Flavor Excursions: Peppery Passaic

passaicBored of the same old foods you serve your family? Get ready for some inspiration! Our Flavor Excursions series is back. Alison Bermack, local food writer and the founder of Cooking With Friends, will share the culinary inspiration she collects from regular visits to ethnic neighborhoods and markets. These excursions will deliver an infusion of family friendly flavors, and they’re all just a short jaunt from Baristaville! 

Mexican food is one of my absolute favorite cuisines. Fajitas, tacos, burritos, salsa and guacamole are part of my cooking repertoire for my family. So when I stumbled upon an exceptional street taco joint (first in NJ for me!) and an outstanding Mexican grocery store only a few miles from here, I was beyond ecstatic.  And both happen to be in Passaic, just a few miles North on Main Street from the Clifton Costco—very easy to find.

plaza mexicoI began my outing strolling down the aisles of the grocery store Plaza Mexicana near the cross section of Monroe Street and Lexington. Loud Mexican tunes provided more than background music as my culinary horizons unfolded with each and every turn. My heart accelerated when I spotted mounds of tortillas in various sizes and colors, an endless assortment of chilies I never even knew existed and an enormous variety of soft, crumbled and creamy Mexican cheeses. You know you’ve discovered something when many foods are unfamiliar—the butcher department, with jars of dried meat and unfamiliar cuts, left me baffled! And, not that I’m a fan of soda but you wouldn’t believe the variety of sodas from a Tamarind flavor to Mango! While strolling the aisles and filling my cart I was imagining the new and flavorful dishes I would concoct at home. You’re sure to leave this grocery store hungry with bags of new and exciting ingredients.

So take your hunger pangs just down the road to El Aquila located on Monroe Street. It looks like a fast food restaurant and the food is prepared fairly quickly but it’s far from fast food and has the greatest street tacos presented fresh in a double layer of petit sized corn tortillas. You first get to select your meat which is soaking in a flavorful marinade; it’s then grilled right in front of you and topped with fresh cilantro and onions. The red and green salsas, hidden in a refrigerator across the aisle, are self-service but watch out, they’re quite spicy. Make sure to get a freshly pressed drink from one of the large jugs sitting on the counter. I chose melon juice which was exceptional and tasted like the sweetest cantaloupe you could imagine—the ultimate compliment to my spicy taco. My taste buds were in heaven! You can also try Horchata, a traditional milky Mexican drink which blends various spices. I’m sure to try some next visi


Soon after I returned home, I made my own street tacos and guacamole using the flavors lingering from lunch and my finds at the Mexican grocery for inspiration. Dinner was a hit and now my kids are  requesting street tacos every Sunday.

My Mexican Street Tacos
Marinade for 1 ½ pounds of thinly sliced Chicken or Steak

4 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons diced jalapeno peppers
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1/8 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste

In a bowl, whisk all ingredients until combined. Submerge meat in the marinade for several hours or overnight. Pre-heat a grill that has been seasoned with oil and cook on medium heat until cooked through. Set aside and serve in warm corn tortillas with homemade guacamole, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Guacamole & Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips
4-6 avocadoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, diced finely
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Juice from 1 lime
8 corn tortillas
1/8 cup canola oil

To make the guacamole, peel and remove the pits of the avocadoes and place in a bowl. Use a fork to mash well. Add the garlic, onions, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Mix well. To make the corn chips, cut the tortillas into triangles. Heat the canola oil in a small skillet and cook until golden, flipping once. Drain on a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Serve with the guacamole.

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  1. Not to mention el Aguila is 24hrs! Great for hangover food. Definitely one of the better taquerias close to baristaville.