Azteka Mexican Restaurant in Rio de Janeiro

I know it’s a bit strange to be eating mexican in Brazil, but I had read a number of good reviews about this place and didn’t really feel like any of the heavy Brazil options for dinner. One of the reasons Azteka, located on the main tourist street in Ipanema, gets good reviews is that it is owned by mexican owners and the food is apparently very authentic.

They serve a pretty strong caipirinha.

And, of course, they make a mean margherita as well.

Inside they have a TV screen that proved popular with Brazil playing in the Confederation Cup and probably about eight or ten small tables inside with room for a few more on the street pavement outside.

I opted for some nachos while I waited which turned out pretty tasty. The chicken topping was flavoursome and the cheese just starting to melt. The chips were light, and tasted like they had been freshly made. All very good signs.

By this time I had finished off one of my drinks and was starting to get a bit more peckish. I was a bit undecided since there looked to be so many good options.

I ended up ordering a mole-chicken burrito with a spicy (piccante) sauce. Knowing that Brazilians don’t really use a lot of chili, I was interested to see if spicy was actually going to be really spicy. It was hot, pleasantly so and a good balance of flavour. It wasn’t really like the deep flavoured mole chicken really needed it. This burrito was also slightly different since it also had a been toasted afterwards, a pleasant surprise that worked really well.

All in all, I was pretty happy with this food choice and can highly recommend this place.

Name: Azteka
Found at: Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 156 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Jim Burrito’s, Hamburg

You can find Jims Burrito’s in the heart of Sternschanze, a lively area of Hamburg. Easily spotted from the street, their icon is the face of a person wearing a mexican wrestling mask. We went here, after a long session at the gym, and we were warned that it would be a significant wait. Wait, we did, for almost forty minutes.

Since we were eating with Maria (who is from Mexico), I was told the food was pretty authentic. They offered tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchilads, all with different sorts of meats and non-meat options. I went for a seitan equivalent seeing as it was my vegetarian day.

The place is outfitted with some fun signs, including one talking about the wait, some translations about the types of food and ingredients and plenty of bottles of hot sauces dotted around (even spotted a very vietnamese Rooster chilli sauce that seemed a bit of place)

I asked for my quesidilla “ganz scharf” (quite spicy) and they obliged by throwing a few more chillis into the mix. The quesidills arrived with small bowls of sour cream, salsa and the best guacamole I’ve ever eaten. I could probably eat bowls of that stuff. Best I don’t though for my own health. The salsa had a good kick of its own and I was eating everyone elses beacuse I wanted something quite spicy.

Good food, very cheap and super tasty.

Name: Jim Burrito’s
Found at: Schulterblatt 12, 20357 Hamburg, Germany

Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill

I’m a huge fan of the Top Chef series and was even more excited about coming to Chicago to try to get a taste of Rick Bayless’ cooking after learning about him from the Top Chef Masters competition. He has quite a collection of restaurants in Chicago but I heard about one of his restaurants that you didn’t need to book one month in advance for, the Frontera Grill.

I organised to meet with a few friends there and we put our name down shortly at 6pm when they opened only to already be told that we’d have to wait at least two hours before we’d be seated. Fortunately I wasn’t so hungry from a very big brunch earlier in the day. We headed out to Sable for some drinks as the bar at Frontera was far too busy for our liking and returned when we were called about two and half hours later.

This is us dining after finally getting a table!

We ordered the sample platter of appetisers to share, a number of obligatory margaritas and of course a tamale to try. In most other places, mexican food tends to be a bit bland when served. What surprised me when we tucked into the platter was how everything that so much vibrancy, flavour and life. The dishes didn’t really blur together and each had very distinct flavours that you can try. There was even some ceviche on the platter (more peruvian than mexican) but I didn’t really complain as we ate it all. The guacamole tasted rich and went perfectly with the home-made corn chips.

I also wanted to try the tamales as I’d had one at a mexican take out place and was disappointed by the dry, cornmeal steamed around a pitiful amount of meat. Our waiter actually brought us the wrong tamale to begin with (a plain one) that actually had a lot of fresh flavours and was very promising. I’m glad that when the real chicken tamale arrived, I wasn’t disappointed by the bursts of flavours contained in the golden yellow husks.

