Two tamales share a plate, each corn husk stuffed with moist, fluffy cornmeal dough. Bundled into the first is a spicy chicken and cheese mixture; the second holds a blend of jalapeño, cheese and onions. On top: a sauce made with dried chili peppers. One bite tells you these are no ordinary tamales. Nor is this an everyday Mexican restaurant. Still, you wouldn't guess it by looking at the menu at Azulejos, embedded with such Americanized items as chimichangas, burritos and fajitas.
From chef Lorenzo Gonzalez's repertoire comes a fresh and vibrant shrimp ceviche. Another appetizer, camarones ajillo, featuring shrimp sauteed in a light garlic sauce -- is satisfying, if not on the level of the ceviche. Highly seasoned beef empanadas are crunchy and comforting. Very popular in the arch-windowed dining room is guacamole prepared tableside, spiced to taste.
A degree of authenticity characterizes the tacos Mexicanos -- three soft corn tortillas topped, respectively, with chicken, beef and sausage, showered with pico de gallo and plated with a wedge of lime. The piquant chorizo sausage taco is best, the beef nicely seasoned, the white meat chicken rather dry.
On the other hand, boneless chicken breasts al ajillo, sauteed in a light garlic sauce, are moist and savory. Better yet are chuletas de cerdo, juicy grilled pork chops in garlic sauce. And the skillfully broiled salmon de la Sierra in a smoky chipotle sauce turns out to be another hit.
Steak fajitas, though, are a letdown. The meat, requested rare, is overcooked and chewy, served sizzling in a skillet with peppers and onions. A plate of accompaniments holds guacamole but no pico de gallo, which must be requested. It is, at least, a winning version made with bright tomatoes, cilantro and bits of avocado.
Making more of a splash than the tres leches cake is a tableside preparation of bananas flambé, the liqueur-bathed fruit served over vanilla ice cream.
But a fancy French dessert isn't necessary at a restaurant where the simple Mexican pleasures are right there on the menu, waiting to be ordered.