Dining with Dave… Casa Azul in Buffalo, New York

First of all, Buffalo is not known as a mecca for Mexican food. I am frequently in that area and when I travel, I like to see how different cultures interpret and present Mexican fare. Here’s what I’ve uncovered… any discussion of Mexican food pretty much begins and ends with three words.

Lloyd’s Taco Truck. But perhaps no more.

Thanks to the work of chefs Vincenza Lapi and Victor Parra at their restaurant Casa Azul, things are looking up. Way up!

Located in the heart of the city on Genesee St., even the name says Mexico to those in the know. For those unfamiliar with the reference, just Google Casa Azul Coyoacan and see the deep blue color that dominates the exterior of this industrial looking restaurant.

As you enter, you’re struck by the simple lines, concrete counters, tin walls and plywood ceilings. It’s a mash up of Mexican inspired building textures that evokes the Mexican style of building with whatever you can get your hand on. Add in the familiar colors, portraits of Frida Kahlo and if you’ve been to Mexico City, you’re gonna feel at home.

Just like Vincenza and her decorator mom wanted. But let’s be honest, the real star is the food.

We started with guacamole and then the soup of the day. We then topped that off with an assortment of tacos. Here’s what we learned.

First off, get the guac! It’s creamy, you get a good portion and you’re going to love it. But there in each order is a little sparkle, a little gem that looks like crystal and catches your eye. What is it? It’s a clear, sugary brittle infused with cricket parts and salt.

And it’s amazing. I could sit and eat the stuff for hours. In fact, I’m already thinking how this is going to taste with chapulines, a Oaxacan delicacy.

The soup was perfect for a cold, dreary day. Loaded with shredded pork and topped with tortilla strips, if you like soup, you’ll like this. It’s a good sized bowl, has lots of meat and just feels substantial after you’ve taken the last delicious spoonful. My only suggestion? Serve the soup with a real spoon, not the weak white plastic ones.

Al pastor and birria tacos. Pork soup of the day and the guacamole with cricket infused clear brittle.

So the soup is good, but tacos are why people head to a taco stand and Casa Azul delivers. Using daily handmade tortillas and served on wood planks, you won’t go wrong with any of their offerings, which include an out of the box “Mexican Kiss” tongue taco, but I’d recommend their birria. While lacking the ginger I associate with the classic dish from Guadalajara, these are nonetheless made with wonderfully stewed goat and have the perfect, tender texture. They also have plenty of that goat goodness.

The carne asada is solid, but let me be honest… it’s almost impossible to mimic the taste of the classic carne asada taco from south of the border here in the states. Maybe it’s the aged meat or the decades of grease on the grill in Mexico that provides the unique taste. Whatever the reason, I can’t seem to find a suitable substitute here in the US. At Casa Azul the bottom line is this… you’re going to get a great asada taco, but it’s not gonna match up with Flaco’s Tacos in a place like Tonalá or El Flamazo in Ensenada.

Would I go back? In a handmade tortilla served on a wood plank and cricket infused guacamole heartbeat!

Next time you’re in Buffalo, Uber over, you won’t be disappointed!

Casa Azul, 128 Genesee St., Buffalo, NY 14203

Lunch for 2, no drinks… about $25.00. By the way, they’ve got a great bar with a pretty good mezcal selection if you’re looking to complete your Taco Tuesday!

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