Filipe Cruz doesn’t claim that the food at his restaurant Taste of Mexico is purely authentic, but he does guarantee it’s unlike any other Mexican restaurant in the area.
Now, with a second location at 180 Nassau St.—which opened the first week of October—in addition to its original spot in the Princeton Shopping Center, Taste of Mexico continues to grow. Cruz had been looking for a while to expand within the shopping center, but for one reason or another, plans fell through. So when he found the available property (previously Calico Grill) behind Cox’s Market, he decided to go for it.
Each of the locations has a unique flair for the way the food is cooked. The Princeton locations are what Cruz, 42, described as more “Americanized,” which is to say that he’s modified some of his authentic Mexican menu based on his customer demographic.
When Taste of Mexico first opened 16 years ago, Cruz expected to cater to the Latino crowd and cooked an absolutely authentic menu. Tamales were served in cornhusks and banana leaves, and salads came with lime juice and salt—no dressing. A typical Mexican taco consisted of a soft-shell tortilla with cilantro, onions and meat.
But Cruz found that the type of people coming to Taste of Mexico in Princeton weren’t just Latino, and most weren’t accustomed to the authentic dishes. He began adjusting the dishes, toning them down to be not quite so authentic, but also adding extra touches to make it healthier.
“We’ve been adjusting it to the market … Taste of Mexico is a different version of any Mexican cooking around, or any Tex-Mex places,” Cruz said. “We try to keep it as authentic as possible.”
Taste of Mexico specializes in southern Mexican food, like enchiladas, marinated pork, flautas and tamales. One of the most authentic sauces is the mole, a menu item not often found at other Mexican venues.
“There’s nothing like mole. It’s even hard to describe it…people think it’s peppers and chocolate, and that’s just not the case,” Cruz said.
The sauce, which does contain chocolate and peppers as well as several other ingredients, is one of the specialties at Taste of Mexico. Cruz’s hometown of Oaxaca in Mexico has an ongoing competition with the neighboring city of Pueblo of who makes the best mole—Cruz said there are 17 different types of mole in Oaxaca.
Mole is typically served over chicken on the bone, but at Taste of Mexico is served over a grilled chicken breast as one of the healthier options.
The flautas and chips are the only deep-fried dishes, and Cruz said he works with the cook to make sure none of the sauces are made with heavy oils. Keeping with the healthy preparation, the chips are unsalted. Most of the other dishes are grilled, and vegetables are steamed.
“We try to make it healthy…and still give you that authentic variety,” Cruz said.
“I mean, these are the foods my kids eat at the house. These are the foods I would feel good serving.”
Of course, customers may request authentic dishes at either Princeton location, too, and each dish can be made to order.
Cruz considered shutting down the original Taste of Mexico in the shopping center, but found that each location offered its own benefits, and the longstanding popularity of the original location was worth keeping. He found that customers liked the parking at the shopping center, but the Nassau Street restaurant is a little more spacious—the shopping center location only has four tables.
Cruz, a Plainsboro resident, also owns the Mexican restaurant El Oaxaqueno in New Brunswick, which he said is the most authentic of his restaurants and caters to a Latino crowd. The restaurant is the same as Taste of Mexico, but Cruz decided to keep the name of the popular previous establishment.
The newest location of Taste of Mexico is located at 180 Nassau St. in Princeton. Phone: (609) 924-0500.