There was a time when the pursuit of Mexican cuisine in this area was vastly more challenging. Now, the options seem infinite on our island. Without venturing past the borders of Cape May there are six different Mexican restaurants. With a variety of atmosphere, stylistic approach, seating, menu size, and location, your rice and bean craving is bound to be satisfied among these establishments, depending upon your preferences.
Key West Tacos, Established 2007 – Keys at the Cape
Out of the six currently active businesses, Key West Tacos is the longest standing in town. On the corner of Park Boulevard and West Perry Street, this colorful Florida-style beach shack is sure to transport you to The Sunshine State through both flavor and atmosphere. With Key West as their inspiration, their menu reflects American-style Mexican food. Their title rings true–there is a major emphasis on tacos on this menu. They apply classic American pleasers like “sloppy joe” and “bubbas shrimp” to their taco recipes. Other Mexican staples like nachos and burritos are featured as well. There is seating inside and outside; both areas are limited. The shack’s interior is vibrant with colors reminiscent of Key West’s illustrious coral reefs. The music also contributes to the aggressively Floridian theme, with Jimmy Buffet practically playing on loop. Free parking is available along West Perry Street if you are lucky enough to snag a spot. This is among the most casual food stops in all of Cape May, truly harnessing the relaxing and carefree attitude of
Big Wave Burrito, Established 2010 – Big Wave is a Big Name
Big Wave is a big name in town that truly embodies Cape May’s beach culture. Owned by a renowned local surfer, the bohemian milieu with music to match has drawn locals here for over a decade. The change of location in 2020, from the northern fringe of the island to the heart of town, came with a major transformation of aesthetic. The dozen mounted surfboards featured local art and bamboo lined walls have been traded in for white, serene simplicity. They now have both inside and outside seating along with a parking lot around the back. This is the most American style Mexican food on the island, which could translate to mild/child-friendly tastes. The menu is mid-size with a balance of savory and sweet. The contents of their other business in town, Aloha Smoothie Co., is included on their menu consisting of smoothies and their well-known Rio Bowls, the antioxidant-rich acai bowl that so many have come to favor and photograph. These nourishing and refreshing additions set them apart from the rest.
Cinco De Mayo, Established 2010 – The 5th of May, Every Day
Titled after a Mexican holiday that has gained much popularity in the states, the 5th of May celebrates Mexico’s victory over France during the Franco-Mexican war. This triumphant event has filtered through time to become a day to honor Mexican heritage, which is always accomplished at Cape May’s Cinco De Mayo. This establishment can be found shortly past the descent of the Cape May bridge, standing on the right with wooden siding and a bright orange eye-catching sign featuring a sombrero. With plenty of (free) parking, plenty of seating and plenty of food options, this could be considered the most traditional restaurant environment on the list. Here you can enjoy your favorite south of the border dinners without having to enter the depths of Cape May City. This menu features familiar Mexican fare like tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas, yet offers variety by incorporating Italian and Cajun dishes as well. Their meals are filling for a fair price, plus you are free to bring beer or wine, as it is BYOB.
La Doña, Established 2016 – The Freshest Fiesta
Authenticity is the priority and shortcuts are unthinkable at La Doña, located at the back of the Carpenter Square Mall in the very heart of town. A natural canopy created by the surrounding lush, tall-standing trees casts a peaceful shade over the outside deck. The environment is relaxed yet vibrant, congruent with the menu. The outstanding element that acts as their foundation is the from-scratch approach to virtually everything they produce. From the Mexican imported spices, freshly made juices and tableside mashed guacamole, there is something very intentional about the curation of every item on the menu. They carry out this handmade process through their winter season, when they switch their menu and theme from Mexican to Italian. This is when the wife of this spouse team hands her business partner/husband the chef’s hat and allows him to tap into his Italian heritage. During this season the menu features handmade pastas and moves all seating inside. Paid parking is in immediate proximity, shared with the Washington Street Mall, but proves very challenging in the peak of summer. Finding a spot on a surrounding side street could lend itself to an enjoyable brief stroll through our Victorian wonderland. Their genuine representation of Mexican heritage enhances the experience. Another highlight: it’s BYOB!
Taco Caballito, Established 2020 – Would You Like Some Tacos with Your Tequila?
New on the scene with nothing but rave reviews, this beachfront spot seems to have it all, including a full bar! Opening as the only Mexican joint with a liquor license surely came with some pressure, but with over 70 different selections of artisanal tequila and signature margarita recipes, they surpassed the town’s expectations. The interior design reflects their modern approach to authentic Mexican cuisine, their eclectic craft tacos being a staple example of this style. The restaurant has an open floor plan with an abundance of seating between the downstairs and upstairs levels. Limited high-tops line the side of the building for optional outside indulgence, weather permitted. The sizable space offers room for the regular live music that pairs well with their bebidas. Potential paid parking surrounds this corner property, located on Beach Avenue and Decatur Street, with shops and other attractions in all directions, the most notable attraction being the beach, right across the street!
El Pueblo, Established 2021 – Burritos on the Beach
This North Cape May success story has spawned a second shop on the edge of the Atlantic Coast, at the beginning of the Cape May Promenade. El Pueblo’s food was extremely well received at their original location on the north side of the bridge, so they branched out onto the island, receiving equal acclaim. Their menu is simple, authentic, and straightforward, as well as the ingredients, yet rich with the native flavors of Mexico. Tacos, bowls, and tortas are mentionable highlights from their menu. If you favor authentic Mexican food, this is a great place to find it, and a great introduction to fundamental meals of their culture. It is apparent that it’s a family-owned business because their genuine conduct anointed them a local favorite.
Cape May Location: Window service with slim outside seating. North Cape May: Dine in or take out, seating inside only.
Hours: When is Taco Time?
All hours are subject to change and to season, so these are the aspects of each business’s schedule that stays relatively consistent. Key West Tacos has the shortest hours, opening at 11:30am and closing at 7pm, 8pm on Friday and Saturday. They are closed Wednesday. Big Wave Burrito opens at 10am to 8pm every day, except Sundays. Cinco De Mayo is open 11am to 8pm every day, except Sundays. La Doña opens at 11am to 3pm (hour break between lunch and dinner service) and reopens at 4pm to 9pm. As of press time, their current days of operation are Thursday through Sunday. Taco Caballito opens at noon every day; closing hours vary through the week starting at 9pm and as late as 10pm. They are closed on Wednesday.
That’s a Wrap
The production and distribution of Mexican food on the island brought new elements to the table with each establishment that opened. The movement through time transitioned from American style to classic Mexican to modern authentic, appealing to the maturing taste of the local clientele. Each business contributes to Cape May’s exposure to the colorful and exciting flavors of Mexico, collectively expanding the palate of our community. Introducing this diversity and enabling the town to tap into new backgrounds and cultures displays its ability to continuously evolve. While distinctions maintain a uniqueness for each location, they all share the quality of honoring one of Mexico’s most profitable and beloved creations, the taco. ■