Restaurant Review: Los Corrales (Keyport, NJ)

“A white guy walked into a Mexican restaurant.” Oh boy. Can I get away with that? I mean it in the nicest way possible. Los Corrales is an authentic Mexican restaurant. Sure, they have quesadillas and nachos, but if you order either of these two items, there should be legal justification to hang you by your thumbs. Preferably suspended up by the kitchen so you can see where the real food is being cranked out. While located in the charming seaside town of Keyport, this restaurant is another world. This is Spanish first, English second. The clientele is, I would assume, 95% Mexican. The other 5% is comprised of us boring white guys who I hope to God are not going to order the chicken fingers and make a fools of the rest of us. But all of this is not a complaint. Not by a long-shot. It is what makes Los Corrales special— and that transportation to another place through food and atmosphere will keep me coming back.

There is no decor to the building that actually used to be a sports card shop many years ago. Only feet away from where I would walk up to the counter as a child with my dad to purchase a pack of hockey cards is where I found myself sitting. If I have learned one thing in three years of food writing, it is that to get the best, most authentic food of a particular culture, you have to go to places where some might be uncomfortable. In fact, I felt more than welcome here despite a handful of amused looks on the way in. The service is indeed bilingual, ultra friendly and pleasant, and truly concerned that you are enjoying your meal. The cooking area could not be more than 10 feet long. There’s a flat-top, a fryer, a couple of jets, and some crock pots for rice and beans. For such an extensive and complicated menu to be cranked out in this space requires much skill and finesse.

In getting to the food, it was as good as I expected. I needed something unusual by normal standards. Tripe? Beef tongue? A fish with the head and all? Surely, it had to be one of these. After much deliberation, I got the Burrito Ahogado with tongue. This would be a first for me, and they smacked it out of the park. The tongue was diced into fine bits and grilled until there was a nice char present. They were crispy on the outside, soft and spongy on the inside. It’s amazing how the tongue could actually taste more beefy than if it was just beef itself. The burrito also contained peppers, onions, rice, and beans. It was smothered in a spicy green sauce (you have a choice of green, red, or mole), a drizzle of sour cream, and queso fresco. More rice and beans were given on the side. For $12 (the tongue was $2 extra—so normally this meal is $10), it was extremely filling. You won’t want to run around when you’re finished, that’s for sure.

Before the meal came, they brought over a complimentary plate of tortilla chips with black beans and queso. It was a surprising and delightful way to start. The chips were not salty at all—they had to be homemade. That’s one aspect of this meal I want to stress: this food was not salty. It was not heavy, either. There’s a clear-cut difference between heavy and filling. Normally, I leave a Mexican restaurant with some kind of stuffed discomfort. Not necessarily from shoveling food into my face (which is known to happen on occasion) but because of how fattening, salty, and heavy the ingredients are. No such case here. I left full, but not uncomfortable. This was clean eating.

Two days later, I found myself there again with my friend Jason. He knew he was getting a burrito the moment he walked in after seeing my pictures. He chose spicy marinated pork as his filling. We started out with flautas as an appetizer: thin, fried rolls of chicken and cheese. As for me, I had the shrimp in spicy “devil’s sauce”. This time our waitress was the owner. I asked how hot the sauce was and she said it could be made as hot as I wanted. Of course, I wanted it as hot as humanly possible. She smiled, said something in Spanish, and wrote the order down. When it arrived, I nearly gasped at its deep-red color. This was going to hurt, and hurt it did. But it was the good kind of pain. It brought out a sweat, but the flavor was simply incredible. There were nine plump shrimp smothered in that stuff from hell. I don’t think I could order anything but this dish from here on out, or if I did, would ask for that sauce to be covering whatever it is I ordered. It came with a basket of soft, hot, flour tortillas which I used to dredge every last drop of devil’s sauce.

When we were done, she asked if it was hot enough and I said yes. She explained how they make the sauce, and where I could get the peppers. There are such friendly vibes in this place that it is hard to describe. While we were eating, we managed to start chatting with the table next to us. There were six or seven guys eating, hanging out, having a few beers. Not much was understood. They were speaking Spanish, and we English. But one thing that came across was, “Would you like a beer?” And that’s how I acquired the picture below.

One more nice touch from the first visit was a glass bottle of Mexican Coca Cola, meaning real sugar and no high fructose corn syrup. As someone who does not really drink soda, it was refreshing and actually tasted slightly different from normal Coke. I could wax on and on about this place, but I’ll end it here. Los Corrales gets a 4 out of 5 stars from me. It’s a small neighborhood joint aimed at the locals, but you will feel welcome and leave well-fed. Wonderful hospitality that you do not want to miss.

Los Corrales is located at 204 Broad Street in Keyport, New Jersey.

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