The Latino Flavor Grille Thrives in Manahawkin

Sep 26, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

It’s hard to remember a time when Taco Bell was the only place in Southern Ocean County where you could get a taco. In the past 15 years, dozens of restaurants have started offering some kind of Mexican food and there are a half dozen “Tex Mex” or specifically Mexican restaurants today.

There is no longer a lack of tacos.

But at the Latino Flavor Grille, it’s more than just tacos, burritos and quesadillas.

“Mexican restaurants serve Mexican food. But that’s not all that Latin food is. We have Puerto Rican food, Cuban food, some Mexican, Salvadoran, Columbian and Argentinian food,” says co-owner Carlos Munoz, 26.

Latin food runs a wide gamut. Historically, it is a varied mix of Native American, European and European influences. The names are generally Spanish, with many corn or “maize”-based dishes and an emphasis on spices. Each region of Central America and the Caribbean has developed its own tradition.

“It’s not all just hot and spicy. We have Ropa Vieja, a slow cooked beef in a tomato sauce. Cuban people come in and try it, and they say it’s really good. We do a Steak Chimichurri, which is an Argentinian flank steak with parsley, oregano, cilantro, and vinegar. It’s very popular and it’s not a spicy dish. There are Salvadoran people who come in and love our Pupusa. Instead of rice and beans with every dish, we do yucca fries and try to switch it around a little bit,” he said.

Yucca is the starchy root of the cassava plant and a favorite at the Latin Flavor Grille.

The menu features Carlos Parillada, a Peruvian flank steak, grilled chicken, jumbo shrimp and chorizo with a side of grilled asparagus, mushroom, corn on the cob and roasted jalepeños. For those who enjoy tastes of the Pacific, there’s Pineapple Salmon, grilled salmon over a bed of white rice topped with pineapple salsa (and a hint of habañero).

They’ve gotten creative with the salads, too, offering Caribbean, Latin and Tiajuana salads. And since different sandwiches are bigger across the Caribbean than Central America, you can try the Puerto Rican Sandwich, Cubano or Torta Ahogada.

And for those who can’t get enough Mexican food, there is the Carne Tampiquena,  a ribeye under creamy poblano peppers with a side of two mole cheese enchiladas, and the Baja Cod, beer battered cod over jicama salad. Or you can choose from a variety of proteins, cheese and fillings to make your own burrito.

Munoz, who came to the country at the age of 16, partnered with Eloy Reyes, the chef, also 26. Munoz worked at Moester’s Bakery in the very same plaza. Reyes learned the ropes in the kitchens of Brazzi, La Bamba and Element.

“A lot of people in the area are familiar with Latin food, but they don’t have time to travel up north for a nice dish that isn’t Mexican. And Eloy puts a lot into the presentation so it looks pretty and tastes delicious,” added Munoz.

The menu also features some vegetarian options like the Veggie Tacos and the Flora Quesadillas, which are made with zucchini flower blossoms. The pair wasn’t sure of how much demand there would be for vegetarian food, but they soon became favorites on the menu among everyone. Vegan food is available with a special order.

The Latino Flavor Grille is in the space formerly occupied by El Señor Frog and Envios Luna, in the Lakeside Village plaza (Moester’s, Fusaro’s Pizza), across Route 9 from Manahawkin Lake Park, though Munoz and Reyes have no connection to the previous owners or establishments. They opened July 14.

“We opened in the middle of summer, but for a first season, we did very good. We had people over from Beach Haven West and the Island – a lot of summer home people from Beach Haven West were coming in once a week. We had some good reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor. Some of these people have been going to the same restaurants for 10 years and they’re looking for something different,” explained Munio.

The Latino Flavor Grille is open for both lunch and dinner. Take-out is available at 609-994-2652.

— Jon Coen




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