Fresh Mexican delights
Chefs take food seriously at Baja
by Caren Matzner
Reporter Editor
Dec 06, 2009 | 3872 views | 0 0 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LAYOUT – There’s plenty of room at the Jersey City location, which includes a bar, restaurant area, and mezzanine for private parties.
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The owners of Baja restaurant in Jersey City and Hoboken put an emphasis on fresh food – and it shows.

The Jersey City location, just a few blocks from the Exchange Place financial district, is planning a new menu to complement their existing popular array of salads, enchiladas, tacos, fish dishes, and steaks.
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Fillings range from fresh shrimp to skirt steak.
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They’ll still have their favorites, like the “Baja Special,” which is a huge plate overflowing with fajita beef, chicken, and shrimp on top of fresh vegetables, guacamole, rice, beans, and tortillas. And their unusually delicious desserts, like the “chocolate banana” and tres leches sponge cake, will always be there.

The place

The Baja location on 14th Street in Hoboken came first. It was founded in 1987 and came out on top in four separate categories in the national restaurant guide “The Best Restaurants In America: Where The Locals Eat.”

Owners Mario Herrera, Felix Disla, and Major Disla are now celebrating five years at the Jersey City location on Montgomery Street, a short walk from the Exchange Place PATH station.

The spacious restaurant has a bar area serving 140 types of high-end tequila and more than 30 flavors of margaritas. There are several televisions to watch.

On the restaurant end, there’s plenty of room for family dinners or a romantic date. Upstairs is a place for parties.

“Everything is pretty much made to order,” said Michael Winter, one of the managers. “We don’t really pre-cook. We even make the tortillas fresh.”

Co-owner Mario Herrera said, “The demographics here are changing. It’s becoming a little more ethnic, with people from Pakistan and India, and the young people. Because of this, we make sure our vegetarian meals are truly vegetarian – we don’t use chicken broth and definitely not lard.”

The bar also serves a lunch crowd, and offers various types of burgers in addition to its regular fare.

Appetizers

The appetizer menu ranges from traditional items like guacamole and quesadillas to a more unique ceviche – shrimp and scallops marinated in lime juice, with vegetables. The difference is, as usual, how fresh everything tastes. It’s not the greasy bar food you might find at other Mexican eateries.

Prices for the appetizers range from $5.75 to $12.95.

I have tried Baja’s mushroom quesadillas before and enjoyed them, so this time we tried something new: jalapeno relenos, two deep-friend jalapenos stuffed with a jumbo shrimp and Monterrey Jack cheese ($6.95). They were filling and delicious. We also tried a new salad of apples and avocado – two tastes I enjoy.

We also tried beer-battered onion rings and steak quesadillas, which were divine. My steak-loving hubby was particularly impressed with the quesadillas. The Dos Equis-battered tilapia also made his mouth happy.

The restaurant also offers soups, salads, and “quesos,” or dishes with melted cheese.

Main course

Baja has several menus full of traditional Mexican dishes: five kinds of burritos (including chorizo, which is Spanish sausage); chimichangas (stuffed, fried flour tortillas), enchilladas (filled corn tortillas topped with cheese and enchilada sauce), flautas (fried and filled corn tortillas), and tacos. The tortillas and sauces are made fresh at the restaurant. Fillings range from spinach sautéed in wine to shredded chicken to steak. Rice and beans often come with the dish.

What’s really special are the “seafood specialties,” the “sizzling fajitas & more,” and the “chicken specialties.” These menus have a range of unique dishes. On the seafood menu, for instance, one can order pescado Veracruzano, a fried red snapper or salmon cooked in wine with carrots, celery, and tomato sauce ($16.95). There are various types of breaded or broiled shrimp in sauce, topped with vegetables like mushrooms, onions, and peppers.

Fajitas are plates of sizzling ingredients (meat and vegetables) that you can wrap in a fresh tortilla. They come with rice, refried beans, and pico de gallo.

Ingredients can include skirt steak, grilled vegetables, poblano peppers, and Cajun chicken. Fajita plates range from $12.95 for the vegetable to $23.95 for the special “Parrillada a la Baja” which includes grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, grilled vegetables, and a special house sauce.

We tried a shrimp dish and found it fresh, delicious, and filling.

Chicken specialties include arroz con pollo (shredded tender chicken cooked in wine with a mixture of rice, onions, olives and dried tomatoes) and sautéed chicken breast. Both dishes are $11.95.

The Baja special is $51.90 for two people, and $25.95 for each additional person. It’s a popular dish for groups who want to try the best that the restaurant offers. It’s got fajita beef, chicken, and shrimp on a bed of lettuce topped with fresh vegetables, sour cream, and guacamole. It also comes with rice, beans and tortillas. It’s described as “the perfect combination to explore the best of Baja. And a great low carb alternative!”

Dessert

I’ve been telling people about Baja’s desserts for years.

The chocolate banana will be a hit with anyone who likes warm chocolate cookies. In this case, it’s described on the menu as “a fried pastry with banana and chocolate chips,” but trust me, it’s heavenly ($5.25).

The tres leches (or “three milk”) sponge cake is also a lovely surprise. It’s milky and sweet. My husband and I fought over each bite with our forks.

They also serve fried ice cream (vanilla ice cream with toasted flakes and sesame seeds in a fried tortilla shell), flan, and choco-banana ice cream.

Drinks

For the “girl drinker” in all of us, there are 33 flavors of margaritas including watermelon, apple, coconut, pomegranate and Amaretto.

For the more particular drinkers, the bar prides itself on its 140 kinds of tequila.” It’s the largest collection this side of the Hudson,” Herrera said. Enthusiasts often travel to baja to try it.

Other information

Baja can cater an event and also can hold parties of up to 75 people in its Jersey City mezzanine space.

It also offers brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in both locations on weekends, and lunch specials from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in Jersey City. It’s open for lunch on Friday in Hoboken.

There’s an early bird special during the week in Jersey City from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and in Hoboken from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

The Jersey City location is at 117 Montgomery St. The Hoboken location is at 104 Fourteenth St.

Check them out at www.bajamexicancuisine.com. Tell them the Hudson Reporter sent you!

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