"You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars." Charles Kuralt

Monday, July 14, 2008

Surf Taco

Just about anyone who has spent time on the West Coast eating Mexican style food bemoans the lack of anything that even comes close here in the Northeastern U.S. The prevailing trend out west is fresh, big and cheap. Actually it’s FRESH!, FRESH!, FRESH!, big and cheap. It’s the FRESH!, FRESH!, FRESH! that is what is usually lacking around here, although big and cheap isn’t exactly a common combination either.
Lately there has been a small but steady influx of small taquerías and burrito joints both corporate and privately owned. They tend to run the gamut from bright and shiny institutional looking places to little, dark, hole-in-the-wall cantinas to simple take-out windows. Sometimes though, you run into something that is entirely different. I had the good fortune of doing just that the first time I visited Surf Taco in Seaside Park, NJ.
Housed in an unassuming storefront along the main drag, Surf Taco is a local success story. The first one opened up the coast in Point Pleasant in 2001. They have since grown to at least eight locations. As soon as I opened the door to step inside it became apparent why they have grown so quickly. I was somewhat surprised by the fact that I could barely get inside. The line from the counter was backed up all the way to the door and every table was full. With some small trepidation I grabbed a takeout menu to get a head start on ordering and settled in for what I anticipated to be a long wait.
Inside, Surf Taco is decorated just the way you hope it would be. The surf theme is heavy but laid back and totally unforced.You almost expect to see Jeff Spicoli and crew tumble out of his van and pile into a back table. The menu is big, basic and has a tropical influence. The good people of Surf taco call it “Coastal Cuisine”, a combination of fresh food and surf culture. Tacos go for about $4, and burritos are about $7. They offer combinations of flavors that I haven’t encountered anywhere else like the Buffalo Chicken Taco and the Garlic Shrimp Burrito. For $15 they serve a burrito called the Tsunami. They say that if you can eat this oversized burrito in 15 minutes or less they will add your picture to the Tsunami Wall of Fame. Maybe next time.
The line was moving much quicker than anticipated, and within five minutes I was at the counter. Whoever was behind the register knew what they were doing. As it turns out, the person at the register looked like your typical vacant teenage, blonde beach bunny. Yet another lesson in not adhering to stereotypes. This girl was on the ball. And if this was any indication of what I could expect from every aspect of Surf Taco then I was sure not to be disappointed.
I ordered the Teriyaki Chicken Taco (Chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce, topped with jack & cheddar cheeses, lettuce, pineapple & Pico de Gallo salsa: $3.65) and the Chimichanga (Shredded chicken, jack & cheddar cheeses, peppers & onions wrapped in a 12” flour tortilla fried to a golden brown & served a side of sour cream, guacamole & Pico de Gallo: $8.00). Fountain drinks are self serve, so I got my cup along with my order number on a stick that I need for later food delivery. The soda fountain is located next to the fresh salsa bar. After loading up and standing around for a minute, a table opened up across the room.
This would be a good time to point out that the line for the counter had not gotten any smaller since I had been there. I already mentioned how fast it was moving. If this was typical business, Surf Taco is a goldmine. I settled in at my table and then got up again and made a trip for napkins and other stuff I couldn’t carry the first time. By time I got myself together sufficiently enough to start thinking about how hungry I was, a couple of guys came out of the kitchen bearing plates of food and looking for their matching number. There was no way that this was my order. Not yet, anyway. Not unless they have Edgar Cayce out back working the grill. Give Edgar my regards. These guys headed right for my table and unloaded their savory burden upon its surface.
The first thing I noticed were the huge chunks of pineapple stuffed into my taco. A bite brought the combined flavors of pineapple, teriyaki and fresh Pico de Gallo. I have to say that it’s probably the best taco that I’ve ever had. I could easily have eaten a few more, but I wanted to go for some variety.Next up was the Chimichanga.I spread the side order of sour cream, guacamole & Pico de Gallo across the light and crispy fried tortilla.I then surgically split it from end to end exposing the chicken and cheese concealed within its steamy interior.Again, this officially is the best chimi that I’ve ever had. I only wish it was bigger because I just didn’t want to stop eating it. Guess I’ll be going back. Oh, and when I left, the line was still almost out the door.Surf Taco
212 SE Central Avenue
Seaside Park, NJ

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