A version of this article was published earlier this week that was not intended to be published. The following version is the correct version. We apologize for the mistake.
Writing about food can be frustrating. Editors want the imperative information (Was it good? What did it look like? How much did it cost?), and they want it concisely. But in focusing so much on the superficial and the subjective, I worry that I am doing a disservice to the food and the hands that created it. Because as much as those details communicate, they only tell part of the story.
Often, what matters more is how the food fueled, complemented, played accessory to, or detracted from a lived experience.
That’s why I propose you go to Casa Azul—the new taqueria on Genesee Street— with your food soulmate. I further propose that together you linger at the bar, and you share tacos—as many as you can comfortably consume.
A food soulmate is someone whose food sensibilities are immutably synced with yours, and in whose company the act of eating is invariably heightened. My food soulmate is a person who, like me, relishes a basket of bread and butter with the gusto of a child opening presents on Christmas morning. It’s someone who has been known to drive 75 minutes on a whim to accompany me to one of our favorite restaurants. And it’s a person whose absence is especially conspicuous when I am tasting something thrilling in an unfamiliar place.
On a quiet holiday Monday, the food of Casa Azul proved to be an ideal vehicle for our reunion. Unimpaired by normal workday responsibilities, we took a leisurely lunch at the bar, which—for the time being—is dry. We didn’t miss the alcohol though; Casa Azul’s bebidas program inspired by traditional drinks of Mexico compensated. Tepache, a spice-infused hot punch made from steeped pineapple rinds, and milky, steaming atole, spiked with vanilla and thickened with corn flour were among the standouts. On the cool side of things, Casa Azul turns the latter into ice cream for its outrageously good atole milkshake. We split one of those and a watermelon agua fresca.
With beverages settled, we turned our attention to more substantial fare. For a couple of food soulmates, a menu like Casa Azul’s is fodder for playful deliberation and exploration. As a standard, the kitchen offers 11 tacos, each showcasing a different feature ingredient, accoutrement, flavor profile, and cooking method. It also counts tongue, pig’s feet, and sweetbreads among its menu staples, which is a rare measure of offal for a Buffalo restaurant.
That Casa Azul manages intrigue and variety within a well-hemmed concept and at a reasonable price point, for us, added to its appeal. It’s food that’s conducive to debate, discussion, and cooperative decision making (i.e., human interaction). It promotes sharing, experimentation, lingering, and learning. It’s what elevates Casa Azul’s food from basic fuel to the stuff of experiences.
Fortunately, a sleeper benefit of dining with your food soulmate is there are no qualms about sharing something as intimately messy as a taco, which affords you the opportunity to sample many tacos. After some hemming and hawing, we placed an order for six: chile-marinated, spit-roasted pork with pineapple, cilantro, and onion; mildly gamey goat, seeping with its braising juices; calabazas squash with cojita and pepitas; tender fried sweetbreads adorned with tart pomegranate seeds; charcoal-redolent carne asada; and rich pork belly with black bean puree and candied peanuts. While we waited for our food, we raided the ambitious condiment bar, where customers can help themselves to the likes of beet-pickled serrano onions, thinly sliced radishes, pickled habanero onions, pico de gallo, and tomatillo salsa.
Each was distinctly and elegantly seasoned, and each came piled atop a house-made, hand-formed masa tortilla that brought the earthy sweetness of freshly ground corn to the equation. If you go, be sure to try each taco before you add toppings to get a sense of the chef’s intentions and what it might need to meet your personal taco preferences. Then you and food soulmate can playful argue over which sauces and pickles go best with which style. And in between bites and sips of cooling milkshake after food soulmate is a little too liberal with the habaneros, maybe you’ll trade endearing jabs, giggle over an old joke, or share something poignant. And suddenly, food begets an occasion that turns into a memory.
The idea of cutting our memory short led to a second round of tacos: battered fish with cilantro and avocado cream on a beetroot tortilla and carnitas-style trotter with pickled cauliflower, celery, and carrots on a savory chocolate tortilla—plus a side of chips.
Two hours later, if you’re anything like us, you’ll leave full and content, not simply because of the quality (and quantity) of food you consumed but because of the nourishing experience the food fostered. At risk of sounding trite, the tumult of daily life can be distracting. It can pull you away from the people you love, and forces beyond your control can make it can be difficult to set things aright. But at Casa Azul, we paused reality to playfully chide each other’s condiment application skills and reminisce about the first time we ate tongue together (it was at Black Hoof in Toronto). And for a short time, everything was perfect.
And that’s more meaningful than knowing if the al pastor was “good.” (For the record, it was.)
Casa Azul | 128 Genesee Street | Buffalo, New York | (716) 331-3869 | Facebook