Emilio and I had lunch one day last week at Churchill’s across from UM-Flint. It happened to be “Mexican Special” day. We both chuckled and decided we’d order off the menu, but seeing the specials reminded me of something. Stephanie and I are just two lunches away from the half way point in our tour of Flint’s Mexican restaurants. So far, it’s been an exciting journey.
We’ve made some fantastic discoveries, visited some tried and true favorites, and even suffered through a few stinkers. Judging from the places we’ve been to so far, I’d say the Mexican restaurant scene in Flint is not only flourishing but dishing up some pretty high quality food. Getting a truly authentic Mexican meal is still the exception, but Flint serves up some very tasty Midwest Tex-Mex.
Take La Azteca for example. It’s a classic Flint Taco House on West Court Street right where it intersects with Corunna Road. You can either order your meal from the front counter, where menus are scotch taped to the Formica counter top, or you can sit at any of the awkwardly situated tables in the scantily decorated, drab dining room. It’s not very attractive, but it gets the job done. Which is just about how I’d describe La Azteca’s service and food as well.
When Steph and I went to La Familia at the end of October, that place felt a lot like the Mexican restaurant version of Angelo’s Coney Island on Flint’s East side. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Angelo’s is probably the most loved eating establishment in Flint because it’s workers, clientele, dining room atmostphere, and menu all represent a weird microcosm of Flint itself. Now that I’ve been back to La Azteca, it too feels a lot like Angelo’s. But for different reasons. The people at La Familia were very chummy and a lot of the customers know each other, which is how it felt like Angelos. At La Azteca it’s the food. Plain and simple, the food here is comfort food. A lot like the street food I had when I visited Tijuana and Ensenada several years ago. It was cheap, it was quick, and it was good. It got the job done.
Still in our back to basics phase, Stephanie and I ordered our usual. She had the enchilada platter and I had the chimichanga. We ordered the chips and cheese, which was about as average as one would expect from a comfort food place. It was a yellow cheese sauce, but it was a step or two up from the pump-from-the-can-ball park variety. The salsa wasn’t terribly hot but the flavors were complex enough that we put a good dent into the squeeze bottle the waitress left at our table.
Like street food, our lunches came to us with lightning quick speed. Each plate was dressed up with a puddle of beans and a mound of rice. The beans and rice were neither good nor bad. They were extremely average. My chimi was loaded with ground beef, but there was nothing else on the inside, just the bare essentials. The cheese sauce looked bright orange like the aforementioned canned variety, but it was surprisingly tasty. I don’t know if they doctored up the canned cheese or if this was real, but it elevated my meal from below average to average. Which is pretty much how Stephanie described hers as well.
Before I became “old” and started spending my Friday nights on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a remote control, I went to the bar a lot. And most nights if I stayed out really late, I’d go to some grub hub for a late night meal. Tommy Zs, Colonial, Sunrise. Those types of places. If I had known about it back then, I would have put La Azteca on my list too. It feels like a great place to go when you’re half crocked and not really fussy about what you want to eat.
Now, before you La Azteca loyalists start flinging hate mail at my, let me be clear that this place is well loved by locals and the food does not suck by any means. It just lacks the spark, the variety, the complexity of some of its competitors. If you know that going in, as Stephanie, and I did last week, then you’re gonna get a good meal at a good price, and you’re gonna go back to work with a full belly.
While La Azteca didn’t garner any TTC Award nominations, I thought I’d review those that have. If, by chance, we come across any new contenders before the holiday break, I’ll be sure to add those to the list. So, here are the frontrunners so far:
Chiles Relleno at El Potrero
Mexican Rice at La Familia Morales
Basket of Chips at Senior Lucky’s
Chorizo con Queso at Nueva Vallarta
Trinity of Salsas at El Especial
Refried beans (but I can’t remember where. Stay tuned for an update).
The Mexican Tour will continue until the end of April, so if you think you have a winning dish at your favorite Mexican restaurant, one that Stephanie I have yet to visit, then drop me a line and make your suggestions. I’ll go any place you suggest and eat any dish you think should be considered for the Tator Tot Casserole Award. For the last two lunches of 2009, the plan is to visit Sagebrush Cantina in Fenton, and that tiny dive of a place on Dort Highway just north of Robert T. Longway. Stay tuned to see if either place produces any nominees.