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Las Olas Taqueria brings Cali-style Mexican to Marmora
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SoCal in SoJers

Las Olas Taqueria brings Cali-style Mexican to Marmora

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When you think of most traditional Mexican restaurants in South Jersey you might picture a menu based around old family recipes passed down from generations of Mexican families, served in an atmosphere reflective of the artistic traditions of the culture.

But Las Olas Taqueria in Marmora is the opposite of all of that. Opened this past June by Joe Pappano, an avid surfer and former resident of southern California, his version of a simple Mexican eatery is more SoCal than most in both visual style and cuisine, which helps it to stand out from the pack just a bit. Pappano grew up here at the Jersey Shore, where he cut his teeth working in restaurants in Ocean City from the time he was 14 years old. But the inspiration for Las Olas was sprouted by his days later on in life living in the beach towns of the West Coast.

“My love for the taqueria concept came from living in Southern California. I worked in a taqueria in Newport Beach for several years and wanted to bring some of those flavors back here to New Jersey,” Pappano says.

The LookLas Olas Taqueria has a simple setup – a small storefront located inside a strip mall, the whole thing consists of a counter up front where you order the food and scattering of tables in the cozy but bright dining area adjacent to it. Dining al fresco is an option as well if you are lucky enough to snag one of the three umbrella-topped tables outside.

One of the most notable visual aspects of Las Olas Taqueria is the addition of surfing imagery. Large photos of glassy waves crashing hang from the walls, as do a pair of flat screen TVs above the main counter that play videos of pro surfers taking on some seriously gnarly surf. These elements masterfully incorporate Pappano’s personality into the space, while also reflecting the SoCal/Baja style of cuisine that Las Olas Taqueria specializes in.

“I have been surfing since I was 6 or 7 years old,” Pappano says proudly. “And I’ve surfed all over the world – Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica. I’ve got over 40 years of surfing under my belt, so I wanted to include that aspect here in the decor.”

The FoodThough it could easily be described as “fast casual,” Las Olas Taqueria is not a Chipotle-style assembly line setup where you pick and choose add-ons as you go. The recipes have been carefully crafted by both Pappano and his chef Aedo Rufino and make use of the highly touted flavors found in SoCal Mexican cuisine. Street

“When I lived in San Clemente, I was maybe an hour from the Mexican border and would make countless surf trips to Baja and got to really experience some of the most authentic food. We try to be ‘street inspired, but chef perfected.’ We make all of our corn tortillas in house — we press them one at a time on an old-school Mexican press, and you can taste the difference. And that goes for everything. We make everything in house, and we don’t have any freezers or microwaves, so all the food is as fresh as it can possibly be,” Pappano says.

The menu here is neither too big or too small, which is nice, as many Mexican restaurants either overwhelm you with options or scale things back so tightly that you’re left longing for more choices.

A long list of tacos run the gamut from your standard varieties like chicken or the ground beef found in their “Gringo Taco,” ($4) to rarely seen options such as tongue ($4.50) and pork shoulder ($4.50), which comes on a corn tortilla with onion, cilantro and a bit of sweet pineapple. Two types of vegan tacos ($4) are available as is an entire subsection of fish tacos ($4.75 each) – a staple of SoCal Mexican food. Options include shrimp or fish, each can be grilled or fried and topped with a tequila-lime glaze and served on a flour tortilla with red cabbage, chipotle mayo and avocado.

Carne asada or chicken empanadas ($5) are an easy option for those looking for a quick bite, and each are served with house sauce, cheese and sour cream, while those with a bigger appetite will surely be satisfied with any of the hearty burritos ($12 to $14) which all start with a flour tortilla stuffed to the max with cheese, rice, black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and either salsa verde or roja, plus your choice of chicken, steak, pork, mahi mahi, shrimp or veggies. Wanna take that burrito to the next level? Order it as a “Burrito Suizo,” and for a buck more it will come covered in their awesome homemade red chili sauce, plus melted mixed cheese and crema.

One of the standouts of the menu is the list of huraches ($8), a Mexican flatbread that can work as either an appetizer to share or an individual entrée. They are available in chicken, carne asada and vegetarian options, but the short rib birria was really incredible, stealing the show and matching up masterfully with the cilantro, radish and cheese that accented the dish.

And if you are looking to skip the bread, Las Olas Taqueria offers a tortilla soup ($7) with avocado, chicken, crema, queso fresco and cilantro. For those who are not carb conscious, a full line of rice bowls ($8-$16) are made with rice, black beans and sweet plantains. You can pick your protein and add it to the mix for an additional $4.

“One of the biggest sellers we have right now is the rice bowls,” Pappano says. “People love them because you can add anything you want. We also offer a keto bowl, where you can pick a couple of proteins whether it’s meat or fish and we throw guac in there, queso fresco and crema for a carb free meal.”

Need a bit of sweet after you eat your meat? Desserts include a seldom seen mango ice cream ($3) alongside churros ($4.50) and sweet plantains ($3).

BYO for sho ...While most cuisines pair nicely with an alcoholic beverage of choice, with Mexican food, it’s damn near mandatory. And although Las Olas Taqueria does not have a liquor license, they do allow you to BYO, which is key. A quick stop at the liquor store for a few Coronas or a bottle of good tequila, agave and a few limes, and you’ll be pairing your tacos with a top-shelf margarita in no time.

Those not partaking in the booze will do best to snag one of the many flavors of Jarritos Mexican sodas that are in the fridge – if you haven’t had one, you are seriously missing out.

The FutureIf opening up a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t ambitious enough, Pappano has his eyes set on the future.

“There are plans right now to spin off and have a food truck, Pappano notes. “We’ll probably launch that within the next few months. And I have already looked at a second location about 25 minutes north of here, but for now we are focusing on making this location as good as it can be.”

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