Our early impressions of the new El Azteca on the Forgotten Mile were OK, given the natural growing pains of any new restaurant. The first things that impressed us were the politeness and attentiveness of the staff (though they were obviously still getting their sea legs), the cleanliness of the place, the extremely moderate prices, and the fact that the owners were on the floor, busily serving, bussing tables and engaging the guests in conversation. This is a good sign for any restaurant.
We have been back several times since then. On one of our visits the service was a bit offhanded but it was prompt nonetheless. When I say offhanded, I mean a rather embarrassing lack of knowledge about the menu on the part of the server. One dish was even brought out incomplete and we had to remind the server that other things belonged on the plate. The issue was rectified immediately, but after being open a couple of months, this server (who has been there from the beginning) should be more familiar with the menu.
One of the stars of the show at El Azteca is the guacamole! They make it fresh from a cute little guacmobile that is outfitted with all the guac-making necessities. Can't get any fresher than that. (Yes, I know I have written very unkind things about guacmobiles past. But this one is quiet and doesn't sound like a Panzer division armored vehicle when it's rolled across the floor. So there.)
The place is decidedly Tex Mex, though the variety of flavors seems to be limited. All the standard burritos, tacos, enchiladas, rellenos, fajitas are represented in various versions. We decided to dive in headfirst by ordering the Appetizer Sampler. This generous dish was made up of cheese quesadilla slices, mini taquitos (stuffed with shredded white-meat chicken), mini chimichangas and stuffed jalapeños (which appeared to be house-made). As if all those goodies were not enough, it was served with lettuce, sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo. It easily fed all four of us, with leftovers. Quite a bargain for $11.95. Those stuffed jalapenos are also available as an app unto themselves. The peppers are firm, and the cheese is particularly good. Along with the taquitos they are the star of the app sampler show.
Of course I ordered the Grande Special (I do it for you…) so I could try everything. This arrives on two separate plates, sporting a burrito, an enchilada, a potato-filled chile relleno (nicely spiced), a crunchy hard shell taco, a cute little bean chalupa along with the requisite rice and beans. See this one in the gallery. For under $13 it is yet another bargain, though, again I would have liked the beef a bit more aggressively spiced – truth be told, I would have liked a bigger difference between the various parts of the plate, taste-wise. The overall pattern seems to be that most of the various dishes tend to taste the same. Whatever Tex-Mex spices and flavorings are used, are used timidly. I whined about this, and the server was more than happy to have the kitchen chop up a fresh jalapeno for me. I like jalapenos, but there are other Mexican flavors other than jalapenos.
El Azteca1/11 App SAmpler2/11 El Azteca3/11 Chorizo Burrito4/11 The El Grande Big Plate5/11 Part of the Grande Big Plate!6/11 Beef fajitas7/11 Fresh Guac8/11 Chimichanga9/11 Fried cheesecake10/11 Fried Ice Cream11/11
Regular visitors to Mexican restaurants know that there are as many versions of chorizo as there are versions of pizza, BBQ, chili and all the rest. El Azteca's chorizo sausage is the sweet variety, reminiscent of garam masala (whispers of nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, etc.). I suspect this is a house-specific seasoning, however. We got it in the burrito form (see the gallery), and if you like sweet chorizo, you will love this. I prefer the more savory version. Sweet is for breakfast. You be the judge.
The beef fajitas arrived steaming hot, with brightly colored chunks of green pepper, red pepper, etc. They were cooked well-done the way I like it, but again, in spite of the delicious-looking presentation, the brightly spiced flavors of Tex-Mex simply were not there.
Desserts are quite nice, with the stars of the show being the fried cheesecake and the fried ice cream (see the gallery for both). They are nicely plated and quite festive. And who doesn't like fried cheesecake!
My overall impression is that the food is milder than I like personally. When I order Tex-Mex I want strong flavors (and I don't mean just hot spices). I want to taste the chili powder and the spices in the meats. And I want to taste the difference between an enchilada and a tamale – or a taco and a burrito – or a relleno and a taquito. The beef in the enchiladas and the burritos probably has the most personality of all the meats, though I will reiterate that the white-meat chicken is tender and well presented, though totally lacking in any personality. Some other local Mexican restaurants serve food with more pronounced flavors. Mind you, El Azteca's food doesn't taste bad … it just lacks any particularly identifying flavors.
I want to reiterate how friendly and attentive the servers and runners are. I suspect that they had no idea that I am the food writer guy (if they did, they hid it well), and I can tell you that every table was being treated with the same level of care in spite of the fact that the place was full.
If you live in fear of pronounced flavors or any sort of spice, you might want to visit the new El Azteca. It is at 20672 Coastal Highway, just south of the canal bridge, directly across from the car dealer and next door to Delaware PC Services. Check their hours at 302-278-7507.
Check out their website. This link points to their Dover location. There is no separate site for Rehoboth.
Special thanks to Izzy & Gabby's mommy for the nice margarita flight photo.