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Review: Union's Red Cadillac

The Morris Avenue Mexican restaurant hits on all cylinders to deliver a tasty, funky and fun road trip.

Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. Mom and apple pie. Perfect combos with no need for further explanation. Then there's Red Cadillac Tacos and Tequila, the Union eatery that is so much more than its name implies.

You've no doubt stared lustily at the cherry '68 Caddy ragtop in front of this Morris Avenue joint as you pass by and thought, "You know, I need to jump in there one of these days."

Next time, slow down an pop into the restaurant/bar, which just celebrated its first anniversary. Owners Joe and Jamey Montes have been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years — and it shows in the attention to decor, to the vibe and most definitely in the food and "fuel" here.

The low-ceilinged building makes you feel as though you'll be walking into a mom-and-pop establishment, but instead you step into a funky and fresh world unlike any local spot. The appointments are spare and perfectly placed — the occasional hubcap or Caddy grille on the wall, a neat wreath made of green-glass beer bottles with a strand of red bulbs snaking around it above the bar. A cool conversation pit for folks sharing tequila and snacks sits behind the hostess station and feels like a perfect gathering place for a weekend hangout.

"Hi, I'm Joe," Montes says as he makes his was to every table. He works the room with ease, never stepping on a private moment to inflict himself on the patrons. He's genuinely interested in your order, let's you know some of the details about the food or decor and makes you feel welcome.

And the room reflects his comfort level with the place he and his wife have created. The Red Cadillac bar and bar dining area — where Rex Ryan and Santonio Holmes scrawled their autographs on the wall at the bar, giving it the NY Jets' seal of approval — feel separate from the dining room, where families with small kids and young women in little black dresses chatted comfortably between courses and rounds of drinks.

A lot of thought went into every facet of the Red Cadillac, and like all finely tuned machines, it just hums, hitting on all cylinders. 

Food: The food is homemade, from the corn tortilla chips and salsa delivered to the table to the desserts. The flour tortilla chips are perfect complements to the must-have guacamole; tasty shrimp & garlic, abuelas enpanadas, mussels and the clam bucket are among the standout appetizers. Tasty enchiladas, perfectly crispy fish tacos, bountiful chimichangas and perfectly seasoned pork chops in garlic top the simple-and-subtle entrees.

Nobody at our table ordered the fajitas, but nobody could resist gawking when sizzling orders were delivered to tables nearby. Drink: There's a fully stocked bar (and 14 beers, including Dos Equis, Bohemia, Tecate, Modello and Pacifico to take you home to Mexico), but why bother? You know why you're here: there are plenty of margarita options, but the Montes family specializes in "infused" tequilas and there are 15 from which to select and sip: from mango, peach, pear, red hots (yes, the candy) to jalapeno, there's something for any palette.

Fun: The music is note-perfect: not too loud, an eclectic mash-up of artists in the rotation, it feels like home. The employees are dressed in retro gas-station attendants' shirts, filling water glasses from plastic gas cans. Everything has a fun car feel or name, but I won't spoil any of these details for first-timers.

Facts: Red Cadillac Tacos and Tequila, 2258 Morris Ave., Union; 908-349-8411; all credit cards accepted; theredcadillacnj.com

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