Rosalita’s Roadside Cantina specializes in fresh and locally-sourced latin american sizzle

by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Amessé Photography

It’s 6 a.m. at Rosalita’s Roadside Cantina in Marlboro, and the kitchen is already buzzing with the smells of sizzling sauces and freshly chopped onion and cilantro. The sun has barely risen, but chefs at the Route 9 taco outpost are already prepping the restaurant’s signature slow-roasted beef, chicken, and pork for the day’s anticipated lunch and dinner crowd.

“Our staff starts early every day, braising our beef briskets, cooking the whole, all-natural chickens, and slow roasting the pork for five hours…then meticulously pulling the meat that’s used for our tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos—long before the lunch rush arrives at noon,” noted Dennis Tafuri, coowner of the Route 9 eatery. “Our meats have a ton of flavor because they marinate overnight, then slow cook for five to six hours. The food is made fresh every morning, with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, and I think that’s what gives our menu a delicious edge.”

Launched in October of 2013, the restaurant is styled after an old roadside cantina, something rustic you’d find hidden on a dark dessert highway in the middle of California’s famed Route 66. The former home of Damon’s Grill, the entire interior was renovated by Tafuri and his team to create their gourmet South of the Border vision.

“We brought in a lot of reclaimed wood, poured new cement floors, and used a lot of hardwood elements to lend a real rustic, warm look,” the owner explained.

Tafuri, who runs the business with partners Robert Kash and Joe Mosco, said they chose this location and food genre because they felt it filled an important void.

“There is no full-service Mexican restaurant between Freehold and Edison,” he pointed out. “Our goal was to provide the best food and the most vibrant atmosphere, and I think that’s exactly what we did.”

The trio’s attention to detail starts with the menu: popular farm-to-table items include Hog Wings, which are slow cooked, flash fried, and tossed in chipotle barbecue sauce; Stuffed Jalapenos, filled with authentic Mexican chorizo and manchengo cheese; and BLT tacos, which feature shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and chipotle aioli in a crisp bacon taco shell.

The use of fresh, locally sourced products is paramount: nearby Murray Farms provides the chicken and the pork, packed in Pennsylvania, and all of the restaurant’s produce is sourced from a couple of South Jersey farms.

“I think it makes a huge difference in the taste of our food and it shows that we’re keeping an eye on our own carbon footprint,”
Tafuri observed. “Instead of wasting resources to have items shipped in from across the country, we are making use of the quality ingredients that can be found right here in our own backyard.”

That same fresh focus extends to the bar.

“Every day, our bartenders start their shifts squeezing two cases of lemons and limes to make our margarita mix,” Tafuri said. “We puree fresh watermelon for our watermelon margaritas, muddle oranges for our spicy blood orange margarita, and press fresh juice for our other signature cocktails. Our recipes are all natural—no chemicals—and that makes a major difference in the taste and quality.”

Rosalita’s offers three styles of margaritas: frozen, made with fresh squeezed juice, organic agave nectar, and premium tequila; classic, which features fresh squeezed juice, simple syrup, premium tequila and Cointreau; and fresh, made with fresh squeezed juice and organic agave nectar, and then served on the rocks.

The 9,000-square-foot restaurant seats just short of 300, with another 50 seats outside and 30 at the bar. A DJ is featured on Friday nights and there’s also live entertainment every Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m.

“We feature a happy hour every day from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., then 10 p.m. to close, plus all day Sunday,” Tafuri said. “We also offer $5 margaritas all day Monday, and kids eat free on Wednesday nights.”

The ultimate goal of the family-friendly eatery is to continuously provide the fresh, flavorful food that has already made the earthy taco joint famous.

“We knew this section of New Jersey was lacking authentic, fresh, made-to-order Mexican food, and that’s exactly what we set out to provide here,” the owner concluded.

Roadside Cantina
180 Route 9 North
Cuisine: Mexican
Monday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted
Service: Friendly
Bar: Full bar with a range of margaritas and premium tequilas for sipping
Parking: Lot
Private Parties: Yes