Anyone who has spent any time in the bars Downtown has most likely indulged in the late-night taco truck food from Azteca, which for 20 years has fed the inebriated crowd that congregates near the corner of 6th and Main streets.
Carne asada tacos at midnight? A torta sandwich at 2 a.m.? Been there, done that.
Owner Miguel Hurtado is a veteran of the taco-truck game. He started dishing out tacos, mission-style burritos and torta sandwiches back in 1996. He and his family also formerly owned Chilango’s on State Street, where Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant now resides.
Hurtado recently jumped back into the brick-and-mortar realm when he debuted Azteca Mexican Grill in May on Ustick Road near the corner of Five Mile Road. (He still operates the food truck at night.)
The space has been a revolving door of restaurants over the years, most recently a short-lived Korean eatery. It’s not much to look at in terms of décor, but the Hurtado family is warm and welcoming.
Azteca has table service, whereas diners ordered at the counter at Chilango’s. The menu is a blown-out version of the taco-truck fare. With a full kitchen, more can be done. I’m talking about appetizers, smothered burritos, chiles rellenos and combination plates — offerings that are logistically challenging for a taco truck.
Starters include sopes, flautas and taquitos (five for $6.50), a large platter lined with crispy, fried flour tortilla tubes filled with seasoned chicken, draped with shredded cheese, thick red salsa and a dollop of sour cream. The most impressive item on the platter, though, was the chunky and citrusy guacamole with a garlic kick.
Diners also can get griddle-seared quesadillas ($5/chicken, pork or beef) such as one with chicken and gooey melted cheese, garnished with sour cream, lettuce chiffonade, red salsa and shredded cheese. It really contains the same ingredients as the taquitos, only served in a different form.
I’m not a fan of the shredded cheddar and jack cheese mix that comes on many of the dishes. Give me queso fresco, please, and not that gringo cheese.
Azteca puts out a damn good pambazo sandwich ($5), a popular street food item in Mexico City where Hurtado grew up. The cooks take a large, crumbly roll and dip it in hot sauce, grill it and and stuff it with a piquant mashed potato and chorizo mixture (I could eat a bowl of this stuff on its own), lettuce, cilantro, salsa verde, finely chopped onion and a smear of cream cheese.
The restaurant, like the truck, also dishes up traditional torta sandwiches.
Tacos ($1.25 each) are an excellent value for those wanting to try a variety of tastes. All the taco meats (and the list is long) are served on grilled, double corn tortillas with finely chopped onion, cilantro and salsa.
I found the adobada taco to be especially tasty, with tender chunks of stewed pork in a brick-red sauce that boasts deep dried chile flavors. A lengua taco fit the bill with its marinated and grilled pieces of tender beef tongue hit with fiery green salsa. A carne asada steak taco gave me flashbacks, in a good way, from when I used to close down Pengilly’s Saloon back in the day.
I washed the tacos down with a refreshing glass of cinnamon-spiked horchata on ice ($2.50).
The truck serves hand-held, mission-style burritos, whereas diners at the restaurant also can order smothered specialty burritos with a gamut of fillings.
A mole burrito ($6) is the way to go for those with hearty appetites, thanks to a large flour tortilla that gets wrapped around a heap of toothsome shredded chicken, seasoned rice and chunky red salsa — the whole thing cloaked with a dark and semi-sweet mole sauce.
Specialty plates, served with saucy refried beans and orangey Mexi-rice, include the best chile relleno ($8) I’ve had in recent years. A plump poblano pepper gets filled with queso fresco (squeaky like fresh mozzarella) and dipped in an egg batter before receiving a golden-brown sear on a scorching flattop grill. Just the right amount of spicy red sauce, not too much, comes on top of the delicious stuffed pepper.
I was not impressed by the shredded beef enchiladas ($7.50), mostly because they were barely recognizable under the weight of all that greasy, melted orange cheese.
Carnitas ($8.50), on the other hand, are surely a noteworthy pick. Big pieces of seasoned and fried pork butt — tender and infused with aromatic spices — come next to shredded lettuce, chopped white onion and cilantro and a stripe of garlicky red salsa, served with steamed corn tortillas.
Like at most Mexican restaurants, some dishes are better than others at Azteca. Yet the eatery is incredibly affordable and the plates come with a smile.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Azteca Mexican Grill
Address: 10386 W. Ustick Road, Boise
Phone: (208) 514-0158
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Menu price range: appetizers, tacos, burritos and Mexican sandwiches $1.25-$7.50; combination and specialty plates $6-$12
Libation situation: Margaritas and lots of Mexican beers, including Dos Equis Amber, Tecate, Sol, Carta Blanca and Bohemia.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: May 2016