If I came upon you unexpectedly, knocked you over the head, dragged your unconscious body to an undisclosed location, and then as you came to, asked you what town in Ocean County boasts two wonderful Mexican restaurants, I bet your first answer wouldn’t be Manahawkin. Then again, your first words might be something more like “What’s wrong with you, you friggin’ lunatic!” or “You dragged me out here for THIS?!?!?”
Too much? OK.
The point is that with little mention or fanfare, Manahawkin suddenly boasts two wonderful Mexican restaurants: El Jose inside a gas station on Bay Avenue, and El Señor Frog right on Main Street at the Lakeside Village Shopping Center. We’ve talked about El Jose already, and we were long overdue to discuss our experiences at El Señor Frog.
Tucked away from the main road, El Señor Frog ia a place that one has to seek out to find. A few Chowhounders had done just that, and had nothing but great things to report. And so, with the kiddies in tow, we finally found our own way there. With its colorfully relaxed and lack of pretense dining area, along with a few froggy nicknacks, El Senor Frog sets the right tone for a family night out.
You start off with the obligatory chips and salsa, which are homemade and homemade. The salsa is pleasant enough, with lots of tomato and cilantro flavor, but not much heat. Personally, I prefer to not start out with a blaringly hot salsa; I want my taste buds to be able to function for the rest of the meal.
From there, the real fun begins. You have to start off with at least one plate of tacos. Having tried most of the different tacos on the menu, and have yet to come across one that was not happy happy food in a soft shell, feel free to mix to match. The tongue (de lengua) taco is full of tender chunks of tongue chunks dressed simply in cilantro and onions, and the marinated pork (al pastor) tacos are addictively good, with lots of garlic.
Having kids along for a meal can be a tricky thing at times. The menu de ninos at El Señor Frog is, well, small and tailored towards little gringos. Having said that, we have ordered their pollo frito for our littlest one, and the chicken was nicely done – definitely not a pre-fab frozen deal. Thankfully, our children do dig Mexican food, so for them it’s a quesadilla or a burrito. The burrtios are plenty stuffed, and not overloaded too much with rice. And you can get one with that wonderfully garlicky marinated pork. You’ll never ever never want to even consider running for the border again when you have the knowledge of a burrito like this.
For the adults, there are many wonderful choices on the menu. Can you get mole poblano? Yes, yes you can. Is it worth it? Yes, yes it is. Deep, rich, complex, and that overriding flavor of chocolate – ever so good. If you crave a little carne, the cesina ranchera (beef ranch style) is a big tender slab of skirt steak that’s been lovingly marinated in lime and garlic. There are also a number of seafood dishes on the menu; however, I have been thwarted on my attempts to order seafood due to the fact that they sometimes run out of certain items. It’s a bit annoying, but the rest of the menu is good enough that the disappointment doesn’t last for very long.
Then there are the soups, and one in particular that might intrigue some and repel others. It’s playfully called belly soup, and if you can’t guess it, we’re talking tripe soup. Tender chunks of tripe served in a vibrant and multi-layered tomato broth. At first, when I ordered the soup, I was given their chicken version of this soup, which was very good with plenty of dark meat to add to the flavor. But when the waitress came back, and I asked about getting the tummy soup, they wanted to make sure that I really wanted it. Yes, I really wanted the tummy soup. Maybe they didn’t know what I was getting myself into – oh well.
So can I recommend El Señor Frog? Most certainly. They are one of a growing trend in South Jersey: mom and pop Mexican restaurants where the food is made as they know how, not to the tastes of those who are not Mexican. And it’s to the benefit of us gringos that they are doing so.
El Señor Frog – 31 North Main Street, Manahawkin. 609.978.9000.