For the main I had to order the pork mole, the more traditional of the ones listed on their menu. In total I think they had three or four different varieties including a green mole for fish, and a duck or chicken mole as well. I’m glad I went with this traditional dish, hoping to feel the rich, dark and complex flavours that mole is supposed to have and that Bayless delivered impeccably.

We split for dessert, the banana bread mainly because I really wanted to try it and figured I wouldn’t be back at the Frontera Grill for some time to come. It came with toasted walnuts, caramelised banana and some home made ice cream to provide relief from the richness of the entire dish.

I had high expectations for the entire experience and other than the having to wait for a table, the restaurant definitely delivered on all the points it was supposed to be. I can’t think of any of the dishes being flavourless and all of my friends also commenting on how great everything was.

Name: Frontera Grill
Found at: 445 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60610, United States

Zarela’s New York

On this trip to the States, I didn’t get my burrito fix. The plan was to head to the Chipotle Test Kitchen where a former Iron Chef contender was currently working. Instead we ended up at Zarela’s, apparently one the places to first champion the Mexican cuisine. I thought I only knew about this place through reading until I walked inside and realised that Gerrod and Kristy took me there for a pre-dinner drink many years ago.

If I had one or two of their frozen marghertia’s that probably explains it since they were so strong. A tried the guava flavoured one this time, and almost went an instant red (Asian blush) from the first sip. Tasty though.

Whilst we perused the menu, they brought a bowl of corn chips with salsa and coriander-based sauce (don’t know the name of it). Based on these alone, things were going to be good. The corn chips were light and crisp, and thick that I hope indicates they’re home made. The salsa had layers of complexity and easily out did anything you could buy off a supermarket shelf. A good start.

We weren’t quite sure what to get off the menu, but in the in decided for Chilaquiles (Crisp corn tortilla strips, shredded sautéed chicken, sour cream and white cheese baked in a casserole with either a tangy tomatillo or ranchera sauce). Pretty delicious though I thought that was a bit of a cheese overload.

I try to eat mole whenever I can, understanding how difficult the process is that goes into this complex, chocolate based sauce so I ordered the Enchiladas de Pollo (Corn tortillas filled with chicken and cheese, baked with a mole). It came even with a salad on top but I really enjoyed the complex flavours that permeated the enitre dish. The chicken was tender, the sauce deep although I wish it had a bit more of chilli kick.

For mains I got the Barbacoa de Carnero (Shredded lamb barbacoa slow-roasted in an ancho chile adobo over avocado leaves). The lamb was pleasingly tender, already cooked to the point where it fell apart with a fork. I’m glad that it didn’t have all the fatty bits as well because the texture of the dish was all soft, particularly since the entire dish had been plated on top of two whole soft flour tortillas. The sauce was great though.

Whilst my dining companion took it a bit less challenging with the Manchamanteles de Pato (Roasted half duck served with a tomato red chile sauce with dried apricots, prunes, raisins and pineapple), a dish I’d be happier to call “Sweet and sour duck”. The duck was a bit too fatty for my liking, but at least it was tender and cooked really well.

I’d really like to go back and try a number of other dishes on their menu. It certainly deserved the recognition it’s got for good food. I can’t comment on how authentic the Mexican tastes are but it seems a whole lot better than the meagre one or two places we have in London.

Name: Zarela’s (closed)
Former location: 953 2nd Avenue, New York, NY, 10022

Barburitto Liverpool One

Burritos in Liverpool? Yup and this time provided by a growing chain apparently popular in the North of England. This can only be a good thing for the state of mexican food in the UK. You can find this burrito making join, Barburitto just outside the cinemas at the top of the Liverpool One complex.

Their store is a little daunting with the start of the queue at the door. This gives little time to actually think about what you’d like before lining up and ordering. Fortunately with much practice at places like Daddy Donkey, I was all set to order. The slow cooked pork is always a good test and despite wanting to have the spiciest salsa on the menu, the draw of the smoky chipotle (medium) drew me to order it.

