Somewhere between the wining and dining of Old City and the hustle and bustle of Chestnut Street shopping lays El Azteca Mexican Restaurant. If you keep a close enough eye out on Seventh and Chestnut streets, you’ll spot a turquoise awning and two double red doors that lead the way into one of the greatest Mexican dining experiences you will ever have in Philly, with authentic dishes and an atmosphere to match.
Thirty booths and tables fill a dark and intimate environment with burgundy walls and candles. However, this place isn’t for couples only. During my most recent visit, the table across from me was filled with teenagers wearing formal gowns; A Mexican family sat at the booth behind me. With décor including sombreros and various Mexican paintings and photographs, El Azteca creates a fun and homey atmosphere for celebrations, couples, dates and friends to grab a bite to eat. Be sure to pick up a bottle of tequila at the Wine & Spirits shop just a few blocks away between 12th and 13th streets since the restaurant is BYOB. The server will mix it with lime margarita mix for $5 with the second pitcher free for college students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The mix that is used is a bit strong and tangy (or maybe that’s just because my party usually requests that extra alcohol be added). Either way, the plentiful chips and salsa make up for it. Warm tortilla chips with a homemade sauce are served immediately upon sitting and are almost as delicious as the meals. As soon as the first crumbs are revealed, a friendly server brings out a new basket.
If you want to jazz those nachos up, order an appetizer with melted cheese, ground beef, chicken, veggies or refried beans. The pollo ($5.25) is a good choice. In fact, the chips are so smothered with cheese and chicken that it almost appears as if it is an entrée. Other appetizers include vegetarian, beef, chicken or cheese quesadillas ($3.50-$5.25). They are so large and loaded with cheese that you have to use a fork to eat them. Not a bad start.
The taquitos Mexicanos ($10.95) is positively the best thing on the menu. Two chicken and two beef filled golden logs are served with a decorated center of fresh ruffled sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and diced tomatoes. Break open one of the crunchy exteriors and you will find freshly ribbed beef and chicken that you definitely won’t find in those taquitos from 7-Eleven.
The crispy shells are the perfect complement to the meats and toppings and you may find yourself scrounging for the last flaky bits after your meal is finished.
Another good choice is the burrito superior ($8.95) – a tender and tasty chicken burrito smothered in white cheddar cheese, crispy shredded lettuce, tomato and sour cream, served with Mexican rice or refried beans. But don’t expect the chicken to be proportionate to the large serving of beans and toppings. The carne asada ($13.95) is also a fine choice. Thin slices of seasoned ribeye steak are served with refried beans, lettuce, guacamole, pico de gallo and four tortillas. The lean meat is seasoned and juicy; it’s a good alternative to the typical taco or chicken dish. The fajita dishes served with onions, peppers, tomatoes and rice are very appetizing ($13.95-$15.95), and are served sizzling hot. The portions of meat are so generous that you may need a doggy bag. One of the waiters also recommended the shrimp fajitas-something I’ve yet to try. If you desire some sour cream or guacamole on the soft wrap, however, you’ll have to pay extra – a small yet irritating price to pay for an exquisite dining experience of quick service, satisfying margaritas, yummy nachos, homemade authentic dishes and festive sombreros.
Bridget Maxwell can be reached at Br1dgetm@temple.edu