El Azteco was a go-to for me before the pandemic closed restaurants throughout Michigan and the whole U.S., but since it re-opened their patio when the dining ban was softened, it has been one of the only places I tend to frequent locally. Their staff has done an outstanding job blocking seats on the new patio at the back of the building as well as inside, where you see tables “reserved” for everyone from George Clooney to Jackie Chan. This place has taken the limited capacity rules in stride and with a smile. At least I think that’s what’s going on behind the masks!
There are those that might think the cooking style isn’t super-authentic, but as I learned early on, there are many versions of “authentic” with so many regions in Mexico as well taking into account Tex-Mex. This leans that direction with yellow cheese and heartier, homier, comfort-food type dishes.
The “least” hearty is probably the famous Topopo Salad. Heaps of lettuce mixed with everything from tomato to scallions to peas and it includes chicken. You can get a half order but why? It’s not worth saving literally a couple of bucks. Split it if you must, but it can easily go home!
The rest of the menu basically boils down to typical Mexican entrees served up with one of three house-made sauces:
- Chile Verde: what they call “spicy” when they ask “do you want it spicy or mild” has jalapeno. It is always what I order.
- Chile Colorado: the famous “mild” red sauce.
- Mole: a little sweeter dark sauce with a hint of chocolate.
In my opinion, the best things on the menu are the Chimichanga (with guacamole on top), their fantastically crispy flautas, the Huevos Rancheros (if you’re feeling like eggs!) and my personal favorite: the Enchiladas de Jocoque– which I ask to have with beef baked into since they are stuffed with cheddar.
If you order any enchilada dish, you get a sopapilla. Something which I honestly haven’t asked for since pre-Covid. I get so full there but if you’re in town and just giving the place a try, order up- and drizzle the honey all over it. It reminds me of growing up in Holland Michigan and the scent on the block of my old college room-mates grandmother’s house during the Cinco de Mayo celebrations back in the 80s.
Not incredibly hungry or in the mood to try several different things? You can get burritos, tacos, gorditas and more a la carte.
But whatever you order, do not leave without trying the cheese dip! OK, I will warn you now, this is not gooey hot cheese; their version, which has inspired TONS of copycat versions online, is cold. Click here if you don’t believe me. I know it sounds nuts if you’re not familiar with the creamy goodness El Az is known for but if you are any bit a foodie at heart, it is a must. It’s a mix of cottage cheese and Monterey Jack with sour cream, spiced up. You will love it or hate it reading that, but everyone I’ve ever known that has tried it craves it later.
Double opportunity: There is also an East Lansing location blocks from Michigan State University (MSU)! This is truly the more “famous” location; it’s the one with the rooftop bar. Many an MSU student (as well as locals, faculty, and alum) have gathered up there for pitchers of their famous red sangria, margaritas, or a Dos Equis. This location is actually the “new” (20 years?) East Lansing location. When I started MSU back in 1988, El Az was in the basement through some really narrow stairwell in between two building on M.A.C. Ave. It was the ultimate throwback with red shag carpet and velvet art on walls. I must admit, I secretly miss the original, as much of a fire hazard as it likely was!
|1016 West Saginaw Street, Lansing, Michigan 48915, United States|
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