Wednesday, February 1, 2012

El Azteca in Clarksville

Tacos, rice and beans
I wish that Mexican restaurants would put as much effort into beans and rice as the good ones put into their sauces.

El Azteca is one of the good Mexican places.  The Clarksville restaurant makes a serious effort to cook serious food -- from Tex-Mex down south of the border.  But it's a fun place.  Fun from the start -- a bowl of chips with a fresh tomato salsa.

That's the good-restaurant salsa.  Fresh, spicy, great with just the chips or drinks while you're looking at the menu.

Then you get into dinner.   They're not just dumping the same sauce on everything.  The pork tacos came with a green sauce that was on fire.  Grilled meat with vegetables on a corn tortilla.  Then brought alive by just a little dab of the fiery green.  Spicy in the freshest, most delicious fashion.

On the other side was the chicken mole.  That tender, sliced white meat was covered in a dark, nuanced sauce.  Moles are one of those dishes that I can't make at home.  I hear it's made with chocolates and spices.  Mrs. HowChow forked up her chicken happily.  She didn't eat the side dishes.

Tortilla soup
Why do folks fill the side half of the plate with such little inspiration?  The beans and rice are fine, but nothing more.  Plain rice cooked yellow.  Beans mashed and heated.  On my first visit, I thought they were better than La Palapa's, but this time, they weren't enough to make me even wonder if they're made in-house or bought in a can.

It's a mystery that I have found at most Mexican restaurants.  Why not flavorful beans and rice?  Why not options?  El Azteca puts real effort into the tortilla soup, which comes with enough chicken to almost qualify as a rich stew.  Creating that broth takes time and talent.  I spooned it happy -- especially happy because my throat was sore.  I wish I'd had a bowl.  Just like I wish I had some great rice and beans.


Marcia said...

I understand what you're saying, especially the rice. Blah. I took a Mexican cooking class many years ago where we made many authentic dishes (Snapper Vera Cruz, etc). The beans were pretty much what you get at restaurants, refried in lard with nothing much in the way of seasoning.

I guess I'm saying, that maybe those somewhat bland beans are authentic? Doesn't mean you and I can't wish for a bit more flavor. At home I add salsa to my refried beans.

Love El Azteca, we don't go there often enough. I wonder if people have been caught unawares by the mole? The last time I ordered it, the server asked me if I knew what mole was before she'd place my order. When I said I'd eaten it there lots of times in the past, she smiled and took the order.

Rick said...

Great place with good food, but is has gotten very expensive...

Stephanie said...

Mexican places back home (in Texas) usually offer Charro beans (unmashed, with some peppers, onions, and pork), and I think places around Austin will sometimes offer a type of corn souffle or something as an alternative starch to rice. Obviously, in the more southwestern-type Mexican, black beans are common too.

We love El Azteca though! I can't decide if La Palapa is as good or not (it's somewhere close), and we also like Mi Casa down at 40 & 29. I wish I could make salsa as good as El Azteca's! I usually request a second bowl of it and pour it over the rice.

Courtney C. said...

We like the black beans and rice at Tampico Grill in Laurel. I always choose black beans over refried. We also mix our rice and beans together.

Anonymous said...

The very best "Mexican" beans and rice I ever had, were at an old place called Taco Burrito that used to be on Snowden River Parkway. It was run by Middle Easterners, but their wet burrito combo, while totally inauthentic, was out of this world.
I agree that beans and rice from every place else I've been, like Chinese egg rolls, taste like they were piped in from some central underground factory.

Anonymous said...

I like both the black beans and the refried beans at Pachanga in Ellicott City. Yum!

mdfoodlover said...

We go here at least once a week.

I never eat the bean glop that comes on most dishes. A few bites of the yellow rice, if that, is all I ever have.

I do like their Black bean soup as an appetizer, of the occasional Black Bean side dish included with a daily special. Other than these two, skip the beans & enjoy the main entree.

I'm very partial to "El Plato Placero with Chicken". Always get the Corn Tortillas instead of flour. The little plastic tub of Chili Verde, or whatever it is called, makes the dish. The green bean/onion/jalepeno medley rounds it out nicely.

Don't miss the Corazone Ultra Margarita on the rocks. Best margarita I've found in many many years of experimentation.

Thanks for posting on this place.

Md food lover

Abby said...

Have you tried Cuba de Ayer? I love El Azteca, but I was impressed by Cuba de Ayer's beans and rice when I tried them recently. (Thanks, Living Social.) They started out by asking if I wanted them separate or mixed together, which I had never been asked before. They're also whole beans, not refried. I ordered them mixed, and added the house-made hot sauce, and they were delicious.

S. said...

Although it does come with the rice & beans, we recommend the Chile Verde plate, it's the closest we've found to authentic New Mexico chile verde. And we agree with Marcia that refried beans, at least from our experience in the southwest, are probably authentically bland.

Anonymous said...

The person above that is comparing El Azteca to Cuba de Ayer is really comparing apples and oranges. There is a huge difference between Cuban/Caribbean food and Mexican/Tex-Mex. You are never going to find refried beans on a plate of Cuban/Caribbean food. At a Cuban place, rice and beans aren't just an after thought the way they generally are at a Mexican restaurant.

Anonymous said...

El Andariego in Ashton has the best Texmex - Salvadoran around. Corner of New Hampshire & 108. The fajitas are the best anywhere.

sesame said...

I was mourning moving from Laurel where we had easy access to Mango's Grill (Mexican-Salvadoran) to Columbia. My husband and I stumbled upon this place when we were frantically searching for a place to have a lunch date sans child (note to self: Iron Bridge closes @ 2 pm for lunch, and Baldwin's station is closed on Mondays, found out the hard way!) anyway, my fears about not finding a local authentic Mexican place have been allayed. I had their steak tacos and for dessert tres leches, one of my faves. The cake is really dense and infused, one of the better versions I've had. Can't wait to go back and try the mole (and have another slice of the tres leches).

Jess said...

I'm a big fan of the rice at Mi Casa in Ellicott City.