This Neighborhood Gem Serves Some of NJ’s Best Tacos

by Peter Candia
best tacos nj

Nestled in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Roselle Park is one of New Jersey’s best taco spots. Seriously. Taqueria La Casita or “The Little House Taqueria” is just that—a taqueria set inside a small, NJ suburban home. A mom and pop gem, at that. Its exterior might come off as timid, but inside is a treasure I won’t soon forget. A trompo—the spinning, shawarma-adjacent log of marinated pork used for authentic al pastor—is the first thing that your sights come across when entering the cozy Mexican joint. A fridge filled with Jarritos and other Mexican colas beckons you longingly. In the rear—beyond the comically large TV playing Latin American soap operas—is a menu with nearly a dozen different types of tacos and an array of other dishes written by hand. I felt it right then and there. This was going to be an exceptional meal. 

The hand-written menu | Taqueria La Casita

I promptly ordered a coke—as I always do when eating tacos. Soon after, fresh tortilla chips arrived with a trio of blended salsas. A green kind, a deep mahogany kind and a light, almost creamy orange kind—all in bottles. 

The green was a delicious jalapeño-based sauce. Deeply flavored with a spice that built on the back end of your palate—tingling your senses as you continued to eat. It’s that addicting kind of heat that doesn’t blow you out , nor underwhelm. It’s a perfect balance. The darker red salsa was smoky and complex—definitely derived from dried and smoked chipotle chilis. However, the last salsa, the almost neon orange variety, was a flavor I could not put my finger on. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever had a salsa like it. The server informed me it was a sauce made from chili de arbol and tomato. It was rich and flavorful—decidedly creamy from the blended tomato skins.  Further research shows me that this salsa style is often referred to as “golden salsa” and involves a rather convoluted emulsification process, not too dissimilar from an aioli. 

Salsa trio | Taqueria La Casita

Then, it came time for tacos. Al pastor was clearly a must, but I threw in a second taco type to get a more rounded view of the establishment. I went with the tacos de costilla de res—a taco stuffed with beef rib meat. 

As soon as the tacos hit the table, you realize that at Taqueria La Casita, the portions are exuberant; that is to say they are stuffed to the brim with meat. The rib meat tacos came garnished with ripe avocado and a piece of the beef rib on the bone for your own gnawing pleasure. The tortilla itself is freshly made, of the corn variety, and filled with tiny pieces of the meat, chopped off the bone. Emphasis on filled. These were excellent. The beef was well seasoned, albeit simply with just salt and maybe pepper. They tasted like pure beef, which paired wonderfully with any of the salsas. Fresh diced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime was all it needed. I found myself chewing on the piece of beef rib that came as an extra before I was even done with the actual taco. It was tough to decide which salsa complimented the fatty meat best, so I alternated between the three with each bite. 

Chipotle, chili de arbol, jalapeño

The al pastor was what I was waiting for. Before I get into the details, it’s important to understand where this legendary taco style comes from. al pastor originates in Puebla, Mexico and came at the hands of Lebanese immigrants during the 1930s. The immigrants introduced Mexico to Shawarma—an up-right roasted lamb found in the Middle East dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Shawarma is traditionally served on pita with a variety of fixings. In make up, it’s not all that different from tacos. Right? So, with the arrival of Lebanese immigrants (and shawarma), “Tacos de Arabes” were born. 

This initially referred to any meat cooked in that style and served on tortillas. However, as the recipes developed, Tacos de Arabes eventually came to mean that it was trompo-roasted lamb, served on a thicker, flour tortilla. This taco style is still enjoyed today and is even served at Taqueria La Casita (next time). 

al pastor nj

Tacos al pastor | Taqueria La Casita

Of course, the other natural evolution to come out of this immigrant-led food was the ever-famous Tacos al pastor. “Al pastor” translates to “in the style of the shepherd,” again nodding to the dish’s Middle Eastern roots. The shepherd-inspired taco consists of pork shoulder, marinated with dried chilis, pineapple, spices and achiote—a paste made from the annatto seed found in cooking across Latin America and the Caribbean. The meat, like shawarma, is layered on a large, upright skewer and roasted on a device called a trompo. This is a must for real al pastor. If you cannot see into the kitchen and spot the trompo yourself, a tell-tale sign of authentic al pastor is a bright red color from the marinade, and shingles of meat in thin pieces due to slicing directly off the large log of pork. As it cooks, separate pieces of pork fuse together. The meat slowly cooks all day long and continues to as more is sliced off. Too often, al pastor at taquerias brings you pork marinated in the same style but cooked on a plancha. Delicious? Absolutely, but it’s not the real deal. 

Taqueria La Casita’s al pastor was deeply-flavored, and accented terrifically by the jalapeño salsa. A slice of juicy pineapple was thrown on top, which seems to be a typical garnish as well as a way to further identify the flavor profile of the style. Like the tacos de costilla, these were generously layered with meat, cilantro and onions. 

“The Little House Taqueria”

Taqueria La Casita is a true hidden gem in every sense of the phrase. Perched in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, you have to know where to look to find it. When you do, the little house taqueria greets you with neon signage reading “Tacos. Open.” and Mexican flags, among other pieces of colorful decor. Are these the best tacos in NJ? I don’t feel well-versed enough to make that claim, but they certainly are up there with the best that this lifelong Jerseyan has ever had. Taqueria La Casita shatters expectations. The neighborhood spot—set in what is literally a little house—is a destination spot for taco lovers across the state. Run, don’t walk, to try what are undoubtedly some of the Garden State’s finest tacos. 

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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