You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Azteca Restaurant in Bridgeport. The business, which opened in June, doesn’t have a publicist on the payroll, and unless you happen to live in this somewhat-out-of-the-way neighborhood of Bridgeport, you’re not likely to drive past it.
But if you’re lucky, someone will recommend this hidden gem of Mexican cuisine to you. I first heard about it via an Instagram post singing its praises by Bill Taibe, the chef and owner of Westport’s Kawa Ni, The Whelk and Jesup Hall. Later I read a ctbites.com story by Andrew Dominick that was equally glowing. (Dominick had visited the restaurant on Taibi’s recommendation.)
In multiple visits since, I’ve found the praise justified. Owned by husband and wife Basilio and Elizabeth Vasquez, and their grown children Nancy and David, Azteca is open and inviting with a full bar and a roomy layout with large wooden chairs and tables that make it a great place for gatherings. But what really sets it apart is the food.
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“We don’t use any canned stuff. Everything is prepped here,” David says. He adds that his mother is the leader of the kitchen and develops most of the recipes, based on what she made growing up in Mexico.
The guacamole would be showstopping all on its own, but is taken to the next level served with sliced pieces of a sizzling fried ribeye. It’s an idea that comes courtesy of bar manager Jose Quevas, who David says has helped add modern twists to the menu. The tacos come on housemade tortillas; varieties include classics like carnitas and pastor as well as my favorites, sirloin and camarones al coco (coconut shrimp). Tacos come three to an order and are huge; two of them are arguably enough for a meal. Other highlights include the mole and other classics like quesadillas and enchiladas.
The Vasquez family has owned the adjacent Azteca Market for six years, and saw the opportunity for opening a full restaurant when Azteca Restaurant’s current space became available. As a result, they have an onsite butcher whose fresh cuts of meat add quality to that portion of the menu. But they don’t skimp when it comes to vegetarian options. The coliflores al bufalo is perfectly fried cauliflower with buffalo sauce and a side of blue cheese dressing.
Quevas creates the drink recipes. “He’s got some magic when it comes to drinks,” David says. I agree. The traditional margarita, clearly made with fresh lime juice and other house-prepped ingredients, is one of the best I’ve had. Drinks like whiskey smash and Azteca piña colada are also house favorites.
Dessert lives up to the quality of the main meal. In the early 2000s, the family owned La Fondita Mexican Grill in Yonkers, New York, and they still get their desserts from a Yonkers pastry shop called La Piñata Bakery. In addition to flan and other desserts, the restaurant offers several flavors of tres leches cakes including caramel and raspberry. These are rich and delightfully decadent. I always order them, even when I’m full. I regret it, but I’d regret it more if I didn’t. And if you’re a fan of traditional Mexican cuisine, you’ll regret not paying Azteca a visit.
522 Pequonnock St., Bridgeport
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-9 p.m.