Los Pinos – 571 Monmouth Road (Route 537), Cream Ridge, NJ 08514 – very near Six Flags Great Adventure

Tacos from Los Pinos

Now, don’t get me wrong: Los Pinos was pretty stinking good. But I think the search still continues for the best Mexican food in New Jersey. While I really liked a lot of what we had at Los Pinos, I still had some major complaints. Where are the Mexican restaurants where the chips and salsa are superb and each thing you taste gets even better? I know they exist elsewhere (hello, I’ve been to some in Idaho, New Mexico, California).

I had read some really positive Yelp! reviews about Los Pinos. And ever since I spotted them (and because it’s about the closest sit-down-restaurant to our rural dwelling) I’ve wanted to go.

So, today Charlie and I took a day-cation. (Could this be a Kara-coined synonym for day-trip?) We had Mexican food for lunch, visited Point Pleasant beach and boardwalk (well, technically just the boardwalk, but that’s another New Jersey story for another day), and saw a movie. A nice vacationey day.

Remember how Yelp! reviews work and my problem with over-rating?

This time, I had the opposite problem. I waaaaaaanted to score Los Pinos higher, but I just couldn’t. Here’s my review from Yelp! (with some photos added for fun):

The side plate of rice and beans that came with my tacos

This may just be the best Mexican food in New Jersey. Buuuuuuuuut that’s not saying too much. Sorry! It’s still really good, but I’ll need to go back (and I will!) before I can raise the score above a solid three stars.

The GOOD:

Los Pinos's "Orchata" = delicioso!

Affordability: My tacos were $8.95 for a platter and some were $7.95. My husband’s burrito plate was in the $9 range. More elaborate dishes went above $10, but it was really an inexpensive price range for the good food we received.

Their Horchata (or Orchata as the menu says) was excellent. Perhaps the best we’ve ever had. Try this milky Mexican drink!

I had the tacos Al Pastore (pork, pineapple, with spicy sauce) and they were very good. The meat was certainly of good quality (some Mexican restaurants can try to hide poor quality meat under heavy spices). The “soft” tacos are in corn tortillas, which is delicious and very authentic. I would recommend the soft over the hard shells (which were good, but just not as good) here. My husband, the true Mexican-food-critic, was really pleased with his carnitas burrito. Everything was presented well and the service was impeccable. Our meals came to us piping hot. The beans were tasty and the rice wasn’t dry. They use fresh cilantro and romaine instead of iceberg. Portions are generous without being obscene. All of this is really excellent!

Charlie's Carnitas Burrito plate

The NOT-SO-GOOD:

Maybe the cooks have over-compensated for a previous review (see Yelp! review by C.S.) that said some of Los Pinos’s food was too salty, because I found it to be the opposite: I really had to add salt in order to taste some of the flavors in my tacos. This does a disservice to the good ingredients and spices they’re using; salt is a flavor enhancer and should be used as such.

My only other complaint is the salsa … it tasted kind of like cold tomato soup with cilantro mixed in. The tomato component did not seem fresh and there were almost no chunks at all. That really, really needs to change. I know that people in New Jersey can be wimps when it comes to spice, but PLEASE! I think it is the tastelessness of the salsa that really pushed their score from a 4-star rating to only 3 stars.

Overall, I highly recommend Los Pinos and I plan to go back. I hope it’s soon! And I hope the salsa is better.

Here, Charlie is tasting the chips and salsa. He is neither repulsed nor elated. Things could be better.