Monday, December 7, 2009

"I didn't completely hate that"

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.

15 comments:

  1. Steves, why do you take so long to respond to my posts? :)

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  2. I didn't have anything to say about this one. I've been wracking my brain to come up with something, but I got bupkiss. Sorry, I feel that I have failed you.

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  3. I only made that comment because I posted the comment like fifteen seconds after I wrote the post.

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  4. Avoiding the Mexican day specials at Churchill's was a wise decision.

    Still searching for the perfect onion rings and calamari . . .

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  5. let's make a date, anonymous, and merge our efforts find one or both of those.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Sorry about the above. Its content has been edited to reflect reality. It now would read, if it still existed, "The Whitney in Detroit had very good calamari twenty years ago. Have never found any as good since. Where, anonymous, should Bob take us to try some?

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  8. Honestly, I find the onion rings at The torch to be as delicious as they come, of course I have usually had a pint or two before I order. 501 has very yummy calamari with even yummier sauce

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  9. I've only eaten at the Sagebrush Cantina in Fenton once. I can't remember what I ate but the friend I was with showed me how to play Keno. I was really surprised they still allowed smoking (I can't remmeber the last time I was in a "smoking" restaurant). Oh -- and it's right next Stitches 'n' Things, my favorite store in the whole world. :)

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  10. Since someone mentioned onion rings-PLEASE try the ones at US family restraunt on the corner of Bristol and Dort. Made from scratch-Crisp and wonderful! Best Onion Ring in town! I always ask for them well done to insure no sogginess.

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  11. Hi Steve, Thanks for the tip. I'll make it a point to try them there. I love their breakfast menu and the quality of the food is quite good.

    So, Ann Anomous and Wandmacher, let's make a date for OR a the US.

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  12. So, the second anonymous is different from the first anonymous and the first anonymous doesn't care for the Torch's onion rings.

    Anonymous #1 (and she is only anonymous because she couldn't remember the password to any of the blogger sign-ins) likes those really big, beer-battered, greasy onion rings -- the kind that take five or six napkins to wipe the grease off her chin every time she takes a bite. And they have to be full of great oniony flavor. So, if you know where in town to find an onion ring like that, let us know. The calamari at 501 is good, but the sauce really detracts from it. Figlio's had the best calamari. I'll stick, though, to the onion ring hunt for now since I'm heading to the Mediterranean next month and expect to find some good calamari there. So, Bob-a-roo and Steves, I'm free for lunch on Tuesday 12/15 or, if you're around the week of the 21st, my lunchtimes are free the entire week.

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  13. My wife and I stand by Los Cuatros Amigos at Lincor Park in Flint Township. The staff treats us like family, and the food is awesome. My wife always gets the chimis, whereas I'm a fan of just about everything I've had there.

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  14. Hey J.L.
    Several people have told me how good Los Cuatros Amigos is, so I'm putting it on my hit list. I'll probably get there after the holidays, in early January, so look for a future post.

    -Bob

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  15. I had lunch at Soylas downtown Flint, (can't believe I said that), Soylas has wonderful homemade chips and lots of homemade dishes. The burritos were great. Downtown has changed so much. Soylas is a great reason to check out "NEW FLINT".

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