They had a reasonable deal of a chicken burrito with corn chips and salsa and bottomless soft drinks (fountain-stlye) for £4.50 but I still opted for the pork burrito to see how it went. Served with beans, rice, lettuce for free, it’s another 50p to add mushrooms (the English twist) and another 50p to add peppers. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be extra if you went for a fajita burrito instead. Usual additional cost for the guacamole.

The verdict? A reasonably well made burrito with enough flavour to make it not worth trying again. The size was also very reasonable for a lunch time meal, although it’s not as big as the ones they make at Daddy Donkey. Unfortunately I didn’t really taste the smokiness of the chipotle salsa and I would definitely try to the hottest one next time.

Name: Barburrito
Found at: The Galleria, 14 Paradise Street, Liverpool, L1 8JF, United Kingdom

Nineteen Ten Mexican Kitchen

Nineteen Ten is a welcome addition to one of the food courts found at Shepherd’s Bush Westfield shopping centre. Unlike many of the other “chain” presents, Nineteen Ten is independently owned and run, serving a mean selection of tacos, burritos and fajitas very much in the californian-mexican trend that has been hitting London. It’s bright yellow sign attracts people to the sign and they even have little menus to take with you if you want to simply think about what you want as you shop.

Nineteen Ten Burrito

Ordering is simple. You walk up, wait in the queue, and ask for burrito/taco/fajita with one of the many meats. They were out of the barbacoa meat (anything that’s been cooked for a long time is my sort of ideal dish) so I ended up with a steak fajita. Unlike many of the other burrito joints around town, they actually use a flavoured rice (I think lime), and a little bit more of a variety of choice when it comes to fillings including two types of beans. I didn’t have the guacamole but my sister did and she said it was wonderful.

Serving size wise, it seemed about the same size as what I’d get at Freebird, or Daddy Donkey although at Westfield you end up with a plate as well as foil, so at least you won’t end up dripping it on yourself. Priced at £5.50, my burrito was pretty good value, and was very tasty.

I’d definitely recommend this place if you want something different and you happen to be in this area of town. I can’t say that I’d go out of my way just to get here (although I did for this particular visit) but I would definitely return again.

Name: Nineteen Ten Mexican Kitchen
Location: Westfield Shopping Centre, Shepherd’s Bush/White City
The Good: Tasty, fresh and reasonably sized burrito. Guacamole was apparently quite tasty. A wider variety of filings to choose from.
The Not So Good: Asking for extra hot wasn’t particularly hot, and like with pretty much the rest of the food court, you almost have to fight for a place at lunchtime.

Benito’s Hat – Mexican Kitchen

benitoshatWhat’s better than some hot Mexican food to warm you up when it’s cold outside? At least that’s what I thought when I dropped past Goodge Street to grab a quick bite to eat at Benito’s Hat before heading out for the evening. Unfortunately my glasses didn’t quite agree with me and fogged up so bad that I had to wait five minutes before I could properly see the menu board upon walking in. I, therefore, have to give bonus points to the attendant there who gave me a takeaway menu so that I could read it while my glasses defogged.

Benito’s Hat is one of the many burrito places cropping up around town. Much like Mexicali, they give you a small handful of corn chips with your burrito but for me, the real test, is whether or not the burrito tastes great. The menu is simple, and although they offer seating, it’s an order-pay-sit affair with no real table service. At least they offer some beer and margarita to wash down your drink. I had a steak burrito competitively priced against all other burrito places for £5.50 and although I asked for it to be extra hot and some additional chillis, it didn’t quite hit the same level I get at Daddy Donkey.

burritoName: Benito’s Hat – Mexican Kitchen
Found at: 6 Goodge St, Greater London, W1T 4
The Good: Many tables to eat your burritos, and some alcoholic beverages to turn a simple take away into a little bit more of a dinner out. Plenty of options and it’s warm inside when it’s cold out.
The Not So Good: The steak was a little on the tough side, and didn’t turn out to have anything that made it stand out. The salsa tasted much better than the bland-as Mexicali, though to me, still doesn’t stand out to either Daddy D or Freebird Burritos.