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Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010

South Milwaukee’s Friendly, Affordable Azteca

Mexican food worth a visit to this quiet suburb

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South Milwaukee is home to large factories, but it doesn’t have much of a downtown area. There is a strip of about three blocks, but restaurants and even bars are few in number. One place, however, does stand out: Azteca, and its artificial saguaro cactus standing on the sidewalk with a sign announcing a lunch buffet and happy hour.

Booths and tables with imitation red leather tablecloths fill the interior, and fans occupy spots on the ornamental tin ceiling. One wall attempts to resemble the porch of a hacienda overlooking the desert countryside. At the far back is a small bar with the usual drinks.

The buffet is popular, but only those who are extremely hungry or in a rush should use it. The menu is better, and its prices are reasonable.

At first the menu appears to be just like dozens of others in the area, with fajitas, chimichangas and the usual cast of characters, but you’ll also find items like menudo, pozole and a decent mole. Even simple items like guacamole ($5.75) are about as good as they get. The perfectly ripe avocados offer maximum flavor. Chips and salsa arrive free of charge; the tomato-ey salsa is on the mild side, with just a hint of hot pepper.

Besides the menudo and pozole, a number of other soups are available as well, including beef, chicken and shrimp options. Most of the soups are served in large bowls, with the exception of sopa azteca ($3.50). Along with a chicken broth base and plenty of tortilla strips, there are small pieces of avocado, queso fresco and a big dollop of sour cream in the center. The soup is already mild in flavor, so skip the sour cream. For a spicier option, try an item called costa brava ($10.99). It is a shrimp soup featuring eight jumbo crustaceans peeled with just the tail remaining. Larger shrimp often lose flavor, but these prove to be the exception. The broth contains carrot, potato and celery, and a plate with chopped cilantro, onions and lime wedges comes on the side—the usual setup. The difference here is the addition of whole chipotle peppers, which add a mild to medium spicy kick to this delicious soup. It is an effort to finish all of it.

Lomo de res en chile de arbol ($9.25) is billed as “very hot.” This entrée includes pieces of steak in a red arbol chile sauce. Arbol chiles sometimes approach the heat of habanero peppers, but that is not the case here. This sauce rates as a medium, though it still has the hint of sweetness of arbol chiles. It is served with good orange-hued rice, decent if runny refried beans with cheese, and lettuce with a tomato slice. It’s a big platter of food.

Pollo con mole poblano ($9.50) is chicken with the most common mole found locally: poblano. The mole poblano is made here at Azteca and has a rich chocolate flavor with chile pepper undertones. It is too bad that the chicken is not meatier. A thigh and leg portion with the bone in disappeared too quickly, leaving the remainder of that delicious sauce for the flour tortillas.

If you live in the nearby area, the above-average Mexican fare of Azteca is well worth a visit. The menu is good enough for those who want to venture beyond the ground beef tacos of the lunch buffet. It also is a good place for families. In fact, this is probably the perfect Mexican restaurant for this quiet suburb—friendly and affordable.n

Azteca

901 Milwaukee Ave.

(414) 766-0450

$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, DS

Smoke-Free

Handicap Access: Yes

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