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DINING: Ambassador bar gets Mexican makeover

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Dining - A&E
Diabla Quesadilla at Azul The menu isn’t original, but the execution excels at Azul. Above, the Diabla Quesadilla for $8. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

What surprised me on my first visit to Azul Mexican and American Bar & Grill (43 E. Ninth St., 602-2279)—which recently morphed out of what was the Bar at the Ambassador—wasn’t the south-of-the-border menu. Nor the minor changes in décor.

No, the biggest surprise was that the menu seemed so, well, standard. Tacos? Check. Fajitas? Check. Quesadillas? Check. Calamari? … OK, so there were a few small surprises.

But, on paper, the Azul offerings weren’t that different from that of a chain Mexican eatery—which led me to a longer-than-usual delay in ordering. Usually, in a locally owned joint, there’s some indication of what an eatery is pushing or is particularly proud of. Not here.

The next, happier, surprise: Much of what was sampled on two visits exceeded expectations. While dramatic twists and culinary leaps weren’t evident at Azul, a solid commitment to delivering a satisfying meal seems an integral part of the bar’s face-lift.

With a bowl of chips and some fresh and flavorful salsa already on the table, I was hoping to try a chip-free appetizer. Aforementioned calamari aside, there wasn’t much to pick from, so I went with the Guacamole ($5), which was chunky and densely good—and surrounded by another bowl of chips.

The Azul Enchilada ($7) had a nice sweet sauce, but was otherwise unmemorable. The Veggie Burrito ($8), where mushrooms seemed to muscle out just about everything else, was a disappointment. But the Pollo Ranchero ($9) was terrific. Just as a quality supporting

actor can help a lead performer, a main dish can benefit from its sides. In this case, it was obvious some care went into preparing the creamy refried beans (with a bit of cheese melted on top), Mexican rice and refreshing mini salad/garnish option of lettuce and diced tomatoes. The chicken itself, dressed but not lost in a rich red sauce, was pounded to just the right thickness.

But the winner—and the choice I’d return for—came as another surprise.

To me, quesadillas are the spaghetti of the Mexican restaurant menu—something I have trouble rationalizing ordering because I know how cheaply and decently they can be made at home. I’ll make an exception, though, for Azul’s Diabla Quesadilla ($8), where a hot and crisp-from-the-grill flour tortilla didn’t just hold but became deliciously one with a finely chopped chorizo sausage and chicken mix.

I’ll take quality cooking over inventive menu writing any day.•

__________

Third in a month-long series of looks at newer downtown eateries.

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  • Azul is very good
    I'm a regular at Azul, and the food is always fresh and very good. The service is wonderful. When someone who can't spell or use correct English posts a trash comment no one should trust their judgement. Great joke Trai.
  • Apologizes to You, Lou
    Thanks for your reply Lou. My apologizes in the compted comment, it was intended as a joke. Glad your experience was more pleaseurable then ours. Maybe Monday at lunch is a bad time for them? I do enjoy your reviews, please keep up the great work.
    Thanks,
    Trai
  • accusation
    Trai,
    To the best of my knowledge, you didn't share either of those meals with me and have no idea what the quality of the food or the service was like on my visits.
    I welcome your comments here, whether they are similar to mine or not, but have to reply when an ethical accusation is made.
    FYI: IBJ pays for all review meals and these meals are not arranged with the restaurants we review. To accuse otherwise is libelous.
    Sincerely,
    Lou Harry
  • Disappointing
    They clearly must have compted you your meal, because there was absolutely nothing good to write about there. Bad Service, Wrong Food and there was No other people in there! 1.5 hours for lunch and all we ordered was Ice Waters (got no refills), 2 Chicken Salads and 1 Taco Salad, with chicken (no hamburger or sour cream) Got Hamburger and sour cream. Very Disappointed. Don't see them being around very long.
    • Great Mexican Food
      Great addition to downtown's Mexican restaurant scene. Azul's authentic margaritas make the food Caesar prepares that much better than his Biscuits Mexican Restaurant. Both are the real deal.

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