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Mexican Food Factory

Mexican Food Factory
601 W. Route 70, across from Burns Pontiac, Marlton, N.J.
Credit cards accepted
Open for lunch and dinner

History, art and literature are filled with famous couples. Anthony and Cleopatra, Eleanor and Franklin, Nick and Nora, Jack and Jackie, Scott and Zelda, Diego and Frida.

Diego and Frida? Mexican-born Diego Rivera is considered one of the finest artists of the 20th century. He painted massive murals and numerous portraits. Art lovers and collectors worldwide instantly recognize Rivera’s many studies of his muse and third wife, the exotic and talented artist Frida Kahlo.

Reproductions of Rivera’s colorful works adorn the walls of the Mexican Food Factory on Route 70 in Marlton, N.J. Edward and I have driven past the restaurant dozens of times. We noted the parking lot was always packed.

On yet another brutally hot evening, we decided to do some shopping in Jersey and finally sample the Mexican fare served at this long-standing cantina. I’m glad we did. It is getting more difficult to find fresh and authentic Mexican food in our area. Chi Chi’s is closed and Chili’s is a fast-food-like chain with more of a nod to the Southwest. We enjoyed dinner last summer at the delightful Las Casuelas, a casual BYOB, and looked forward to comparing our experience there with the Mexican Food Factory.

First off, the Mexican Food Factory is a family restaurant. It’s very difficult to find a good family restaurant that’s not a buffet or fast-food parlor. There’s a special menu for kids under 10 that includes a beverage. Three toques straightaway: The daily specials, with prices, are printed on a separate sheet of paper.

Edward and I settled into a roomy booth and received linen napkins. Unfortunately for me, I was seated right by the patio door. Since the place was very busy, servers were constantly opening and closing the door. I felt a gush of 98-degree heat each time. Our delightful server moved us to another booth where the air conditioning was much better. A stunning portrait of Kahlo kept me company.

Mexican fare calls for beer or wine. We sipped an Italian Pinot Grigio from Trentino, which was a bargain at $15. Three couples next to us were swigging Coronas from the bottle.

We received a basket of homemade tortilla chips and three bowls of homemade salsa: fresh mild tomato salsa, green salsa made with tomatillos and pico de gallo. I could have made a meal just with these delicious appetizers. "Don’t fill up or you’ll have no room for dinner," Edward said as he dipped a chip into the green salsa studded with hot peppers. Our waitress packed all three for us to take home because the portions were so generous.

Much of Mexican food is made with New-World ingredients. Corn, tomatoes, peppers hot and sweet, chocolate (especially for mole, the deliciously unusual sauce served on turkey or chicken) and turkey form a strong culinary base.

Smoked turkey quesadilla ($8.95) was a huge flour tortilla filled with mesquite-smoked turkey, roasted corn salsa and a blend of cheeses. Edward and I ate it with a knife and fork, and especially liked the contrast of flavors. The plate was garnished with sliced avocado, shredded lettuce and ripe tomato wedges.

A cup of corn soup ($2.75) was filled with the goodness of the New World. It was thick and rich, prepared with crushed corn, pureed tomatoes and chili peppers. The soup, which was lukewarm but tasty, was topped with cheese and sour cream.

Tossed salad comes with dinner. It was not ordinary, however. A cool plate was brimming with baby greens, shredded carrots, shredded zucchini (Edward did not mind it), shredded Manchego cheese from Spain, shredded red cabbage and a handful of sweet red grape tomatoes. The salad was "compose," each ingredient placed separately on the greens. We dressed the salad with olive oil and vinegar.

I asked the waitress if I could substitute the salad for another vegetable with my dinner. She checked with the manager who said it was fine. Soft-shell crabs are in season and they formed one of the specials ($18.95). The menu stated two came with dinner, but because they are running small, I received three crisp soft shells, coated in flour seasoned with ground hot chilies and salt and saut�ed. They were lukewarm and a bit salty.

Yellow Mexican rice, a hot plate filled with perfectly steamed sugar snap peas and a dreamy cole slaw prepared with crisp jicama and red cabbage came with the crabs. I asked our server for sauce on the side in which to dunk my crabs. It was a pesto made with fresh cilantro, a staple in Mexican fare, and ground almonds and olive oil. The portion of sauce was so generous, our server packed it to go. It made a fabulous sauce for linguine the next evening.

Another special was grilled sea bass ($18.95) served on a bed of creamy grits blended with a puree of sweet red peppers. The fish was nicely cooked but could have been hotter. It was topped with chunks of avocado and came with grilled vegetables. Zucchini was on order, so Edward asked our server to omit it. Chunks of mushrooms, onions, red peppers and slices of yuca completed his dinner.

Overall, our evening was delightful, although the restaurant needs bus help. I noticed a young man setting up tables but he should help clear as well. Still, the Mexican Food Factory is a delicious bargain. Portions are generous, prices very moderate. The menu is large and offers all the classics. A couple easily could enjoy dinner for $40.

Two-and-a-half tips of the toque to the Mexican Food Factory.

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