After a revolving door of restaurants has occupied the Brunswick Square Mall, management at believe they've found the right recipe for sustained success in South Brunswick.
With previous eateries to occupy the location like Bandido's and One South having fizzled out, El Dorado, which opened in March 2011, has gotten off to a strong start by offering new twists on traditional Mexican favorites with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and creativity.
"So far we're doing pretty good compared to last year and our reputation has been building back up," said Executive Chef Deepak Ballaney. "Bandido's was doing well here for a couple of months, then lost control and developed a bad reputation so nobody wanted to come back and it switched. So we said let's go back to that same concept because there aren't any Mexican restaurants within 10 miles of here. Our food is fresh, our produce is from the farmer's markets and nothing here is frozen. Everything we offer is done in house and made from scratch."
Ballaney, who began managing El Dorado in January, works as a consultant taking over restaurants in need of help, typically handling one project per year. He previously worked with several eateries in Manhattan.
When he began with El Dorado, Bellany visited the residences of his Mexican chef staff for home cooked meals as inspiration for the new menu, which will debut with a revamped lineup of options over the next few weeks.
"We're going for a home-style concept so I went to my chef's houses and got to see what their home cooking is all about," Bellany said. "We are very close to authentic, except for the spice levels which is more mild for our clientele. But we will cook to order for our customers so if they want it more spicy then we will make it more spicy."
Bellaney said the new menu will include extensive vegetarian options, in addition to a new twist on Mexican food with the fusion of Indian food. Options will include tandori chicken tacos, Cajun onion pakodas, and chipotle corn potatoes.
The restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, offers favorites that include steak ranchero, enchiladas, chile relleno, San Antonio cowboy steak, country fried steak, blackened Cajun chicken and the Tex-Mex BBQ pulled pork sandwich. The bar features drafts, bottled beers, wines, and the restaurant's signature sangrias and margaritas.
"We want to bring the best we can to the table in terms of freshness," Bellaney said. "Our fajitas are amazing, our spices use chilies fresh from a Mexican market and we roast them here. We use fresh chili in our sauces, which are also made right here. Even our jalapeño poppers are made in house. Everything is freshly made and nothing is frozen."
With the summer heat wave, El Dorado doesn't take any shortcuts when it comes to its selection of frozen margaritas, which provides traditional recipes in addition to different variations on old favorites.
"Margaritas are our specialties and we're coming out with some new twists like a cilantro-orange margarita and a rose margarita," Bellany said. "We also have recipes that include rock salt and cumin, and our mole sauce margarita is one of our best sellers."
El Dorado also has an outdoor tiki bar that offers a wide selection of drinks and flavored tobacco for an outside hookah area.
With the economy causing difficult times in the restaurant industry, Bellany said offering a wide array of menu options that fits every budget allows El Dorado to appeal to a wide base of customers.
"We have plenty of low budget items for people to enjoy and we have some more expensive options like a good steak, full size ribs and our new menu will have options like scallops," he said. "People who want good quality food are willing to pay for it. People love good food and appreciate freshness. They can come here in a family setting and have a good time and a good meal. Our food takes time to cook because it doesn't go from the microwave to the table, it's done from scratch, but we still strive for outstanding customer service.
"Change doesn't happen overnight. People who have tried us are coming back because we have a different reputation with great food and an exceptional service team who cares for every guest that comes in."
El Dorado Tex Mex Grill & Cantina is located in the Brunswick Square Mall at 4095 Route 1 South in Monmouth Junction.
Click here to visit their web site for more information.