If you know me, you probably know that over the past several months, I have rather impatiently waited for the opening of Rey Azteca, a Mexican restaurant, here in State College. Finally, it happened. Today. And I was there for dinner, along with the family and two of our friends who have also waited for this day with great anticipation.
I have seen absolutely NO advertising for Rey Azteca; no official announcements for their opening; no signs in the window with an opening date; and until today, I hadn't succeeded in finding their Web site (http://www.reyaztecarestaurant.com). We knew they were opening today thanks to sleuthing, a newly discovered phone number, and a Yelp friend who managed to catch someone working there yesterday. Nonetheless, PLENTY of people knew that today was the day, and when we arrived, the dining area was full, there were at least 50 people waiting in line before us, and more showing up every minute. We were told our wait would be 15 to 20 minutes, and that was pretty accurate, which was surprising to me -- I'm used to those estimates being bold-faced lies that should be multiplied by 2 or 3.
I'm going to say up front that I'm fairly certain no one at Rey Azteca was expecting such a huge turnout tonight. It was their unadvertised first night open, and while they likely knew that a good number of people in this town have been jonesing for a decent traditional Mexican restaurant, I also think they were completely surprised by how well word-of-mouth and social media (oh, yeah - I've been tweeting about it, had it on Facebook, Yelped, and entered the location on foursquare as soon as I knew the address) worked to make the place SRO tonight. Consequently, I'm not going to harp on the service, which was a bit slow. However, I'm sure they'll take care of that problem, and every staff member with whom I interacted was very pleasant and accommodating.
TAKE NOTE! REY AZTECA DOES NOT SERVE BEER OR LIQUOR. I saw someone bring in their own 6-pack, but I don't know if they're totally cool with that. If you must have alcohol with your Mexican food, call first and ask if they have a policy bout BYOB-ing. And by the way, Pennsylvania's liquor laws SUCK.
So... The food. You're reading this because you want to know about the food, right?
Well, I'm not posting this review on Yelp because I don't think it's fair to judge a brand new restaurant on their first night of business. That doesn't mean that I was disappointed in the food, though. The obvious comparison here is El Campesino in Altoona (http://www.elcampesino.net). That's been my go-to spot for good Mexican food. And I'm going to predict right now that my days of having to drive 40 miles for my fix are over. And not only does it have proximity working in its favor, but Rey Azteca's prices are lower than El Campesino's. I ordered the vegetarian number 1 dinner - a cheese enchilada, a bean burrito, and a bean and cheese tostada. That's the same lineup as the vegetarian A dinner at El Campesino (my usual order), and I ordered it, in part, to provide a fair comparison. Despite the fact that it's a lot of food, I also made sure to order a side of rice and a side of beans (yes, I shared them) because I apparently have a hollow leg.
Rey Azteca's menu states on the cover that they serve food that is mildly seasoned. They do not lie. My food was flavorful, but in no way spicy. Even the salsa was very mild. In central PA, that's probably a good idea. In future visits, I will have to inquire as to whether they have a spicier salsa available. If they don't, that won't prevent me from returning, I'd just like to have a little more kick to my Mexican food. The burrito was great, and could have been a clone of El Campesino's bean burrito - a perfect soft flour tortilla wrapped around refried beans of just the right consistency, and the whole thing thinly coated in salsa. The tostada? You can't really screw up a tostada, but what set this one apart was the guacamole. As advertised on the Web site, it tastes homemade. Good homemade, that is. Don't freak out if you go there and your guac isn't bright green. Freshly made guac starts changing its color quickly. You can keep it bright green, but often at the price of mixing in more lemon juice than you really want. This was smooth, tasty, non-lemony guac. The enchilada was good. It could have been better, but I could tell that its preparation had been rushed. Again, I think this can be attributed to the unexpected turnout. By the time our fried ice cream arrived, I was stuffed and yammering on and on about work, so I wasn't paying very close attention. It's ice cream, whipped cream, honey, cinnamon, fried tortilla, and a cherry - like you can go wrong with that?
So, the bottom line for tonight's visit: Good, but not as good as what I've been able to consistently get at El Campesino. But I'm hopeful that will change, because I saw a lot of potential. I'm going to give the folks at Rey Azteca a few days to match their staffing to the customer load, then try again. I am also interested to hear other people's opinions over the next few days. I'm happy that Rey Azteca is finally open, and I look forward to many more satisfying meals served up from their kitchen. Go and give it a try!
El Campesino? I kept telling you guys that we needed you to open a location in State College. You may have just missed out on a golden opportunity, and I don't know that this town could support another Mexican restaurant... yet.