703 Haddon Avenue
Collingswood, Camden County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
September 26, 2005
With its jazzy mango, lime, apricot and plum walls, colorful
banquettes, ongoing supply of virgin margaritas, daiquiris and piña coladas
awaiting the bestowal of patrons' libationary rejuvenations (the restaurant is
BYO), and hip, high energy level, Tortilla Press is a frisky, frolicsome
fiesta, a kind of nonstop Cinco de Mayo.
Given the restaurant's popularity, and the fact that reservations are
accepted for parties of six or more only, my advice is to come early. Just one
word of admonition: The dining area that opens to the street is a frenetic,
bustling space, often with a guitar player adding to the spatial strictures and
general organized chaos. Much preferred is a second dining room (make a gentle
left turn just past the spiffy copper/granite bar). Here, in (comparatively)
more sedate surroundings, large windows provide a picturesque panorama of Collingswood's
human flora and fauna.
No matter where you eventually alight, however, you will find the tables
rather tightly spaced and the noise level often formidable. If you haven't
guessed by now, Tortilla Press is a place for group gatherings and
festive free-for-alls rather than romantic rendezvous. Go with that in mind and
a good time will be had by all. Interestingly enough, while the atmosphere can
be wild and woolly, the young, knowledgeable and energetic servers never seem
to falter. And that is a sterling restaurant recommendation in anyone's book.
The food is also quite impressive, especially since proprietor Mark Smith
and his wife and partner, Lydia Cipriana, utilize fresh local ingredients
whenever possible. During the Garden State's glorious growing season, for
example, you might begin with an exemplary chilled fresh Jersey tomato gazpacho
($5.00). When it comes to sampling soups, as my wife will be only too glad to
relate, my standard line is usually: "It needs something." Not so here.
This flavorful, coarsely puréed elixir is rich in both color and texture,
endowed with lime, tincture of cilantro, pickled red onions, cucumber slices,
and enough spice to make your taste buds sit up and take notice. A simply
... As is the esquites quesadilla ($8.00) filled with grilled Jersey
sweet corn, avocado slices, fresh lime, cheese and epazote (a pungent herb also
known as "pigweed" or "Mexican tea") and sided with pico
de gallo and Mexican crème. Another equally edifying version ($8.50)
boasts crispy smoked bacon, slices of Springdale Farm tomato and luscious
Chihuahua cheese (a yellow cheese -- also called queso menonita after
the Mennonite communities of northern Mexico that first produced it -- not
unlike mild cheddar in flavor and consistency). This rendition also includes a
dollop of excellent house-made guacamole, which is also worth ordering on its
own with homemade chips and salsa ($5.50).
When it comes to appetizers, however, the ceviche ($9.50) -- classic
lime-marinated sea scallops, salmon filet and shrimp -- is clearly the star of
the show. Utterly pristine, mouthwateringly tender chunks of seafood are
presented in several different formats; but I cast my vote for the
"Acapulco-style" dressing -- olive oil, chopped pimento, tomato,
avocado, cilantro and house-pickled jalapeño -- as this possesses just enough
pizzazz to intensify your palatable pleasure without sending it into a
tailspin. And speaking of intensity, don't forget to avail yourself of a few
sprinkles of the accompanying shaker, an amalgam of chile de arbol and
pinch of salt, which is guaranteed to add a tantalizing touch of heat.
Entrées aren't quite on a par with the superlative appetizers, but they are
very good (and extremely reasonably priced) nonetheless. And one of the things
I particularly like about Tortilla Press's main offerings is that you
don't get the same-ol', same-ol' piles of guacamole, sour cream, rice, and
refried beans cluttering up every dish. There's welcome variety here and, as
noted above, usually based upon the freshest possible ingredients.
The salmon filet ($16.50) may be a bit on the anorexic side, but it is
perfectly cooked, slathered with a first-rate house special BBQ sauce, and
served up with a mound of zesty chipolte mashed potatoes and medley of sautéed
seasonal vegetables. The shrimp arcoiris ($16.50) is a colorful array of
crunchy crustaceans sautéed with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and jolt of garlic
chile butter. A pillow of poblano-spinach rice proves a most suitable
Dyed-in-the-wool carnivores may avail themselves of either the marinated
sliced steak ($15.00), or twin tenderloin medallions ($17.50). The former is
topped with rojas poblano; the latter, presented atop freshly made
roasted tomato and tomatillo salsa. Both are partnered with a mound of those
lusty chipotle mashed potatoes.
I also highly recommend the twin cheese chile rellanos ($16.00). The
two poblano chiles are filled with cheese, lightly battered and fried, anointed
with a fabulously flavorful roasted tomato cilantro sauce, and served up with
savory red beans. The plato de tres pollos accompanied by delicious
black beans ($19.00), on the other hand, weighed in with two hits and a miss. The
two chicken and cheese enchiladas and the poblano and tequila-lime marinated
chicken with mango salsa were both excellent. However, the grilled chicken
breast mole was dry and overcooked, and the mole tasted decidedly acrid. But,
in all fairness, this was the only glitch encountered in several pleasant
And desserts are right back on target. At the top of my list is a
superlative banana burrito ($5.50), four crispy segments surrounding an
epicenter of chocolate ice cream; coming in a close second is the Mexican rice
pudding crowned with a dollop of vanilla bean gelato and squiggles of chocolate
sauce ($5.00). The tres leches ($5.00), a moist white cake saturated
with whole, evaporated, and condensed milk and finished with a whipped cream
icing, is also quite good; and the wonderful Jersey-grown blueberry tangle
($5.50) is suitable for sharing.
Tortilla Press isn't perfect... I mean, what restaurant is? But if
you're on the prowl for impeccably fresh Mexican fare served up at more than
reasonable prices in a casually convivial atmosphere, this colorful, energetic
eatery is hard to beat.
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs,
4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. -
8:00 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more only
Parking: Street parking; nearby municipal parking lots
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web site: http://www.thetortillapress.com.