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Announcing Azul Tequila

Incredible flavors and a beautiful atmosphere

Posted: July 22, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Updated: July 22, 2011 6:00 a.m.

A unique Azul Tequila dish sure to please carnivores everywhere is the molcajete ($13.99), a decadent mix of beef, chicken, pork and chorizo, topped with shrimp and draped with grilled cactus.

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One of the very few things I miss about living in San Fernando was the plethora of authentic Mexican restaurants that seem to line every block. Sometimes these were hole-in-the walls that had zero ambiance, yet served amazing food.

Azul Tequila in Valencia, which opened this April, manages to bring home the incredible tastes of such a place in a beautiful atmosphere. With its dark blue walls, modern black leather booths and twinkly, multi-colored steel pendant lamps, you could call it Zen Mexican. Azul Tequila really is gorgeous, and festive, too, with salsa music playing overhead and three flat-screen TVs in the well-lit full bar.

The name comes from a Spanish soap opera favored by Marleny Merino of Saugus, an El Salvador native who runs the restaurant with her children Roman and Arlyn. Merino, who has run carnicerias and restaurants in Riverside and Lake Elsinore over the last few decades, studied cooking in Mexico City 20 years ago and fell in love with the flavors.

"It was the most delicious food," Merino said. "I enjoy this business, watching people who enjoy the food. It makes me happy."

Every dish I tried at Azul Tequila made me happy. The generous portion of camarones al mojo de ajo (or garlic shrimp, $13.99) are perfectly grilled, succulent, with a delectable, buttery white wine sauce that soaks into the fluffy Spanish rice. Even the beans were stellar - light and fresh, yet substantial.

"We make everything here daily. There is nothing frozen or with preservatives. All our meat is fresh and hand-cut," Merino said. "We use olive oil and the finest ingredients in everything. It's more expensive, but it's worth it."

Such attention to detail elevates the seemingly simple vegetarian fajitas ($10.99) into something special. Take two handmade flour tortillas, crisp them up and top with a bounty of fresh produce (red and green bell peppers, squash, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower) that's been marinated in white wine, add a blanket of melted imported cheese and you have a hearty dish to truly satisfy the pickiest vegetarian.

Of course, with their background in the carniceria business, you would expect the Merinos to produce fantastic meat dishes, and they do. The molcajete ($13.99) is dramatically presented in a huge lava rock bowl overflowing with pork, carne asada, chicken and homemade fire-red chorizo, topped with shrimp and draped with grilled cactus. Each carnivorous morsel is expertly grilled, imbued with just the right bit of smokiness.

A trio of three soft tacos ($7.99) featured chicken, carne asada and a rock star al pastor, small, tender chunks of pork topped with irresistible bits of crispy fat.

More specialties include pupusas ($8.99) served every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a California burrito ($9.99), stuffed with French fries, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and your choice of pastor, asada or chicken.

"The California burrito is really popular in San Diego and Riverside, so we brought it here and it's quickly becoming a bestseller," said Roman Merino.

Azul Tequila features happy hour specials from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (the restaurant closes between 3 and 5 p.m.) with $1 off draft and bottled beers, well drinks and margaritas. An $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffet with iced tea or soda (50 cents extra) is available every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. A breakfast menu is served Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

"This is traditional yet gourmet Mexican food," said Roman Merino. "It's a family restaurant, more than anything, where you can enjoy yourself in a nice, tranquil setting."

Azul Tequila is located at 25387 Wayne Mills Place, Valencia (cross streets are Tourney Road and Magic Mountain Parkway). Call (661) 254-5500.

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