Open 7 days: 9 AM - 9 PM
(609) 393-0300 Google Maps
Gravitas: Decor: Cost: Proximity:
El Sazon is a friendly, Dominican restaurant located in one of my favorite dining spaces in Trenton: the former “Filling Station” at 501 Division St. The food is other worldly. It’s run superbly by a single family: Gloria is the chef, while her 40-something daughter, Mildred, waits tables, and her kid-sister Lily works both the front and back of the house.
As of the date of this review (November, 2015), the restaurant has been open only for a couple of months. They still don’t have printed menus… luckily for us non-Spanish speakers, both sisters grew up in the Bronx and speak fluent English, so they can explain everything on that day’s menu. And that’s actually an advantage, because I’d never had Dominican food before, and explanations are necessary. It’s a pretty extensive menu, with stewed meats (pork, chicken, and goat!), grilled meats, fried or grilled fish, and shrimp available, along with rice, beans, and several sides. Sazon also offers an extensive array of juices, which they mix to order.
To date, we’ve sampled only a couple of items on the menu, but everything we’ve tried has been superb.
Let’s start with the goat stew pictured in the banner. Like most stewed goat preparations (which I’ve previously eaten mostly as Indian curries), be prepared for lots of bones and a fair amount of fat (which, of course, enhances the flavor). The brown sauce is subtly flavored: for sure, onion and garlic, and to my taste buds, celery. The gravy is richly spiced but not hot. I couldn’t identify the dominant spices (perhaps a Dominican pepper). A sprig of green was probably cilantro. But what a flavor! I sucked every morsel of the meat off each bone, and poured all of the rich gravy over my rice. Heavenly!
I’m also going to declare El Sazon’s red beans the BEST IN TOWN BAR NONE. That’s saying a lot in this city which is filled with Latino restaurants. This vegetarian preparation has red beans, probably pintos, in a thick brown sauce. It’s subtly sweetened and thickened with sweet potato (which has mostly dissolved into the gravy, but I found a small piece in my bowl), and is redolent with onions, garlic, and some type of slightly spicy green pepper (though not a bell pepper, for sure). Vegetarians (including Vegans) can order rice and a bowl of these beans, and typically one or two other sides (they were offering pigeon beans the other night as well, which we didn’t sample), and enjoy a fabulous meal. You won’t find a lot of cooked greens, so vegetarians may find their food choice somewhat limiting, but you need to experience the red beans at least once.
The photo shows my first meal at El Sazon: this featured some stewed pork ribs, along with the beans, rice, potato salad (which is pink from the chopped beets mixed in with the potatoes), and the red beans just described.
While there is no menu, prices are extremely reasonable. The pork lunch you see pictured set me back $9; the goat dinner (which included rice, beans, and a green salad) was $10.
Currently the only dessert offered is a concoction called “Sweet Bean”. This is a hot drink, the density of a thick, hot chocolate. But instead of chocolate, the main ingredients are red beans, sweet potato, raisins, milk, and cinnamon. Fabulous.