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Published: Wednesday, 10/27/2010

Restaurant Reviews: Plaza Azteca * * * *

Plaza Azteca, at 5125 Monroe St., is part of a small but growing restaurant chain based in Virginia that serves authentic Mexican food. The decor is typical, faux villa courtyard, but if it seems familiar, that's because the restaurant inhabits the former El Rodeo and remains largely unchanged. The bar area is small, and there is a patio adjacent to the parking lot.

We visited Plaza Azteca twice recently and were impressed with the prompt service, as we were greeted with fresh tortilla chips, salsa, and a spicy ranch dip as soon as we were seated.

On a dinner visit on a crowded weeknight, one of our companions ordered the seafood chimichangas ($12.56) and remarked they were the best chimichangas she has eaten. The sweet-tasting tortillas were stuffed with shrimp and crab meat and "were so good they could be dessert."

One true test of a good Mexican restaurant is its steak fajitas ($11.24), and Plaza Azteca passed with flying colors (provided by the fresh red and green peppers), as they were plentiful, tender, and delicious.

The chori-pollo ($11.25), grilled chicken topped with chorizo and nacho cheese, had a smoky flavor that was complemented nicely with the subtle kick of the sausage. The dish was served with refried beans, as were the others, which were worth noting because they tasted fresh.

The chicken chimichangas ($10) is exactly what you would want in a chimichanga -- crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside -- and the cheese sauce made the dish.

Another measure of a good Mexican restaurant -- at least for some -- is its margaritas. Plaza Azteca's margaritas ($4.75/$15 for a pitcher) are strong with a classic flavor and some of the best we have had in the Toledo area.

We returned for a lunch visit on a Sunday just after the restaurant opened at noon. Once again the service was impeccable.

The tacos al pastor ($9.50) featured three cantina-style pork tacos served on corn tortillas with pico de gallo, onions, and cilantro. They rivaled the tasty tacos you might find at authentic Mexican supermarkets. I highly recommend the tomatillo sauce served with the dish. You won't be sorry.

The only disappointments during our two visits came with our other lunch orders. The chicken quesadilla and two beef tacos ($6.24) on the lunch special menu were ordinary. The beef was bland and lacked seasoning, but the quesadilla was tender and good.

Our companion suffered the same problem with her enchiladas supreme ($8.84). The beef enchilada was almost flavorless, but the others -- chicken, shredded beef, and cheese -- were excellent, with the shredded beef being the highlight.

Plaza Azteca's menu offers other interesting items, including lobster enchiladas ($9.55) and tilapia Veracruz ($10.99), and we look forward to trying them.

Contact Bill of Fare at: fare@theblade.com

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