Relocating from Genesee Street to Allen Street was a great move for Casa Azul. Not only does the single floor of seating (instead of two floors) make it easier for servers to accommodate diners, there’s just something about being situated at such a high profile corner that adds to the overall dining experience.
My wife and I finally made it over to the new Allentown location this past Saturday. We arrived shortly after 5pm, and the place was already bustling with activity. We ended up waiting for a couple of barstools, so that we could be within eyesight of the 50 tequila and 20 mezcal selections (with some small batch selections).
As we waited, we looked around at the surroundings, which included a living wall on the Elmwood side of the room. We also noticed the beautiful tile floor that had been installed. My wife pointed out that there was no readily visible draught system, which meant that there were no tap handles obscuring the sightlines of the back bar. It was an aspect that I might not have noticed, but when she mentioned it I realized that there was a different feel to the bar, which made interacting with the barkeeps effortless. It turns out that this was a conscious decision – the draught handles are inconspicuously hidden at bar level, which is very clever (although not readily apparent).
Once we were seated at barstools, it didn’t take long for us to settle in. We perused the drink menu, settling on a can of Tecate for my wife and a mezcal margarita for me. While she stuck with the Tacates, my second drink was a tequila mule, which really hit the spot (our bartender was kind enough to switch out the tequila for mezcal).
Honestly, with the pandemic, it had been quite a while since we have frequented such a lively establishment, with so many people. It took us a little bit to adjust to the culture shock, but before long it was business as usual. Our bartender told us that we were lucky to get there when we did, because by 7:30pm the place would be at another level.
Eventually we got around to ordering a trio of tacos – the Brussels sprout, the fish (cod), and the roasted cauliflower and shishito peppers. Tasting the Brussels sprout, I thought that it was one of the best tacos that I had ever tried – the salsa macha, roasted peanuts, candied sesame seed, and cilantro came together perfectly (sweet and smoky). And the house tortilla was spectacular. I could have eaten three more, they were that spot on. My wife said that the fish taco was the best one that she had ever had in Buffalo – the concoction of beer battered cod, beet marinated onion, spicy herb aioli, and cilantro was all around delightful. Neither of these tacos required any hot sauce, which is a testament to their undoctored deliciousness. As for the cauliflower taco, we both felt that it needed salt and acid, but that a splash of hot sauce would also go a long way. Next time.
As we ate, we noticed on the menu that there was a notation that customers could opt to buy the kitchen a round of drinks for $10, so we did. Seeing that my wife has cooked in a professional kitchen before, she felt that that was a very kind gesture. Sometimes the back of the house wants to be a part of the action, and feel appreciated. She had seen other restaurants do this outside of Buffalo, but this was the first time that she noticed this option at a local restaurant. She also commented that the staff seemed genuinely happy to be working there – everyone was in a very cheerful state of mind.
Other than the so-so cauliflower taco, the only other thing that was a bit off was the random music, which didn’t appear to have any consistency. It kept bouncing from traditional Mexican to Bowie, and everything in-between. The vibe of the place, and the authentic food and drinks, calls for authentic Mexican tunes – not the over-the-top blaring horns, but upbeat sections along the lines of Los Folkloristas or Son De Madera.
A couple of other items of interest that I really enjoyed were the traditional copitas cups that the mezcal was poured into, as well as the slowly turning single-blade ceiling fans. It’s small touches like this that make for better overall experiences.
A friend of ours – Kristie Pottle – has been raving about the new Casa Azul. She had this to say about her food experience:
I have tried several items on the menu and found it to be pretty fantastic all around. The guacamole is fresh and the pepitas add a nice nuttiness to the classic preparation. The queso fundido with barbacoa has the heat of habanero mixed with a bit of sweetness while successfully fulfilling the gooey expectations of a great cheesy dip. The rice & beans starter was a welcomed surprise of crisp brightness that made it stand out from traditional versions.
I did not love the heavy chips, as I am a huge fan of the really light, crispy tortillas but I respect that they are made in house. I would love to see some veggie chips, fresh vegetables or escabeche offered with the dips. The charred Caesar is far from a grilled salad. The grilled Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, smokey garlicky dressing, pumpkin seeds, and cheese mix perfectly to rival any classic Caesar salad. The tacos are unique combinations of flavors around a main ingredient, so it is hard to choose just three for the trio. The Brussels sprout taco pulls in the smokiness of matcha, salty peanuts and sesame seeds to elevate this beloved vegetable even more.
The traditional al pastor taco is the closest to the famous street versions in Mexico that I have tried locally. The fish taco has a perfectly fried piece of cod, pickled onions, and aioli. The cauliflower, beef barbacoa and chicken confit tacos also shine, so $13 for 3 of these makes for a great taco night.
The house specialties are a must try. The pescado dish is Casa Azul’s absolute star for me. Combining black garlic with cod then simmering it in a corn broth is pure magic! The house made mole features a bean & cheese enchilada topped with their house version of mole verde sauce (I had it with chicken added.) I particularly loved the balance of the savory & sweet green mole sauce with the requeson, a cheese similar to ricotta. We opted for a glass of anejo tequila to sip for dessert rather than actual sweets, so someone must try the mezcal infused chocolate mousse and let me know how it is!