have that the thin-sliced chops were slightly overcooked.
Garcia’s tender, slow-braised pork shoulder, on the other hand, was stuffed into some of the best tamales I’ve had—soft but sturdy, full of corn flavor you can taste through any condiment barrage.
Speaking of condiments, the salsas are excellent and all house made: summery pico de gallo, smoky salsa roja and bracing salsa verde.
While the crisp, well-salted tortilla chips are cut and fried at Oasis, they start as soft corn tortillas sourced from a tortilla factory in Bridgeton. That’s fine for Oasis’s enjoyable nachos, loaded with crumbled chorizo, black beans, chopped fresh tomato, sour cream, sliced jalapeños and cheese.
And those chips work well enough in the delicious and similarly busy enchiladas suiza, in which shredded chicken, sour cream and gooey Oaxaca cheese are wrapped in the tortilla, which is then baked and topped with avocado, cotija cheese and raw onion.
But the quality of the tortilla makes a big difference in a straightforward food like a taco, in which corn flavor should shine through and the texture should be soft and supple.
Making corn tortillas from scratch, however, is labor-intensive. It’s not exactly a cost-effective undertaking for a 32-seat eatery with a minimal staff. Unfortunately, the corn tortillas Oasis buys were dry and bland. It could be the tortillas themselves, it could be how they were stored, or they might have been more than a day old.
That aside, there is much to like about Oasis Grill. There’s a very popular Mexican place a few blocks away, but the flavors at Oasis are brighter. Portions here are massive; a dozen plump, seared shrimp, for example, in the camarones al mojo de ajo, a potent garlic sauce. The delicious, gently blistered quesadilla packed with mushrooms, onions and jalapeños is as wide as the oval plate.
Two people can share one dessert, like caramelized plantains drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, or crisp sugared churros with strawberry ice cream. But they’re so good, you might want both. And prices are low. Put that together with warm service, and you’ll take home not only pleasant memories, but a good supply of tasty leftovers.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $3.50-$12; tacos, burritos and tortas, $8-$13.95; entrées, $9.95-$24.95; desserts, $3.50-$5.
Ambience:Small corner storefront with big windows and lush potted plants.
Service:Young, friendly, capable.