Rua Visconde de Pirajá, 156 – Ipanema
Rio de Janeiro
Living in Chicago spoils one for taco choices: there are amazing taquerias everywhere, from the high-end fancy places to tried-and-true local establishments, and the price is nearly always right. But Brazil seems to have the opposite problem: Salvador has but a few Mexican restaurants, and Rio de Janeiro even less, proportionately. However, Mexican food fans in Rio now have a new option. The relatively new restaurant Azteka, helmed by transplanted Chicagoans Aglika Angelova and Miguel F. Campos, aims to bring Mexican street food to the streets of Rio. When we heard chef Campos was from Chicago, we knew we had to visit, especially since our Mexican food cravings were strong after months out of the country (the tortillas we managed to find in Lisbon didn’t exactly satiate our craving).
Azteka is a small restaurant, conveniently located right on Praca General Osorio in Ipanema. The decor is nice and modern, looking a little like a gussied up Chipotle. The menu at Azteka consists of burritos, tortas, tacos and quesadillas, with the choice of cochinta pibil (slow roasted pork), chicken, beef or pork al pastor. For starters there are dishes of house-made guacamole and pico de gallo. We ordered two cochinita pibil tacos for R$24 (about $12) and an Al Pastor quesadilla for R$ 26 (about $13). Both were excellent: really good flour tortillas are difficult to pull off, and these made-in-house versions were great. The cochinita pibil was full of flavor and the al pastor was juicy and tender, and just a little bit sweet. Salsas were stars of the toppings, but the tacos were never overdressed: just lime, onion, cilantro and a little cheese, all the hallmarks of taco chefs who know what they are doing.
That said, Rio is an expensive food town overall, and Azteka is no different. The tacos were fantastic, and would easily compete with the best we’ve had in Chicago, but the price was no comparison: we paid over US$30 for four total tacos at Azteka, when we would pay $10 or less back home. But there can be no argument with the quality of food, the depth of flavors, and the care put into their preparation. We will always pay more for excellent food, and we were happy when the quality matched the price in a city where that does not always happen. The food at Azteka is definitely tastier than your average La Pasadita back in Chicago. Azteka satisfied all of our Mexican food cravings, and if we lived in Rio we would certainly be regulars.