Taco eatery spices up Elizabeth’s kosher scene
Tex-Mex menu brings taste of the Southwest to Elmora Avenue
When two guys from Linden, Josh Weiss and Eli Barashi, decided to open a kosher restaurant together in Elizabeth, they knew they needed to appeal to the general public as well as observant Jews.
“We settled on Tex-Mex because there’s nothing like that in the area and there’s a large Hispanic population,” Weiss explained. “There isn’t even a Taco Bell around here.”
Thinking outside the bun — and the bagel — the pair opened Tacos ’N Things on Elmora Avenue on Oct. 6. The menu includes beef and chicken tacos, burritos, “loaded” nachos, jalapeno pastrami poppers, and chimichangas.
For the slightly less adventurous the takeout and delivery restaurant — with a counter that accommodates about six people — also offers burgers, hot dogs, wraps, soups, and salads.
Quite a few of the kosher-keeping customers who turned up at the official opening were already familiar with Tex-Mex fare, and they declared the new source a very welcome option.
One of the experienced eaters is Rabbi Joshua Hess, who happens to lead the synagogue where the two men met, Congregation Anshe Chesed, the Orthodox shul in Linden.
He said he developed a taste for south-of-the-border cooking when he lived in California. The restaurant has glatt kosher certification from the Va’ad Harabanim of Elizabeth, issued under the supervision of Rabbi Elazar M. Teitz, and Hess is responsible for vetting their fresh vegetables every morning.
Given his official involvement, Hess declined to act as food reviewer, but he did line up with other eager customers to place an order.
“I’d support them anyway because they’re my congregants,” he said, “but also I think that the more variety of kosher eating that’s available in the community the better.”
Also familiar with the cuisine was Anya Bitansky, who came from Springfield with her friend, Danielle Pepper. At home, the two make tacos using kosher ingredients found at the supermarket, but were delighted to have a new take-out place. Bitansky, who came from Russia 20 years ago, also got familiar with Tex-Mex food in California, and after tasting the freshly made taco chips and guacamole declared, “It’s very good.”
Barashi and his wife, Marissa, met Weiss and his wife, Eliana, two-and-a-half years ago when they visited Linden as part of an outreach program organized by Anshe Chesed. The Weisses were their hosts for Shabbat dinner. “We clicked immediately,” Weiss said.
The two men are very different. Weiss was an entrepreneur from the start, the kind of kid who had a lemonade stand and did baby-sitting, and he got into business development right after college.
Barashi trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has been doing catering and cooking for institutions and restaurants. Both had a dream of running some kind of food business of their own, and they joined forces when they realized that each provided the expertise the other lacked.
It took a full year to put all the pieces together. They had to find a suitable place — they chose a former check-cashing store — and to get all the necessary permits and zoning authorizations. Then came the remodeling. They did much of the work themselves, including designing the warm olive green and deep red decor and the menu boards posted above the counter.
And they came up with the name that abbreviates — to their delight — to TNT. That led to the name for their offshoot catering business, Dynamite Catering. They have already begun deliveries to their first institutional customer, Rutgers Law School in Newark.
Barashi, pausing to talk briefly before plunging back into work in the open kitchen, said there are still lots of things to work out. But he is clear about their goal: “This isn’t fast food; it’s good food served fast,” he said.
To earn the kind of reputation he wants, he plans to use as many fresh ingredients as he can, including taco shells and guacamole prepared on the premises. What they don’t sell, they will be passing on while it’s fresh to Tomchei Shabbos, an organization that provides kosher Shabbat meals for needy families.
Elizabeth’s Mayor Chris Bollwage was there to cut the ribbon on opening day, accompanied by long-time Jewish federation activist Gordon Haas, who is head of the Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce. Haas said he was delighted for the city, but also for himself. “I love spicy food,” he declared.
He also said Weiss and Barashi have already joined the chamber, and TNT, like the kosher Larry and David’s Bagels — which had its official opening half an hour after TNT’s — will be among the dozens of establishments taking part in Elizabeth’s Restaurant Week, a promotional program running from Oct. 25 to 31.