NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Opening a business during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic may seem like a risky business proposition, but Fat Cactus Mexican Cantina arrives on the banks with plenty of confidence and a solid business plan.
Despite restrictions on seating capacity in response to the health crisis, it hasn’t taken long for Fat Cactus to become a dining destination for those seeking delicious Mexican food with a twist, a whimsical decor and a fun night out on George Street.
With chimichurri carne asada fajitas, Jamaican jerk chicken tacos, cajun burritos and more, Fat Cactus offers a full menu of traditional flavors spiced with some contemporary cuisine trends.
It’s where the flavors of Korean barbecue throw a fiesta with garlic cilantro aioli.
It is all served up from the taco truck parked in the back of the restaurant and emblazoned with the word “Taqueria.” The space where the serving staff picks up the orders has been made to resemble a roadside taco truck, adding to the festive vibe.
“What sets our food apart is that it isn’t your typical Mexican restaurant,” explains general manager Mary Malek. “We do table side, made-to-order guacamole along with our very own taco truck. The truck is the fun part because guests get to create their own tacos by checking as many items as they want off of a taco tear pad menu.”
The drink menu features wine, tequila, beer and the rest. But the star of the show so far has been the frozen margaritas, Malek said.
“The `Avocado-rita’ with its chili-lime salt rim has been a hit,” she said. “It’s made by blending real avocados with honey and orange juice. Actually, all of our unique margaritas (on the rocks and frozen) have been a real hit.”
Malek said the restaurant was ready to open its doors in early March – the same week New Jersey registered its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The opening was put on hold as Gov. Phil Murphy prohibited indoor dining in response to the pandemic.
By the time limited outdoor dining was allowed again in June, the staff was eager and ready to serve up something fun, while also maintaining strict cleaning and sanitizing protocols and social distancing.
When limited indoor dining subsequently allowed, it gave diners a chance to take in Fat Cactus’ hand-painted murals and the neon back-lit bottles arranged to resemble a giant cactus set against the setting sun.
Newly-installed retractable front windows allow for the live music to be heard inside or out.
“Guests are loving the outdoor scene,” Malek said. “It’s fun, but safe. We have live mariachi bands and guest singers every weekend, which has been a blast for the customers. Dining outdoors is a great way to be seen when you are a new restaurant. Although we take reservations, we get so many walk-ins from individuals just walking by who didn’t know we existed or were open yet.
“It’s so nice to see people walking by in awe of our creation. Come see us, too!”
Fat Cactus is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. The restaurant has a late night DJ every Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and the kitchen is open late on the weekends.