Festive Mexican Atmosphere
There are two things you can count on during the summer in Florida; rain and mosquitoes. Upon leaving my downtown Sarasota office, I decide to head to Main Street for dinner. Alone and slightly damp from the rain earlier, I opt for low-key and wind up at Azteca Mexican Restaurant.
The streets at 6:30pm are dismal and the sidewalk is bare of any outdoor seating due to the rain. I look inside Azteca and there is one couple sitting inside – exactly what I am looking for, believe it or not. Since the bar is very small and at the rear of the restaurant, I choose to sit in the main dining room at a table for four facing the window. I don’t plan on doing any work so people watching is the next best option.
I’m greeted with a basket of chips and salsa and handed a menu. I can live on chips, salsa and a side of sour cream and be quite content! The chips taste homemade with a light dusting of salt and sturdy enough to hold a good dipping of the homemade chunky salsa. The salsa packed with chunks of tomato, onion and cilantro has a slight spicy finish, if you like hot you might ask them to kick it up a notch.
I order the red sangria as suggested by the server since it’s the house specialty. When it arrives the coloring is more on the purple side, yet it’s delicious! Another Mexican favorite of mine is Tortilla Soup, I order a cup. The soup is broth based (preferred), the scoop from my spoon to my mouth leaves a trail of cheese and exposes pulled chicken, celery and carrots. Next time I will order a bowl, it’s that good – If you like sour cream, I suggest adding a dollop. The server won’t tell you, but be prepared to pay $0.75 each for your side of sour cream.
As I look around the restaurant, I get a feeling as if I am sitting in the reminisce of what once filled a pinata – festive mexican
decor floor to ceiling, including the music. Probably best I am facing the window or I would feel as if I was having a party, but I was the only one who showed up.
When ordering my entrée I ask the server for her suggestion. She leads me to one of her favorites; Bristek En Salsa Verde. The menu describes it as ‘the ultimate joy ride for your taste buds,’ she describes it as flavorful sliced steak with a green sauce made from tomatillos. I love tomatillos, how can I go wrong – I’m in.
At this point the service has been excellent, my food very good and I am really enjoying the view. I could have stopped eating after my soup, but that would make for a boring story. My entrée is placed in front of me on a huge platter, my first thought was, “darn, I forgot to ask for no rice and beans,” but that’s okay I should probably taste them for you. Honestly, I think they should be served on the side, it’s just too much food and takes away from the presentation – there is nothing visually attractive about refried beans, don’t you agree?
If you like big meals, then you’ll love this dish, it’s served with three soft flour tortillas on the side for either dipping or wrapping. I begin with tasting the refried beans, not as bad as they look. The rice is very dry and the second flavor to hit my taste buds. Next I try the main course and can’t seem to find ‘the joy’ or flavor. Salsa and sour cream to the rescue, I place a bit of each on top and I achieve improvement, still far from happiness. I take a little of each of the three items in front of me and wrap them up inside a flour tortilla as suggested, to see if that will help – negative. The flour tortilla has a flavor of its own and I am better off when using my chip since it adds texture and crunch. The steak itself is over cooked leaving the thick onion chunk as my favorite part of this dish.
Unsatisfied with my entrée, I decide to order the desert I saw while I was looking at my Foodspotting app – Sopapillas. I am told its deep fried dough dusted with cinnamon and sugar served with a side of honey to drizzle over the top. I grew up on Long Island eating zeppoli’s, a similar dessert made with powdered sugar.
Three hand sized Sopapillas are placed in front of me, the server says, “I hope you are hungry,” I tell him to please bring me a box, I am planning on only eating one. I cut into one of them and find it hollow on the inside, unlike a zeppoli. I drizzle the honey over the top, take a bite and am happy to say, I found the ‘ultimate joy’ in my desert. Light and delicate, not greasy – delicious. My only suggest is to lose the plastic cup and put the honey in glass.
Was my meal worth the $36.00 I spent? I can’t honestly answer that. I can tell you there were many positive sides to my visit, but when I walked out the door heading to my car I felt like I would have been happier eating my leftover dinner from the evening prior. The upside is, the Tortilla Soup was my favorite and during a sunny afternoon or evening there is seating outdoors and on occasion they have live music which can add to your dining experience. As a Table for One, Azteca Mexican Restaurant isn’t high on my list. I do suggest if you want to try their food, go with a group of friends. For those seeking hard liquor the only liquor they serve aside from wine, sangria and beer is in the margarita’s.
Azteca Mexican Restaurant, 1551 Main Street, Sarasota, FL. 34236, (941) 917-0043 Aztecasarasota.com
*All photographs taken by Dayle Hoffmann