We were in luck in more ways than one to be eating at Orale! Mexican Kitchen in mid-December. On Thanksgiving eve, a fire on Grove Street gutted two buildings and left Orale! with water damage that forced it to close. But 10 days later, it reopened to the relief of the many diners who have discovered the charms of this downtown eatery, which debuted in April 2013. The word Orale roughly translates into “What’s up?”
The first thing you notice is that it has all the hallmarks of a classic Mexican restaurant but with a distinctly hip, Jersey City edge. The cantaloupe-colored walls feature urban murals, and one brick wall is decorated with colorful graffiti. A huge case of perfectly-aligned Jarritos juice bottles is backlit to form a work of abstract art.
On another shelf, are those skulls or soccer balls or skulls made from soccer balls? No matter. It’s all part of the Mexican cultural Day of the Dead, a motif that runs through the main dining room and another small room in the back. Below the case is an artfully arranged tableau with a Sombrero and archival pictures of Jersey City, including one of the old Colgate factory.
Near the bar is a “Naughty List” of nine things you should not do, including Yelp, not abuse happy hour, and arrive already drunk.
Speaking of drinking, Orale! has an insanely long list of tequilas, as well as sangria, classic margaritas, and of course, cerveza. We ordered the Mexican beer, Tecate, and a gorgeous, summery-looking mango margarita. Looking around the dining room, I could see that the margaritas, in various colors, were a big hit.
Now, have I mentioned that this restaurant actually has food? As a starter, guacamole is a real favorite here. There were six varieties. Our waiter, Jorge, suggested we go for the “Trio Guacamole” which would give us a chance to try small portions of three different flavors. He proposed Casa, with avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, and lime; El Fresa, with seasonal fruit; and Mananitas, with Guajillo shrimp. Good choice. They came with three salsa selections, and the chips were really fresh and crispy.
On the left side of the menu are your classic taco and enchiladas and on the other side, the main dishes. We decided, with Jorge’s help, to choose one item from the left side and one from the right.
Enchilada Suiza is a rich and flavorful combination of shredded chicken, creamy tomatillo sauce, Chihuahua and Oaxacan cheese. Salmon al la Plancha is composed of a nice square of salmon with black bean and potato puree and pineapple-Guajillo sauce. The best thing about this is the crisply cooked top, sort of like the best parts of homemade mac and cheese.
Speaking of which, the restaurant has a “Gringo” mac and cheese as an appetizer. But everything else is decidedly—and thankfully—Mexican.
We didn’t order dessert, but if you still have room for it after these filling and satisfying dishes, you’ll have a choice of vanilla flan with cajeta sauce and whipped cream; Tres Leches with strawberry sauce and whipped cream; Morenitas (three freshly baked Mexican pecan brownies); and Helados Domingo, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, cajeta, chocolate sauce, crumbled cookies, and caramelized bananas.
As we left, the bar had started to fill up with a friendly, fun crowd that you might want to ask, “What’s up?”—Kate Rounds
341 Grove St.