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I love good Mexican food.  It’s something of a guilty pleasure – fried chips, cheese, mounds of meat, spicy sauces. Though after taking Mexican cooking classes with Shelley Wiseman at The Farm Cooking School, I’ve become very hard to please!

Aztlan raises the bar, serving up a huge variety of Mexican and Tex-mex dishes, both familiar and new. Chef/owner Edgar Castro, who was the chef at the popular Tortugas before buying the restaurant, has crafted a new menu. The dishes, heavily influenced by his youth in Mexico City, artfully melds dishes and flavors from all over Mexico as well as retaining many of the familiar Ameri-Mex that we’ve all come to know.

In fact, Aztlan has done something so special that they received a “very good” from the New York Times food reviewer. The Times is known for their tough reviews, so this is high praise! Based on our dining experiences at Aztlan, they’ve earned their accolades.

Since we’ve eaten at Aztlan several times, we expected large servings. Since it was just Evy and me, we were hesitant to order appetizers, but knowing that I was going to write a review, I ordered the Nachos Tinga (shown in the featured image of this review).

Wow! These were perhaps the best nachos I’ve ever had. That includes nachos sampled in Texas, San Diego and other locations known for their Tex-Mex cuisine. Reading the description, I knew I was in for a treat: “Crispy corn tortillas  topped with refried beans, caramelized onions, shredded chicken, chipotle, lettuce, queso fresco and  crema.”

He had me at “caramelized onions!”

These nachos are different than those you’ve probably had elsewhere which are basically a plate of chips smothered in melted cheese and some meat product. First off, the plate was *huge* – no way we could eat the entire thing (as much as I wanted to). One could easily eat this as an entree. Beyond that, it was absolutely delicious. The chicken was flavorful and juicy, complemented by the amazing sweetness of the caramelized onions. The chipotle sauce gave it the complex smokiness that I love in authentic Mexican and the refried beans added a creaminess. Importantly, the chips were crispy, something I don’t usually experience in nachos. Finally, it was all topped with Mexican cheeses – queso fresco and crema instead of the typical melted Jack cheese or cheddar. It all worked wonderfully and left me happy and ready to try the main courses.

Evy and I decided to try a couple of entrees from the Times review – the Tijuana fried fish tacos and the hanger steak house special.

Aztlan Arachera - hanger steak

The steak was cooked exactly to the temperature ordered (not common for Mexican restaurants where everything is usually “well done”), and smothered with a spicy, flavorful sauce. The combination was delicious and left me wanting more. The sauce really made the dish with it’s combination of flavors and just enough heat to please the palate.

Having spent considerable time out west and getting hooked on fresh fish tacos, we knew we had to try Aztlan’s take on this popular dish. The question was, which style? Grilled or fried? Since we usually have batter fried fish tacos and are picky about that style of preparation, we wanted to see just how good Chef Castro was 🙂

Aztlan Tijuana tacos

The answer is: “very good indeed!” The fish was perfectly fried – crisp and flavorful. After my first bite, I was a convert – these were, hands down, the best fried fish tacos I’ve eaten in a Mexican restaurant! Admittedly, I was dubious – the preparation was so simple.  But with a dab of hot sauce and a little salsa, the flavors melded into something addictive. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but the result had Evy and me grinning, repeatedly muttering about how good they were between bites. It’s going to be hard to order something different next time we eat at Aztlan.

Aztlan patioIf you go on a nice night, remember to sit on the patio out back. The relaxed atmosphere may not be elegant, but I love eating al fresco in our area. The fresh air and sunshine somehow elevates the dining experience, leaving you relaxed and ready to partake in some truly satisfying Mexican cuisine.

All-in-all, Aztlan surpassed our expectations. Fresh ingredients, perfect preparation and creative cuisine set a new standard for Mexican dining in the area. We’ll be going again!

Aztlan is truly a “hidden gem” – located in a location a block from Bridge Street in a location that can be hard to find in Lambertville. To get there,  head north on Main street and take a left at the first left on Church street. Aztlan is hidden behind Mitchell’s, about 2/3 the way down the block. Search for it – you’ll be glad you did!

Aztlan Mexican Grill
11 Church Street
Lambertville, NJ 08530

Google Maps link – with photos, other reviews and more information