It was Chef Dominica Rice of Cosecha posting a picture of three tacos on Instagram that brought me to Aztecali, a new Mexican restaurant in Oakland. If it’s good enough for Chez Panisse trained Chef Dominica, it’s definitely good enough for me. The owners Juana and Claudia opened up this small neighborhood establishment close to Adam’s Point in January.
My first visit there was technically a pre-visit. I had already made a plan to go the next day, but was checking out the location on my way home from work. Driving up north on Oakland Avenue from Lake Merritt is a usual route I take and I never noticed a business on the left, let alone a restaurant. With a parking spot in front, I pulled over and walked into Aztecali.
Claudia greeted me and went through their menu printed on brown paper on the wall. It was too early for dinner, but I could use a late afternoon snack. I ordered the chicken tinga tostada and ate it there. It was love at first bite. The sweet, bold aromatics of the chicken tinga braised in a chipotle sauce was a match to the creamy black beans, the fresh cabbage, and the crispy delicious tortilla that held it all together.
I had let Claudia and Juana know that I would be back the next day when they opened at 10:30am. Chef Juana asked me if I liked eggs. I answered yes. She asked me if I liked chilaquiles. I answered that I loved chilaquiles. Chef Juana said if I came back tomorrow, she would make me some.
As promised I returned for a late breakfast the next morning with a friend. We hadn’t had our coffee yet, so we ordered the iced High Wire coffee with horchata. It was a refreshing beverage and a nice treat.
The chilaquiles that were specially being made for me were cooked in a lovely green sauce and came with a side of black beans, avocado, crema, and topped with a runny egg. Using both my fingers and my fork, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every crisp and delicious chip on the plate.
My friend ordered the three tacos so she could try each of the three meats – beef, chicken, and pork. She especially enjoyed the barbacoa, beef marinated and braised in an adobo sauce, so much that she ordered a beef burrito “togo” for her lunch she would eat later in the day.
About a week later, I convinced another friend to split a barbacoa torta with me. She actually is from Mexico City and was excited to see this style of cooking at Aztecali. Using Acme bread as the vessel to the juicy and flavorful filling of the beef with refried black beans, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and crema was perfect.
The fresh ingredients and homestyle cooking at Aztecali has gotten me hooked. Three visits within a week is evidence enough.