Felipe Cruz says an authentic menu prepared in a healthful manner makes Taste of Mexico, with two locations in Princeton, unlike any other Mexican restaurant in the area.

Taste of Mexico specializes in southern Mexican food, such as enchiladas, marinated pork, flautas, and tamales. Cruz first opened the restaurant in the Princeton Shopping Center 16 years ago to give his hometown Princeton the authentic Mexican cuisine he felt it needed.

He expected to cater to a Latino crowd, and set out to cook an absolutely authentic menu. Tamales were served in cornhusks and banana leaves, and salads came with lime juice and salt — no dressing. A typical Mexican taco consisted of a soft tortilla with cilantro, onions and meat only.

But Cruz, 42, found that Taste of Mexico attracted customers who weren’t accustomed to the authentic Latin American flavors. So he made adjustments while striving to keep the food true to its origins. For example, the tamales are still cooked in cornhusks but are served without them and are dressed in extra sauce and cheese.

One sauce that remains authentic, Cruz said, is the mole. The sauce contains about 40 ingredients, including chocolate, raisins, and seven different types of peppers. Cruz considers it a house specialty.

“There’s nothing like mole. It’s even hard to describe it. People think it’s peppers and chocolate, and that’s just not the case,” Cruz said.

Cruz said there are at least 17 different types of mole in his home state of Oaxaca, which he says has an ongoing competition with neighboring Puebla to make the best mole. Mole is typically served over chicken on the bone, but at Taste of Mexico it is served over grilled chicken breast, which he says makes it a healthier option for diners.

Flautas and chips, fried in vegetable oil, are the only deep-fried dishes on the menu. The chips, which come unsalted, are cooked at a higher temperature to keep them from becoming greasy. Cruz said he works with the cook to make sure none of the sauces are made with heavy oils. Most of the dishes on the menu are grilled, and vegetables are steamed and grilled, sometimes with a touch of olive oil for extra flavor.

“We try to make it healthy and still give you that authentic variety,” Cruz said. “I mean, these are the foods my kids eat at the house. These are the foods I would feel good serving.”

Cruz opened a second location at 180 Nassau Street last year to complement his original spot in the Princeton Shopping Center. He had been looking to expand, so when the former Calico Grill location behind Cox’s Market became available, he decided to go for it.

Cruz considered shutting down the original Taste of Mexico but found that each location had its own strengths, and the longstanding popularity of the original location was worth sustaining. He has found that customers like the parking at the shopping center, but that the Nassau Street restaurant is more spacious.

Cruz, a Plainsboro resident, also owns the Mexican restaurant El Oaxaqueno in New Brunswick. The restaurant kept the name given by the previous owner, he said, but has the same menu as Taste of Mexico.

A Taste of Mexico, 180 Nassau Street, Princeton (behind Cox’s Market). 609-924-0500.

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