I usually start these pithy essays with a little story or parable, but this is already too long so I’m going to jump right in. It’s about to be a surgical summer.
Gringo’s is an examination of pre- woke era Mexican food and pre-“food culture” restaurants. It’s a throwback to a time when you didn’t have to concern yourself with the quality of the food, or the problematic nature of the thing you are attempting to profit off of. Gringo’s opened last year in Jersey City to the heralded trumpeting of legioned JC bloggers and began disappointing soon after. Months later they opened a second location in Staten Island – a move that is comically on-brand.
Gringo’s is brought to us by the team behind Pier 13 in Hoboken. There are very few phrases more ominous than “the team behind Pier 13”, its right above “mandatory overtime” and right below “non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”. I’d rather have a naked man in clown makeup behind me than the team behind Pier 13.
Despite the linguistics, this does help us add another piece to the puzzle of why this place sucks so much. It’s created by people whose only relation to the restaurant industry is through the lens of resource extraction and marketing – not food. The place is run very efficiently as a result of this; the outdoor/indoor segregated service works better, they’re packed to the gills with bus boys, bar backs, and expediters so everything is coming and going pretty quickly. Unfortunately this goes too far when it enters the kitchen.
“I’m sorry, but he’s got the worst case of Pier 13 I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing more we can do”
First, the price point on the tacos is ridiculous. You get three tacos for $15. You could get three tacos and a chorizo quesadilla from Taqueria or a 51% ownership stake in Taqueria Viva for the same price. Yes, you read that right. Suffer through the service and wait at Taqueria before you go to Gringo’s.
Second, the food is just bad. I ordered nachos to start and they literally came out 90 seconds later smothered in some tepid orange jizz that tasted more like Alfredo sauce than cheese. To spice it up, pieces of dry chicken al pastor, which were probably leftover from lunch service, were interspersed throughout the flimsy architecture. The actual cheese had the rubbery consistency of something that was microwaved, but the chips were burnt which means they went under the Salamander for a bit. I just tried writing a couple jokes for this, but I can’t wrap my brain around the thermodynamics that allow the cheese to be rubbery and the chips to be burnt, and the dish to come out in under 2 minutes. I was almost expecting Nicholas Cage to erupt from underneath this whimsical mountain of shit with the U.S. Constitution in tow.
While no taco is ever really bad, these aren’t good either. I haven’t explored the entire menu (and probably won’t) but my most recent offering was particularly piss poor. The Buffalo Soldier, shrimp tempura with buffalo sauce topped with celery and carrot slaw and ranch crema. The chicken was incredibly tender, which is a problem because the chicken was shrimp. Not being able to tell the difference between the two could be a me problem, but it’s probably a them problem. The rest of the taco was 75% carrot slaw and was so sweet it should probably be served as a desert. Seriously. Also, if you prefer ranch over blue cheese with your buffalo stuff, stop reading my blog. You can’t be saved.
I’ve had other tacos in the past, but none warrant any type of attention.
Additionally, I got some green stuff which was a mix of bok choy and kale and maybe a chard? I don’t know. It was devoid of any seasoning and was served at a balmy 60 degrees. I’ll bet a fucking testicle that the kitchen is filled with steamtables, most of which are not turned on. To add some semblance of flavor I added their house hot sauce which is a more viscous version of Tabasco. It’s just liquid heat, no flavor.
The one good thing I will say about Gringo’s is that it’s a great place to get shit-canned with a group of people. I’ve yet to do this, but it appeared as if every other patron was attempting to get blotto with 6 of their buddies. I’ve got no problem with this, in fact I’m a pretty vocal advocate of liver destruction. The pitchers of cocktails are affordable. They have frozen margs which I’m on the record as loving. They have cocktails in bags which nobody asked for, but sure, why not
“Gimmie four bags of frozen booze……FOUR!”
Gringo’s is (hopefully) a cautionary tale of investing more in style than in substance. Superficially, Gringo’s excels. There are plenty of pretty things to look at, cool and kitschy decorations, fucking Piñatas, TV’s – it’s like an updated Chili’s for a modern clientele more concerned with how their food looks rather than how it actually tastes. I’m really not trying to be the blog equivalent of an old man yelling at a cloud, but this is the restaurant our social media culture has earned us.
Visually, everything about this place is designed to present well online. They’ve even gone so far as to have a blog that consists of articles about avocados and top 5 lists. Some restaurant consultant probably made a mint building this whole thing out for them. It’s meant to be shareable, likeable, and totally non-threatening to mindless consumers of Facebook sponsored content. It’s like the restaurant version of ChicpeaJC.
After you scratch just beneath the surface of Gringo’s the whole thing gets a little more problematic, which is a buzzy term I will try and limit the usage of.
We should all agree that Gringo’s doesn’t have good food. This shouldn’t be controversial. This in itself is not problematic as there are many places that don’t have good food, like South House. But Gringo’s is where culture warriors should come if they want to outrage-bate over an egregious case study in cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is a word that makes my genitals tuck inside my body as if they were splashed with scalding hot tea. It’s a tough topic to cover by an amateur blogger that compares just saying the word to having scalding hot tea splashed on his genitals. I’m apprehensive to even touch on it because it requires examination and so much nuance that this quick piece could spiral into a 18,000 word treatise penned in my own blood. Everyone has a connection to their culture with varying degrees of sanity and I just lost the stamina to unpack my take in even the most laconic fashion. I’ll summarize with this: its got its good and its bad.
Anyway, you’re here for the laughs, lets keep it simple.
The issue with Gringo’s is that when you are biting someone’s culture you need to show some type of respect ESPECIALLY if your sole motive is to profit off of the culture. You can do anything, big or small, but just do SOMETHING that shows genuine effort. Try to enhance the craft, or tell a story through the food, or ANY meaningful action that demonstrates and promotes an understanding of the thing in question. Gringo’s checks none of these boxes.
In fact, they’ve tried everything possible to do the opposite. The most notable of these kerfuffles was the totally tone-deaf “Gangsta’s Paradise” party, which eventually changed its title due to backlash. The flyer has been scrubbed from social media and unlike Michael Jordan’s Hitler mustache the Internet hasn’t hung on to it. Any readers who have a copy should slide into the DM’s. [UPDATE: Found it.]
The original Jordan meme
That’s another problem here: none of this is memorialized anywhere. While the comments section of your favorite social media website were thumping, the self-proclaimed arbiters of food and culture in JC were mum. The fucking shills who blog about food and culture in JC refuse to ever mention anything negative, or even critical, about these places because it means one less free meal. The highly shareable pictures still find their way on the gram, as recent as yesterday courtesy of jerseycityeats (not jc_eats…how the fuck are there two of these? ones gotta go). How can you trust these people’s opinions if they only praise and never speak up? Especially if they’re giving praise for a product that is universally terrible. Let them know.
The craziest part about all of this is that all Gringo’s has to do to be defensible is make good food. But they can’t even do that. In fact, the most delicious part about Gringo’s is the Jersey Digs article that illuminates the origin of their name.
“What do you know about tacos? You’re a bunch of gringos,” was the first response to Darren Conway’s idea to open a Mexican joint in Jersey City. ‘
SPOILER ALERT: The answer is nothing. Also, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.
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