One of my most sincere, if not cliché, passions is food. I know that it sounds conveniently trendy, but food is my langauge. Before I lose you with my hipsterdom, let me give you some context as to why.
Growing up in an Indian household, there was a pretty severe dichotomy in gender roles. Though my parents are extremely open-minded, there were definitely pre-defined separations in tasks that belonged to my dad or to my mom. As you can probably guess, my mom took care of the cooking. Every single day, my mom broiled, grilled, roasted, baked, sautéed, pan-fried, deep-fried, poached, simmered, boiled, steamed, and braised everything that I ate from ages 0-18. When you see such an incredible level of talent and dedication to a craft, you can’t help but fall in love with the process.
I must admit, however, that I took most of her amazing food for granted when I lived at home. But now that I am 2000+ miles away, there is nothing more in the world that I miss. But since I can’t magically teleport back to Michigan, the Bay Area’s best restaurants will have to do.
In this series of blog posts, I will discuss my favorite restaurants in Oakland and the Bay Area and what makes them so great. I hope you’ve already eaten, because if not, you are about to be a whole lot hungrier.
A quaint little red awning with the name “Aztecali” in a small font is the only indication from far away that this building is anything more than the houses that surround it. From the street, you could easily walk by this modest establishment – assuming you have no eyes, ears, or nose. However, if you have any of these working senses, you will be immediately drawn to the line of people waiting to eat, the incredible sound of food cooking mixed in with pleasant neighborhood conversation, or the enticing aromas of delicately prepared dishes.
As soon as you walk in, you are met with 4 tables, a bright blue wall on the left, and the entire kitchen behind the sales counter. That is it. At Aztecali, you really do get what you see, and fortunately, what you see are the freshest ingredients, prepared in the most honest ways, using recipes that easily bridge the gap between Californian and Mexican flavor landscapes.
My go-to order consists of 2 Veggie Tacos and a Tostada de Papa. The Veggie Tacos are built to order on top of a warm corn tortilla, liberally spread with homemade sour cream and piled high with beautifully seasoned and tender black beans. This protein punch is enhanced with aromatic sprigs of cilantro, a powerful sprinkling of braised white onion, and the unapologetic crisp of roughly chopped cabbage. Lastly, the dish is finished off with a gentle garnish of cotija cheese and passed along on colorfully plates.
From the fist bite to the last, all the ingredients work together to create harmonious waves of flavor that perfectly hit your palate. But the real shining stars are the black beans – the slow cooked treatment brings the best and boldest flavors out of each individual unit. I swear I could eat just a bowl of just those beans.
Oh wait, I did
The Tostada de Papa is an entirely different beast. Built on top of a crispy corn tortilla, the Tostada de Papa finds its center with its delicious roasted potatoes. These potatoes are seasoned to perfection and together with the slightly salted avocado, will leave you extremely satisfied. On the heavier side, this tostada is both delicious and can stifle any craving.
I give Aztecali a 4.5/5, with the only 2 minor complaints being the size of the establishment during peak hours as well as the unusual schedule that closes the shop for both Monday and Tuesday of each week.
Located at 303A Oakland Ave in Oakland CA, go check out Aztecali for yourselves and let me know what you think.
Oh – Protip: Aztecali offers some of the best salsa I’ve had in the bay. You need to ask specially for their red salsa, but make sure to do so because it is incredible.