The pulse of downtown Baton Rouge seems to beat faster each time we visit. A new park here, a new grocery store there and a large building going up right where The Advocate once stood. It’s probably a good thing the Aztecas restaurant wasn’t right across the street when we worked there, because the food is so good that salad brought from home would more often than not get tossed in the bin in favor of a feast just a few feet away.
The restaurant, one of two with the other located in Lafayette, is divided into two adjoining rooms, one with a few tables and seating along the bar with large TVs for catching the game, and the other with tables only and a mixture of brick and ruddy painted walls with a traditional Mexican mural and other works of art. It felt very warm and inviting.
We started our meal with the perfect appetizer for a group, the Aztecas sampler ($13.99). Featuring steak nachos, southwest egg rolls, cream cheese stuffed jalapeños, fajita chicken quesadillas and served with sour cream, fresh guacamole and a really good, slightly hot jalapeno vegetable relish, everyone had a favorite. The steak was really well-seasoned and tender, the egg rolls were a great combination of chicken and vegetables and cheese with a nice fried crunch and the quesadillas featured lots of cheesy, tender chicken. Hit with a shake of salt the guacamole was very good as well. The relish on this delicious plate was one of our first clues that this Tex-Mex establishment was a step above many others we’d visited.
From the traditional menu we tried the fish tacos ($14.99), three generous pieces of blackened tilapia, seasoned with maybe a tab bit too much salt, but nice and crispy on the outside and nice and flaky inside. Each came with sliced avocado and well-seasoned, house-made Mexican coleslaw brightened with fresh lime juice inside each flour tortilla. This healthy choice could be on the light side for a big appetite.
The seafood fiesta ($15.99) celebrated the combination of Tex-Mex and seafood with a seafood enchilada, a seafood medley with a nice mild sour cream sauce, a chimichanga, a fried version of the enchilada , and four large well-seasoned butterflied and sautéed shrimp on a bed of sweet sautéed onions and bell peppers, a nice fresh complement to the richness of the other two items. This yummy dish came with a mounded side of rice.
We also tried two items from Aztecas’ signature dishes and found they both deserved their elevated status. The shrimp El Paso ($19.99) offered eight jumbo shrimp stuffed with fresh jalapeno, wrapped in bacon and charbroiled. The succulent shrimp with the smoky bacon glazed with a sweet balsamic sauce was served with half the shrimp drizzled with a sour cream sauce and the other half with a yellow cheese sauce. These couldn’t have been better and were very filling. The shrimp were accompanied by rice garnished with raspberry chipotle sauce and a balsamic reduction, but we swapped that for a side of refried beans.
The star of the night, though, was the relleno de res ($19.99), a large roasted poblano pepper stuffed with mushrooms, spinach and jack cheese topped with grilled flank steak and a great rustic buttery Meunière sauce. The juicy steak with the heat of the pepper mixed perfectly with the vegetables and cheese, and dipped in the sauce this made a perfect bite. So different from the fried chile relleno where you usually find the poblano, this imaginative dish with its unexpected sauce was well-crafted and absolutely wonderful. The dish also came with a side of rice.
We should have stopped there, but ordered two desserts to share and were under-impressed with them both. Though beautifully presented, the fried ice cream ($4.99), though a very large ball, was a bit tough on the outside, and the fried cheesecake ($4.99), served with a small scoop of ice cream, was an average traditional cheesecake and the frying didn’t add anything.
A step up in Mexican, Aztecas’ menu offers traditional and different, yet delightful choices, and the service was excellent.