By Sue Baldani
Walking into La Colina Mexican Cantina in Warren, NJ, feels like entering a Mexican museum. Everywhere you look, there’s authentic artwork and other artifacts on display created by a famous Mexican artist.
When your entrée arrives, it also presents like a piece of art. The food is arranged in a beautiful fashion, and to add a bit of magic, a real orchid is surrounded by dry ice smoke. What fun!
An experienced and talented Mexican chef is in the kitchen. “I’m from Oaxaca, Mexico, and preparing Mexican dishes from my culture is my passion,” says Chef Eduardo Cabrera. “My father died when he was 92 years old, and he taught me pretty much everything I know. It’s his recipes I use.”
“Chef Eduardo has so much talent,” says Sonny Gjevukaj, who owns the restaurant along with his brother Johnny. “My family has been in the restaurant business for three generations, and I’ve never met another chef who has a talent like his. The way he uses seasonings and infuses them together makes every dish unique.”
These include favorites such as quesadillas and tacos, but also chicken, steak and seafood combined with everything from cheeses, vegetables, rice, beans, and sauces.
Everything is made fresh daily, and takes many hours to prepare. “It takes three hours to make mole, and it takes six hours to make birria [shredded beef],” says Chef Eduardo. The majority of the vegetables and herbs used at La Colina are locally grown. “The meat I order from Mexican companies. Arrachera is a Mexican meat, and everybody in Mexico has it, but nobody else has it here. That’s one of the things that makes us special.”
To accompany the food, the restaurant has a large variety of alcoholic beverages including tequila, bourbon, cognac, sangria, margaritas, beer and wine. The mixed cocktails are just delightful.
“There are restaurants that make one or two special cocktails, but here every single one has a meaning,” says Sonny. These include the Ave Maria, made with Bacardi, melon liquor, watermelon purée, lime juice, cinnamon syrup, mint leaves, and whipped cream, and the Sofia, made with Gun-Power Gin, elder flower liquor, ginger syrup, lime juice, pineapple juice, fresh kiwi, a splash of Empress 1908 Gin, and strawberry flavored foam.
La Colina, which opened in the beginning of 2023, has two floors and seats 250 people. The upstairs room is perfect for all kinds of parties, and the amazing artwork continues here. There is an entire wall with objects representing all the states in Mexico, including Oaxaca and Puebla.
“Most people, when they look at the wall, it’s just art,” says Sonny. “You have to be a real Mexican to recognize what it really is.”
Even the tables are works of art. “My brother Johnny made all the tables,” he says. They are polished to a great shine and show all the natural wood grains.
La Colina is mainly dine in, although during the restaurant’s slower times, takeout may be available. For more, go to https://lacolinanj.com/.
Written for The Showcase Magazine in New Jersey.