MORRIS COUNTY — I can recollect a time when excellent authentic Mexican restaurants were far and few between, often requiring driving some distance to get to that one special place. Not anymore! Now in the Parsippany area alone, because of our diverse population, the growing popularity of Mexican cuisine, and its appealing taste, you can choose any of several outstanding Mexican restaurants close to home. Better yet, give them all a try! The fact is that Mexican food is currently one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the United States. Which eatery you consider the best is obviously a personal preference. And no, I am not referring to one of those numerous chain restaurants that line our highways. An interesting fact is that in the U.S., most Mexican restaurants, 70 percent, are family or independently-owned restaurants, and the other 30 percent are classified as chain restaurants.
One of those local areas premieres Mexican restaurants, Leyendas de Mexico, is located in one of those easily accessible, multi-business strip malls at the intersection of New Road and Route 46 East in Parsippany.
Initially, Las Leyendas de Mexico appears lost among the row of small businesses in the nondescript strip mall. Still, on entry, you are immediately met with a lively and energetic environment featuring bold, vibrant, and playful color schemes throughout the interior, creating a truly festive vibe. The carefully thought-out, cohesive décor incorporates many elements of Mexican, Aztec, and Mayan heritage and culture, with engaging, large colorful murals featuring various historical and cultural themes, such as Mexican luminaries as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Assorted accent lighting and soft Mexican music help accentuate the tone and mood of the décor. A painted blue-sky ceiling, blended pink, cream, and yellow walls, red brick accents, orange-brown tile floors, Día de Muertos folk art, statuary, sombreros, wall and ceiling tapestries, multi-colored tables, and rustic wicker chairs, all come together to provide diners with a casual, comfortable and is warm setting.
The layout is small and simple, with approximately ten tables, which can seat 35 people, but still manages to feel spacious and cozy while not feeling overcrowded. Natural lighting illuminates the dining room, enhancing the visual effects and dining experience. There’s no doubt the inviting visual experience presented at Ley Leyendas de Mexico, despite its size, clearly sets a tone that enhances the dining experience. Notably, in a 2019 edition of Yelp, Leyendas de Mexico was listed as one of the twenty-four best Mexican restaurants in N.J.
After taking some time to peruse the artwork and enjoy the layout, my group was ready to sit down and enjoy some enticing, authentic Mexican cuisine. What makes food authentic is debatable, in my opinion. One source reminds one that the thing to remember is that the definition of “authentic” changes throughout history, so the food is eaten now is different from the food eaten a few hundred years ago. I guess this would apply to all the world’s cuisine. My research found that yellow cheese is the most common ingredient in Americanized (Tex-Mex) Mexican food. Yellow cheese isn’t Mexican. Often, in Mexico, they use “queso fresco,” which translates to “fresh cheese.” That is the primary difference between authentic Mexican and Americanized Mexican food. Just in case you were wondering.
We were seated immediately at a comfortable corner table as the very pleasant owner, Elvin Portillo Mazariegos, cordially welcomed us to the restaurant. I must admit our conversation was limited due to my unfortunate and limited ability to converse in Spanish. I was informed that Ley Leyendas de Mexico initially opened in 2016 and has been under the management of Mr. Mazariegos since 2020. Menus, water, and utensils quickly arrived as we discussed our dining selections. Ley Leyendas is a B.Y.O.B., so that I could share some Modelo beer with our host during our conversation.
The menu is surprisingly diverse, complete with a tantalizing selection of many of Mexico’s favorite dishes. Latin and Spanish selections are also available, as are what appear to be creative Tex-Mex dishes to round out the menu. Appetizers included popular selections such as Leyendas Nacho Supremos, Quesadillas, Chimichangas, Tostada de Pata, and many other favorites. Typical Mexican and Tex-Mex fare includes Enchiladas, Tostadas, Flautas, Chilaquiles, Carne Asada, and Molcajete, among the many options. Assorted seafood dishes, soups, cemitas, authentic Tacos, and burrito grande are all tempting. No doubt, pretty much anything Mexican, Tex-Mex, or Latin American you might be in the mood for! Not to forget their homemade desserts, including one of my favorites, Tres Leches Cake. It took some bantering back and forth among the group before settling our choices.
First to arrive were several nicely sized servings of freshly made, zesty salsa accompanied by crunchy, crispy homemade chips. The salsa and chips were the perfect preludes to our meal, and we were devoured quickly. Next, out came to our appetizers, which we all shared Homemade Guacamole (fresh avocado, lime juice, red onions, cilantro, fresh jalapenos, and tomatoes, served with crispy tortilla chips), Quesadillas (12” flour tortillas filled with melted tres queso, shredded lettuce, and a choice of spicy chicken, carnitas, Carne al pastor, chorizo or spicy ground beef). With its creamy texture, fresh avocado’s mildly sweet, nutty taste was delicious and refreshing and went perfectly with the homemade chips.
The tender, crisp, crunchy, cheese flavored Quesadillas were also a treat; Ground Beef Chimichanga (a small burrito stuffed with spicy ground beef, cream cheese & shredded cheese, topped with homemade chipotle mayo), and Chorizo Con Queso (spicy Mexican chorizo mixed w/diced tomatoes & red onions, topped w/melted Oaxaca cheese, served with a side of corn or flour tortillas.) Every individual dish was oozing with fresh, amazing, delicious flavor.
The Mariscos Soup (spicy red sauce sautéed with shrimp, tilapia, mussels, calamari, and zucchini) preceded our entrees. A very well-prepared seafood selection, tasty and perfectly seasoned.
As a group, we were not that diverse in our entrée selections on this date. A few of us, including myself, opted for Parrillada Mixta (Grilled chicken breast, steak, shrimp, and chorizo, served with cactus, rice, and beans). In contrast, the others opted for the Churrasco Steak (Skirt steak marinated with homemade chimichurri sauce, served over grilled veggies, rice, and beans). The mixed grill of meats and seafood in my Parrillada Mixta was perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was a satisfying and delicious ending to a very pleasing dining experience. The group members who ordered the Churrasco Steak were equally pleased with their meal. Despite the appealing choice of desserts, we were all stuffed and unable to go any further, so my Tres Leches Cake will have to be put off until my next visit.
As you may be aware, there are two sister Ley Leyendas de Mexico restaurants in the general Parsippany area, one in Boonton and one in Morris Plains. This review is for the Parsippany location only. Visiting the other locations is certainly on my to-do list. As for Parsippany’s Ley Leyendas de Mexico, I recommend definitely giving it a try. I’m pretty sure you will put it on your restaurant rotation.
Buena comida, buenos amigos, buenos tiempos
Las Leyendas (Leyendas de Mexico) is located at 71 New Road, Parsippany.
(973) 287-7060 leyendasrestaurante.com
Closed Mondays – Dine In – In-Store Pickup – Catering Available
BYOB (Wine and Beer only) – Vegetarian Friendly – Off-Road Parking
Mexican, Latin, and Spanish Cuisine
Reprinted from Parsippany Focus Magazine, January 2023