Hidden gems are the heart and soul of this site. I think the other CTbites writers would wholeheartedly agree that those “off the beaten path” restaurants or those that haven’t quite reached a mainstream audience yet, those are the ones that we get excited about the most.
Azteca Restaurant in Bridgeport is exactly the kind of place that gets my blood flowing. It’s family owned, and still new, as it opened during the summer. It also might’ve never come to my attention if chef Bill Taibe didn’t sing its praises to us after a random night out in Bridgeport and a cell phone search for “Mexican food near me.”
If not for a chef’s need for late night munchies, Azteca would not have been on our radar. With this information, Stephanie Webster and I rolled out to Azteca for an unforgettable midday Monday feast.
Before we ate, we wanted to meet the Vasquez Family, who have owned Azteca Market for over six years. The grocery store—located right in the same strip of stores as the restaurant—is primarily run by the husband and wife team of Basilio and Elizabeth Vasquez, while their children Nancy and David run the day-to-day at the restaurant.
It turns out that the restaurant is something that has been in the works for more than a year, according to general manager Jose Quevas. “I used to go to the market for breakfast on weekends all dressed up because I was headed to my managing job at a country club,” he said. “One day they asked me what I did for a living, they had an idea to open a restaurant, I wanted to help, now I’m here full time.”
Quevas mentioned that his obsession of wanting to change the face of Mexican cuisine with new school and old school dishes was the same thing the Vasquez family saw in their own spot, so he was able to help with their vision of what they wanted Azteca Restaurant to be.
At the restaurant, it’s all very much a family affair. Doing the cooking for Azteca’s 65-plus seat, color pop of a dining room is Elizabeth and Nancy who are from Mexico City, although mom spent her early years in Pueblo. The family had previously owned La Fondita Mexican Grill in Yonkers, circa 2003.
What they’re doing here, though, is different. Different in the BEST way possible. When the food started to come out, it’s safe to say that Steph and I were caught by surprise. Each dish had a vibrancy about it that made us aware that Azteca wasn’t run of the mill. The recipes are directly from or derived from Elizabeth’s authentic Mexican cooking style but they’re not afraid to mix it up and try something current. What’s noteworthy is that everything is homemade, everything is fresh, and nothing used in their kitchen is artificial.
First up was a plentiful plate of tangy chicken enchiladas verde topped with crumbled queso and drizzled with crema. Right next to it was its bolder, smokier relative, a shredded brisket enchilada covered in a brownish, deep red mole sauce. Both were addicting in their own way. I knew I had a marathon in front of me, but I couldn’t help constantly going over to steal alternating forkfuls of each.
Steph was partial to something a bit more modern with the pulpo a la parilla, a tender grilled octopus, charred tentacles and all, that rested on a creamy avocado puree.
A few guilty pleasures we both agreed on were an al pastor quesadilla with sweet caramelized onions and sweeter bits of pineapple and a trio of gorditas de chicharrón, deep-fried corn dough (similar to an arepa) stuffed with chunks of pork, crispy pork skin, lettuce, onion, and dry cheese.
We were getting full. The bites of tacos, and mouthfuls of a steak burrito and a “side” of carne asada (in-beween all the other stuff) started to add up.
Then there was dessert.
The mole mousse blew our minds. Umm…what?! Yeah, seriously. A light, sweet treat dusted with cinnamon-sugar, with a rich chocolatey taste, and an earthy bite. It’s balanced, complex, and you won’t be able to stop eating it.
If we had room, we would’ve undoubtedly made short work of a second sweet offering, the chocolate cake. It reminded us of chocolate tres leches because it was obviously soaked in some mixture of milk, possibly booze, or perhaps both. Either way, we were cool with that.
Somehow through this massive meal, we had ordered drinks but focused most of our attention on stuffing our faces. Chalk it up to the two of us showing up next level hungry. The cocktails are solid, by the way, and more craft oriented than you’d expect. You’ll have no problem finding a great one from their list of margaritas, mezcal dominant cocktails, micheladas, or something from their “Non-Mexican” section.
During all of this, I kept wondering if I had seen or tasted Mexican food this good. I hadn’t. Not around here, anyway. Not with Azteca’s authenticity. Let’s make it so this gem is not so hidden anymore.
522 Pequonnock Street; Bridgeport
(203) 345-3232; https://www.aztecabpt.com/