El Familiar in TR
well, thanks to a few thumbs up on this board, i finally made it to el familiar tonight with my wife. i hope the chow teams lets me give a detailed review of the food.
i noticed the restaurant was very clean all around (a good sign to a chef) and modest decor. a friendly welcome and immediate seating by the window. our waitress brought chips and salsa while we looked at the menu. chips were a bit stale but one of the salsas was very good (the spicy one) while the other was decent with a nice touch of actual fresh cilantro within. it may be the first time i have NEVER had to add salt to salsa in a restaurant.
while some items were obvious bows to american tastes (fajitas, chicken wings, quesadilla) i was interested in the antojitos. i saw chicharones con arepa and had to have that right away while we continued to peruse the menu. we asked our waitress if they used jack cheese or latin types like queso fresco or anjejo. she told us mostly jack (not a good sign to me nor good for my lactose issues). oh well, we ordered the oxtail soup, pork "tingas" tacos, arepa con carne y hogado, salchichas con tostones and empanadas.
the chicharones were basically two very thick slices of bacon, deep fried, served with fresh limes and arepas (south american corn cakes). nice way to start. pork tingas tacos were very good, a little heat, little smokiness, tortilla was a decent, soft corn. oxtail soup was also a winner, two huge chunks of gelatinous, falling apart meat, potato, carrot and a good stock made from this same meat. the arepa carne y hogado was a large flat arepa with a slice of beef from the leg covered in a stew of tomatoes, scallions and onions cooked with olive oil. the meat could have been more tender but was still good while the arepa and hogado were outstanding.
the salchichas con tostones wound up being a plate of "griddled" salami with wonderfully done plantains, fried to a tee. good, but not the star. the empanadas were stuffed with a fine mince of what tasted exactly like the oxtail soup served with a sweet and sour salsa. they were generously filled and the dough we thought was "arepa" rolled thin. beautiful nonetheless....
i want to note that as a chef, i truly appreciate the very clean flavor of all items and the fact that the deep fryer oil was fresh, prodigious use and garnish of fresh limes (very expensive), the restaurant clean, the service sincere, the horchata was great and the whole meal (a lot for 2 people, we are both chefs though and love to eat) was 40$ ! a steal in this state and compared to the 100$ we spend at nobi on a regular basis, easier on the wallet.
We/ve been going to El "Familiar for about a year and a half now - what a welcome addition to the TR food scene! One of my coworkers often orders the shrimp burrito for lunch - I've never seen such fresh, jumbo shrimp encased in a burrito - their guacamole is similarly fresh and to die for....
El Familiar in Toms River seems to have a following on this and other food boards. I've not been to the Toms River location, but have been to El Familiar II in Freehold on a number of occasions. I'd be really interested to hear from someone whose been to both locations whether the Freehold location stacks up to the original in Toms River. I've had some decent meals in Freehold, but nothing that has me returning more frequently.
I tried El Familiar for the first time with my family last week because of the recommendations on this board. We had a GREAT meal; quality and portions were impressive all the way around. But the place was almost empty! Granted, we were there kind of early (5 p.m. on a Friday night), but even when we left, there was only 1 other party in the place. I hope they survive!
Been going to El Familiar since they opened. They have always had excellent food. The colombian house dishes rock, especially the montanera dish. I go there just for the chicharonnes sometimes! Anyone ever tried Siam Basil on Rt.35 near the manasquan circle? I've been dying for authentic thai food for a while that's close to TR.