El Azteca mexican restaurant, Inver Grove Heights, is now open. The spot that was formerly home to Old World Pizza at 5816 Blaine Avenue and owned by the same group that owns El Azteca in Apple Valley, has entered the IGH mexican restaurant market.
Let’s get right to it: The food is average mexican food. There are going to be dishes people love, dishes people wish they didn’t get, something that someone claims to be the best and everything in-between. The deal with mexican restaurants like this is everyone has a different opinion on what good, authentic mexican food is. For example, for everyone who loves Teresa’s in Mendota Heights, there is someone who will come back and say Las Margaritas in Woodbury is better. For everyone that likes Acapulco Restaurante in Woodbury, others will say La Fonda in Eagan is better.
El Azteca, in our opinion, is a notch below all of these and has some work to do to catch up. First, ease up on the salt on the food. Second, why not add garnish of lettuce, tomato, sour cream and tomatos/pico to every dish? Maybe that isn’t authentic, but it’s American-Mexican and adds a nice visual appeal.
Two of us went to lunch and here is what we ordered:
Steak fajitas: These were pretty good – what saved the experience from a D on a grading scale, and the steak was done right. That makes you hope the carne asada tacos (priced at $12.99, which is a little high in our opinion), will also be done right. The fajita portion size for lunch was also good and $9.99 was reasonable. But there was little pico with the garnish and it was heavy lettuce and not much else.
We then got the Combo #3, which included an enchilada, chile relleno and taco for $7.99 – a very reasonably priced and affordable lunch. This isn’t our preferred mexican selection but we wanted to check the basics out and get some variety.
Let’s break it down:
Beef soft taco: Boring. Plain. Salty. Lettuce and meat and that’s it. Maybe even worse than a TC Taco taco.
Chicken enchilada: Would prefer the green sauce for a chicken enchilada but was eager to try the red sauce. Nothing spectacular, nothing that stood out from one mexican restaurant to another. Basic overcooked chicken wrapped in a corn tortilla.
Chile Relleno: Loaded with cheese, very stringy. Would like to try again to form another opinion. Teresa’s is done better and El Loro’s was also done better.
Red sauce: A little too dark, salty, not much spice. You could find better red sauce out of a can at Cub Foods. With less sodium.
Rice: First bite seemed like it was soggy, but it was decent and fluffy. Again average.
Chips and salsa: Chips were done right, salsa is mediocre at best, nothing that makes you crave a trip to the restaurant to devour chips, salsa and fountain diet pepsi until your heart is content. Every mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities has chips and salsa as equal or better than El Azteca.
Service: Mediocre. Our server was not attentive to our needs, maybe he was new. He forgot the lemon in our water, took a while to refill chips and salsa and got our order mixed up. The woman who was helping another table was much more helpful.
While eating we noticed the owner or manager standing at the front and we commented amongst ourselves on his stylish attire of a nice leather vest and dress shirt, while wearing shades inside the restaurant. He looked suave and like someone who took pride in opening a new restaurant. As we walked out of the restaurant and walked right by him, and looked at him, he just sat on his phone, head down, reading his phone (probably reading eatigh.com looking for a review) and not even acknowledging our presence. No “thanks for coming in” or “how was everything?” as we left. We don’t expect that to make or break a restaurant review or dining experience, but when opening a new restaurant you would expect them to want to hear customer feedback.
The remodel is nice, they really put a lot of effort into updating the former Old World pizza palace.
We’ve had a lot of mexican restaurants come and go in IGH over the years. Baja Sol, Taco Toro and El Loro have all come and gone. TC Taco is trying to make a go of it, El Rincon recently opened up and now El Azteca is in town.
Our first impression wasn’t a great one. But the reviews have been mixed. We’ve heard people say it was great, others said was “meh”. We fall on the side of mediocre. Ease up on the salty food, improve some of the basics and it could be better. Maybe our biggest mistake was trying the more basic tex-mex style mexican dishes. If the authentic mexican dishes are good, then the place is in business.
The bar area looks nice, and maybe we will have to go back and have some cocktails and beers to get a better feel for the El Azteca vibe. We always want to give restaurants a couple chances before writing them off.
But after one visit to El Azteca, we are under the impression it’s just another in a long line of average restaurants to open in Inver Grove Heights. And that’s disappointing and another reason why IGH continues to be the city of average eats.