Restaurant Review #186: Chilangos (Highlands, NJ)

For years I had heard from people, “Chilangos is the best Mexican food in Highlands”. Well, they are right, but with a caveat: they are the only Mexican restaurant in Highlands. Actually, in the entire surrounding area. You would have to venture into Red Bank or Keyport for true Mexican food above the “fish tacos” that everyone and their mother is selling on the Jersey Shore. Sometimes being the only place around for a certain type of food is a good thing. Other times, it isn’t. Chilangos is far from terrible. Our dining experience was decent, I guess. But considering the rave reviews I have heard and good online ratings I read, it was a let-down. 

I started off with a $6.50 margarita on the rocks that was nothing but ice and sour mix. Not even a hint of tequila anywhere near it. I think within four sips I had finished the drink. Waiting a few moments more and whatever was in my tchotchke cactus glass was little more than a weak lime-flavored water. Justin had his margarita strawberry flavored and frozen, which he enjoyed considerably more than I did mine. But I should have known better: it is a rarity that a Mexican restaurant in these parts can actually give you a solid margarita without screwing you. While the price was not bad, you get what you pay for. You can charge me more if you actually make the drink worthwhile. For my second drink, I switched over to a bottle of Modelo—can’t screw with that.

Our appetizer was the highlight of the meal. It was a thin-crust chorizo pizza. The crust itself was actually two large flour tortillas placed on top of each other. It was then covered with a light layer of salsa, cheese, and a hefty amount of chorizo sausage. The flavor initially caught me off-guard (there was a strong hint of cinnamon) but after a few bites, was delicious. This would be perfect late night drunk food if you had been downing margaritas that actually had booze in them. It was cheesy, gooey, crunchy, salty, and savory. I washed it down with my lime water.

For his entrée, Justin had the chicken fajitas. Portion size was fine. There were ample amounts of chicken strips, peppers, and onions. Upon it hitting the table, it looked as though it would be a homerun. There was the classic sizzle and smoke everywhere. However, upon eating it he said there was not much flavor. I grabbed a piece of chicken and agreed. Looks were deceiving here. For all the pomp and circumstance, there was not much of a taste to be found. He was given three tiny tortillas to make his fajitas.

My meal held up decently enough: the shrimp in garlic sauce. There were eight camarones tossed in some kind of garlic rub—it was most definitely not a sauce. I actually ordered a side of flour tortillas in the hopes that I could dredge them through the garlic sauce I was expecting (like I do at Los Corrales with the Devil’s Sauce), but the tortillas never came and my plate was pretty much dry. I was also expecting a bit more garlic, but it was not potent enough. When I hear garlic sauce, I expect to be blown away with garlic. But maybe that’s my fault again. It was mixed with cilantro, so at least my palate was livened up a bit more than Justin’s. The shrimp was not overcooked, a welcome relief. The rice and beans on the side were fine. The “salad” the menu said came with it was shredded lettuce and a lime wedge.

I say this a lot, but with so many restaurants of all different varieties all over Monmouth County, you really have to stand out or at least be above average to get me to go back a second time. Unfortunately, that was not the case here with Chilangos. Maybe if the margarita wasn’t a fraud, I would have gone a tiny notch higher. But we got off on the wrong foot, and there was not enough positive to bring it up. They get 3 out of 5 stars from me. Three is average, and average just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Chilangos is located at 272 Bay Avenue in Highlands, New Jersey.


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