Oaxacan Isabella’s of Ventnor delivers some authentic dishes from the southern reaches of Mexico
Celebrity chef/author Anthony Bourdain, he of New York Times bestselling book Kitchen Confidential and TV show No Reservations fame, has always extolled the unique talents of cooks from the Oaxaca (say Wa-ha-ka) state, deep the furthest reaches of southern Mexico.
With such an esteemed, notoriously hard-to-please source providing such props, we should consider ourselves fortunate that Absecon Island’s latest ethnic restaurant comes directly from a little Oaxacan hamlet called Putla. Putla is the original hometown of restaurateurs Delfino and Lupe Terronen, owner/operators of Isabella’s at 4 S. Portland Ave. in Ventnor.
Open since October 2008, Isabella’s — named for the couple’s collegiate daughter — provides a full-service facility that offers traditional breakfast and lunch fare. Since last April they’ve added a diverse array of Mexican and Latino specialties and come up with a lengthy, exciting dinner menu.
The family possesses an extensive culinary background, beginning with Lupe’s grandmother, herself the owner of an eatery in Putla. Delfino specifically mentions that their version of classic mole sauce derives from Lupe’s abuelita, a Mexican term of endearment meaning “little grand mom” and great news for diners at Isabella’s.
General dining rule of thumb: if you are eating the same food someone’s grandmother prepared for him or her, you can almost always expect that it’s going to be a very special experience. Mole is complex blend used with an entrée of enchiladas, corn tortillas stuffed with chicken and ladled with the laborious, dark brown concoction usually involving chiles, cinnamon, cumin and often bittersweet chocolate.
As for Delfino, he worked locally at Ventura’s Greenhouse in Margate and Jo-Jo’s in Pleasantville for the last decade-and-a-half prior to launching his own venture.
Asked about other menu favorites recommended by his customers, he mentions the empanadas, a trio of golden tortillas stuffed with either chicken or beef and fried.
Traditional fajitas, burritos and tacos are all available with an array of proteins. The latter two further offer an Isabella’s house formula made from steak, pork and ham combined with onions, green bell peppers and cheese. Manning the kitchen here is yet another family member, brother-in-law Pedro Gonzalez, a former staffer of Margate’s prestigious Steve and Cookie’s By the Bay.
Asked about their kitchen philosophy, Delfino provides a simple, direct answer, telling us that Isabella’s food is “very authentic, all homemade products.” Like the house-made pork shoulder that winds it’s way through their menu, cooked low and slow to produce tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. Or the tostadas de pollo (also known as “tinga”) a fried tortilla with chicken, beans, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Served three to an order, like the empanadas appetizer, these comprise a full entrée-size dish.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for those whose experience with Mexican cuisine is limited — call it Taco Bell Syndrome — will be just how large a role the fruits of the sea play on the bill of fare. Isabella’s serves 10 different fish and crustacean-based delights, ranging from caldo de camaron, a soup of sautéed shrimp, carrot and potato to guachinango a la Veracruzana. That dish, another regional item native to southern Mexico, is a pan-fried fish, topped with spicy red sauce and a variety of olives, served with rice and salad.
Cost-conscious diners will take note that despite large portions, no dollar amount on the menu — excepting a pair of market-priced fishes — reaches above sixteen bucks.
We’re predicting great stuff from this 60-seat, off-the-beaten path spot. The location has had a succession of management over the last 20 years but now seems to have found a perfect fit for the demographic diversity of Ventnor’s populace and landscape.
Maybe the next time Monsieur Bourdain deigns to visit our city, we’ll even offer to buy him dinner at Isabella’s.
Address: 4 S. Portland Ave., Ventnor
Hours: 7am-3pm daily. Dinner served Fri.-Sun., 4-10pm (nightly during summer)
Details: Cash only
Native to the Pacific coast Mexican resort community of Puerto Escondido, Eulogio has been working professionally in kitchens in the Atlantic City area since arriving 14 years ago.
28 West Opens at Borgata
Congrats to the McCauley Clan
Spring Dining Dish ’13
Taste of Revel Revisited
Jose Garces Truckin’ at Revel
Tropicana Seafood Week Coming Soon
Sal's Cafe: Pizza with Many Twists