ORADELL, N.J. -- Small, framed photos of the San Diego skyline and its famous taco shops dot the wall in Diego’s Taco Shop in Oradell, serving as a reminder and inspiration of home for co-owner Christine Fitzgerald.
Christine Fitzgerald came East when she transferred to Pace University on a basketball scholarship. While she was here, she couldn’t find the authentic taste of Mexican food from her childhood.
Whenever she would visit her family in San Diego, she ate what she couldn’t get back East. That lack of authentic Southern California flavor in tacos and burritos led Christine and her boyfriend Rick Bruno to open Diego’s Taco Shop four months ago.
The numerous taco shops of her childhood in San Diego provided the inspiration. But Christine tapped into her mother and grandmother’s Mexican recipes as the foundation to the menu offerings.
“I sat with her and wrote down her recipes,” said Christine. “The measurements, ingredients, how she did it.”
With recipes in hand, she and her boyfriend RIck Bruno set out to find a retail site. The shop came open in Oradell, and they were able to open the doors in April. Gino, Christine’s brother, flew in from San Diego to help set up the kitchen and backend systems.
Everything is made fresh daily from the pico de gallo, tomatillo and red hot sauce, to the Mexican guacamole and rice. The steak is marinated at least four hours, the pork for three hours, the refried beans takes two hours to prepare. Nothing comes from a jar or bottle. It’s all made fresh to order.
Christine and Rick make weekly trips to the Hunt’s Point Terminal Market in Bronx, NY, to select meat and produce. Chile Tepin chile peppers, unavailable on the East coast, are shipped in from Arizona, all to maintain the authentic Mexican taste.
“It’s been a growing and learning experience,” said RIck, who worked in the music industry, and had no culinary background. “It’s fun, but stressful at times.”
What’s popular with customers?
The Valley Special, a burrito with marinated steak, shrimp, tater tots, cheese, pico de gallo and guacamole, and The California Burrito, with steak, cheese, tator tots, pico and guacamole, and the shrimp and fish tacos, said Rick. Gaining in popularity is the Carne Asade Fries, a meal for two of french fries topped with carne asade (marinated steak), cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo. For a smaller bite, TJ tacos, made with a four inch taco shell, are available with chicken or beef.
To wash it all down, the cold drinks include aquas frescas like Horchata (rice cinnamon), Jamaica (Hibiscus flower tea) or Tamarindo (Tamarind drink.)
Word is spreading and the authentic flavors are striking a culinary cord with people. Christine said that locals have become regular patrons, with people coming from Fort Lee and East Rutherford.
“It’s comforting to me when people call in, and people are becoming familiar with the food and enjoying it. We’ve made friends because people enjoy the food.”
Diego’s Taco Shop is at 246 Kinderkamack Road, Oradell, open Monday through Saturday. They can be found on Facebook at diegostacoshop246.