I entered Plaza Azteca, with, I believe, an open mind. I wanted a source for good Mexican cuisine here in Worcester, but I couldn’t be sure if this was the place. After all, it’s been years since the owners took over the old Bickford’s location, and I’ve never heard a word about the restaurant ~ good or bad.
Entering the foyer, my friend and I were greeted by a couple of young employees and were led to a booth near Plaza Azteca’s lounge, which was busy with groups of mates out for an after-work drink.
The decor was a pleasant surprise. First, in contrast to the old Bickford’s format of cafeteria seating, Plaza Azteca has segmented the building into smaller seating areas that afford a degree of intimacy. The decor is not of the cheesy Mexican you may have grown up with; the owners have tossed the dusty sombreros for curvilinear paintings in a rich earth pallet.
Katherine, our waitress, soon arrived with tortilla chips and fresh salsa. We decided to order the house margarita; a full pitcher seemed a bargain. Plaza Azteca’s chips immediately proved addictive ~ thin, crispy and fresh. The salsa’s spiciness level could be dialed up using the bottles of habanero sauce on each table.
It’s become trite to dismiss restaurants with expansive, shiny and colorful menus. But for the most part, that’s advice well heeded for a number of reasons: The foremost being that most kitchens resort to frozen, prepared foods when they’re expected to offer more than, let’s say, 200 items. This had me concerned, for Plaza Azteca’s menu is so vast, with multiple categories and illustrations, that it might make decisions difficult.
But I didn’t really need to shop the menu; on the way to our booth, we passed tables with bowls of guacamole that looked mighty tempting. But just try to find guacamole on the menu; it’s nowhere. Very frustrating; that is, until Katherine returned and helped me out by pointing to its picture on the appetizer page. I guess it’s a point-and-click option.
With our orders placed, I poured a couple margaritas from the huge pitcher, and we finally relaxed. But then, I heard this deep rumbling sound coming down the aisle from behind me. For a moment, I had flashbacks of some of my worst-ever dining experiences. Just as quickly, these evaporated when I realized we were about to be treated to tableside guacamole.
A young man, with considerable élan, proceeded to prepare guacamole, fully customized to our preferences. As the evening wore on, I realized that his skill came from lots of practice; at least two-thirds of those who arrived after us also ordered it. And for good reason; it was fresh and alive with creamy ripe avocados, fresh-squeezed lime juice, cilantro leaves, chopped tomatoes and seasonings that gave it a most pleasing kick.
The chief goal of my search for a Mexican restaurant is to find good chiles rellenos. So at every Mexican restaurant I go to, I order them.
Plaza Azteca’s Famous Chiles Rellenos is an order of two huge, luxuriously proportioned poblano peppers that were hand-battered and fried till the peppers were just softened, not mushy or lost in cakey batter. I started with their pointed bottoms, and as I worked my way up to the main pepper chambers, I reached the chunk of cheesy fillings, mild and fresh. Both were crazy-drizzled with sour cream sauce and came with fluffy rice and refried beans.
My friend was just as pleased with Plaza Azteca’s Burrito Cochinita Pibil. The huge flour tortilla was rolled around a filling of Mexican-style slow roasted pork that was fall-apart tender and had been marinated with citrus and annatto. It was topped with fresh cheese sauce and piled with what appeared to be pickled pink shredded onions. But these onions packed habanero heat; a spicy surprise.
As we polished off our dessert, creamy Mexican Flan, we’d arrived at the same conclusion: Plaza Azteca’s Mexican cuisine stresses freshness of ingredients with attentive service and thrifty prices. Enough to place it square on our list of informal dining destinations.
Just let the tableside guacamole make you a believer!
539 Lincoln St., Worcester