UPDATE: Shaka Burrito in New Brunswick has permanently closed as of 12/01/16.
New Jersey is about as far from tropical climes as I would care to go, so an evening at Shaka Burrito in New Brunswick came as a grand delight. With extraordinary food and a decor that reminds one of a beachfront eatery the experience is, overall, a pleasure.
The food in this state ranges from haute cuisine to sandwiches and pizza, and I dare say a far improvement over the cuisine I’ve found in many other states where fast food seems to dominate. However, even New Jersey’s wide variety of culinary experiences can feel limiting.
Then, as if by some kind of hocus pocus, one stumbles upon an extraordinary place, where the magical mixture of pleasurable ambiance, great drinks and outstanding cooking leave both palate and mind in absolute awe and wonder. That is the Shaka Burrito I found and came to love.
Chef Adam Livow, of Hell’s Kitchen Series 14 fame, heads up the kitchen that produces unquestionably delicious, palate tantalizing taste sensations as one enjoys the overall experience. I’ve traveled to many a beachfront destination and dined in tiki bars, conch bars, and other exotic eateries. Shaka Burrito brought back memories from the moment I entered.
Rich colors, complimented by the alluring blue of two salt-water aquariums and a tiki lounge are make the experience a visual treasure not to be missed. Some may say it’s kitsch, but isn’t that why we go to such places in their native locales? No-one flies to Tahiti or to a beach resort in Costa Rica or Australia in order to dine on haute cuisine. Rather, we go to such places for the views, the sunsets, the tropical splendor and the casual experience. This is what Shaka Burrito is about. The space is complemented by the warm colors of bamboo, wood and thatch, making one helluva place to dine.
Don’t let the term “Burrito” in its name scare you into thinking this is a Mexican eatery. Chef Adam produces absolutely amazing international faire with flavors you’ll never find in your local Mexican restaurant. His talent for exotic flavors is found in every dish, though each is more pleasing than the last.
We tried three appetizers that left our palates aching for more, but our tummies filled. Portions are large, so plan ahead and arrive hungry. Starting the evening meal with “Byron Bay” kicked off the night with an Australian-style chunky hummus dish that included roasted onions, peppadew and roasted hemp tahini. Accompanied by colorful corn chips, this was enough to feed 4 people as an appetizer. The Meyer lemon crema was sinfully delicious and the perfect complement to the other flavors of this outstanding dish.
Next, we shared “Big Wave Bay”, Livow’s tribute to Hong Kong – a trio of shrimp fritters with apricot-ginger sauce, matcha crema and tangerine cress. To say my mouth was begging for more would be a gross understatement. This was a must-try taste sensation.
As our bellies began to fill, we made one last attempt to enjoy yet another appetizer the size of a meal for four – “The Cove”, based on Sandy Hook NJ’s many great Tex-Mexican menus. A 12-inch Mexican style pizza made with corn-tortillas, jack and cheddar cheese, traditional pico de gallo, corn salsa and black beans and topped with sour cream, their own Shaka hot sauce (which adds a little fire) and house-made guacamole. They’ll add chicken, beef or vegetables if you desire, or combine it all. Simply outstanding, and perfect if you go there with a group or your family.
I’ll be back next week to try the main courses but couldn’t wait to report on this thoroughly enjoyable restaurant, and the gastronomic treats my guests and I had the opportunity to enjoy. Despite the 25 mile drive, this has become a favorite, and well worth the trip from anywhere.
Prices are affordable, and it’s located only a short walk from the New Brunswick train station. Reservations are recommended.
120 Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901