Riviera Maya Restaurant, Rockaway NJ
I know most might think I am crazy, but its really hard to find good, authentic Mexican food. Sure, there are the tons of chain and franchise places which claim to serve Mexican food, but we all know its commercialized Tex-Mex and is nothing really like what you would get from a true Mexican kitchen. So, when a new place pops up that is not a commercial chain, I have to give it a chance.
When you first walk in, you are greeted and you almost feel like you are in an authentic Mexican restaurant. They have great Mexican music playing (not top 40 latin hits, nor the dreaded 1980s music so many places love these days and I can’t understand why). So its truly a nice atmosphere, with the paper artwork hanging to the beautiful paintings and quiet, friendly atmosphere.
Yes, I know its a Monday afternoon, however, I worked three 15-hour days in a row shooting weddings, so Monday is my day to relax and I am going to have a margarita. The tortilla chips come with a hot and spicy salsa (the way I like), a bit watery, but the heat packs a punch, and I can appreciate that. However, what I cannot understand is how any Mexican place serves a Margarita with anything else other than fresh lime juice. I totally get it when someplace like Chili’s, Applebee’s or even a college hangout serve it with sugary sweet & sour mix. The crowd does not care, they are simply drinking them down to catch a buzz at $5 per drink. And, even if this particular place was trying to cater to such a crowd, why not offer a premium margarita served only from fresh lime juice and perhaps a better brand of tequila?
Well, this place does not grasp that very basic concept, and its such a shame. The decor is spot on, as is the music and atmosphere. Endless amounts of tortilla chips and salsa free of charge (they came by twice and asked if we wanted more), but in my opinion, if you cannot offer a margarita that is any different from the commercial chain place down the street, how else are you going to convince me to eat here rather than there? Let’s face it, lime juice is not so expensive, and you can easily water it down with a splash of seltzer or stirred with crushed ice to stretch it. I hate to be stuck on this, but there is just no excuse for it. Fresh lime juice is what kills all living bacteria, that is why Mexicans never get sick from anything they eat when tourists get sick from brushing their teeth with the tap water. Ok, lesson over. On to the eats.
My friend orders fajitas. Its always a classic favorite, and they do not skimp on the tortillas, they give you 5 large ones, and, as you can see from the portions, that is early enough to feed 2-3 people.
Every dish comes with a side, rice, beans and lettuce with tomato. As you can see, all are a bit scant. Its fine for this dish, because there is plenty of beef, onions, peppers, cheese and other stuff to easily make 5 fajitas or more.
Next is my dish. I was fearful to get the shrimp enchiladas, knowing shrimp can easily be of poor quality, so I got the chicken enchiladas, and here is where I could have appreciated a larger portion of rice and beans. If it were not for the free tortilla chips and salsa, I might have left hungry. And while there was plenty of shredded chicken in the enchilada, it was a bit too dry even with the sauce. I tried some of my friend’s beef for the fajitas, it was ok, nothing terribly tasty and also a bit dry and not so easy to chew.
If you want a fast, casual, affordable lunch, this is the place to go, especially if you want to avoid the crowds at a Chili’s or other Tex-Mex type restaurant. However, if you want true, authentic Mexican cuisine, this won’t be the place. This is good for when you want to sit down, have some lunch, have a conversation, and pay a reasonable amount (2 main dishes, no appetizers, one margarita and one sprite only cost about $33 here), this is where you should come. But don’t come for an authentic experience or to impress a first date or clients.
Its all good, anything beats a chain or franchise, but this place can make some simple adjustments to surpass places like that.
PS – The website is rivieramayanj.com but it is obviously misspelled on the website which is under construction.
Riviera Maya Restaurant – 116 Route 46 West – Rockaway NJ 07866
# # #