Grand Street Restaurants Taqueria, Edward’s Steakhouse Reopen After Sandy

 Taqueria on Grove Street

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated as of June 6, 12:47 pm.

While some businesses bounced back after one or two months or even just one or two weeks after Superstorm Sandy, others haven’t been as lucky.

We’ve already heard the stories of places like Skylark on the Hudson in Newport which reopened in mid-January about three months after the hurricane and Kid City in Hudson Mall, which only reopened in late March. Since then, two restaurants in an area of Downtown Jersey City that was heavily flooded, have just started to get back on their feet.

Taqueria, a popular taco and Mexican spot at Grove and Grand streets, was filled with 7 feet of water during the storm which owners Andrea and Phillip Barraza say sat inside the restaurant for one to two hours. The husband and wife, who live right above the eatery, were horrified to watch everything they worked for over the past seven years get washed away.

“We’re two or three steps below grade and water almost touched the ceiling,” says Andrea Barraza, 42. “All the artwork on the walls was completely ruined, we had to throw out the tables and chairs, all the equipment was lost–and that was the easy part.”

The infrastructure of the restaurant was waterlogged and ruined, with the wooden studs of the building developing mold and normally hardy tiles coming off the walls under the pressure of the flood.

“We were completely gutted,” says Barraza, adding that the old age of the building didn’t help the situation. For instance, while trying to remove and replace their boiler, the attached chimney collapsed inside the building and needed to be completely rebuilt with iron and cement to save the integrity of 236 Grove St. “Everything was so old that things started crumbling down,” she says.

The rebuilding process took over five months and about $200,000 (a portion of infrastructural repair costs were covered by the flood insurance the building’s landlord had on the building; the insurance company categorizes Taqueria’s space as a basement, which receives limited coverage).

Despite being able to rebuild and receiving an overwhelming welcome back from their loyal fanbase, Taqueria still has one major problem–it’s still in the same place, smack dab in the middle of one of Jersey City’s most dangerous flood zones. Even before Sandy, Hurricane Irene filled the restaurant with 4 feet of water in 2011 and heavy rain generally serves them up with at least a foot or two.

“Part of me has resigned that we will flood every year but part of me is also looking for a new location…I don’t want to leave this area of Downtown but that’s the only way we can solve this problem,” admits Barraza, adding that unless they find a nearby location with similar amenities, including a patio or outdoor seating, they’ll have to stay in the same place. Until then, they’ve installed two pumps in the back of the restaurant and keep their fingers crossed every time the clouds gather overhead.

“We don’t want to lose this business. It’s very, very dear to us. We did everything here–every single poster, we put up. Every single stick put on the walls, all the food–there’s a lot of sentiment and love here.

Although the ordeal was difficult for the Barrazas, the couple decided to use it as an opportunity to make some improvements. New features include a full bar, a newly leveled floor and on the menu, four new tacos, guacamole, salsa and a line of margaritas with freshly squeezed lime. Also, instead of only offering counter service, you can get seated by a hostess and waited on by servers at the eatery, both inside and on their outside patio. Judging from the onslaught of patrons flocking to the joint since it reopened April 12, the new changes are quite welcome.

The interior of the new Taqueria

“The level of support is amazing from the community and I guess people missed us because we’re really busy all the time,” says Barraza. “The first week we were so busy, it was the busiest we had ever been. We had lines out the door the whole time we were open and it was hard for us to handle so much business.

“Now we’re back to normal and people know we’re here to stay. If we could withstand Sandy and come back up, we can do anything,” she says proudly.

Down the block and around the corner is another restaurant that also got knocked down by Sandy and isn’t taking any chances next time around.

Edward’s Steakhouse, located at 239 Marin Blvd., only reopened earlier this month after hundreds of thousands of dollars of repairs and renovations.

When owner Dan de la Vega saw over 6 feet of water wipe out the first floor of his restaurant, he decided he would never let this happen again.

“The water came in and destroyed every piece of equipment in the kitchen,” he says. “So we’ve swapped it. I moved the kitchen up to the second floor where I used to have the dining room and brought the dining room down to the first floor.”

In rebuilding and decorating, de la Vega aimed for a speakeasy lounge feel in his dining room and filled his kitchen with brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment that he says is more energy efficient. They also now have a total of five bathrooms including one that is handicap accessible. One thing that’s the same, miraculously, is the staff. Even after seven months of closure, Edward’s was able to hang on to all its employees.

De la Vega, who’s owned the restaurant for almost six years, says they did everything they could to make the first floor “waterproof” so both tropical storms (Irene filled them with 2 to 3 feet of water) or superstorms can’t do as much damage as Sandy did last October.

“We put in French drains and a sump pump in the back, the floors on the first floor are all tile–the dining room floor looks like wood, but they’re really ceramic tiles. The wainscoting on the first floor looks like mahogany, but it’s actually PVC painted to look like mahogany and the sheet rock we used is what you have in the shower. Our 100-year-old bar was destroyed but our new bar is made of mahogany, a tree that can take water,” says de la Vega.

“We tried to address every possible issue you could have there. Everything is done to the nines and we didn’t skimp on anything. The place looks gorgeous and everything is waterproof. If we get another 6 feet [of water], we can go in, clean up and open up the next day.”

Also coming to the steakhouse are some recipe changes. De la Vega, who is also the executive chef of the restaurant, is hitting the stove again after years of taking a more managerial role. “I design my menus and these are my recipes. I’m going back into the kitchen for a couple of months so the changes I have are done the way I want them done. We’re going to change the presentations, the way the sauces are made, the way the dishes are presented,” he says. Overall, his mission statement is simple: “I want to make sure everything is perfect.”

With hurricane season coming around again, things may not be perfect for either Edward’s Steakhouse or the Taqueria, but this time, they’ve come back stronger and wiser and are ready for the next round. (Keep an eye out for JCI’s upcoming flood zone information and other coverage in preparation for hurricane season.)

Taqueria is located at 236 Grove St. For more information, call 201 333 3220. Edward’s Steakhouse is located at 239 Marin Blvd. For more information, call 201 761 0000 or visit their website. The steakhouse will not be open for lunch service until June 10.

Check out some photos from Edward’s Steakhouse’s rebuilding:

Taqueria exterior photo by Mel Kozakiewicz and interior photo courtesy Taqueria. Edward’s Steakhouse photos courtesy of Dan de la Vega.

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.