In Clarksville, an authentic taste of Mexico

El Azteca's owners return to their home country each year for spices, art

Restaurant profile

April 13, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Although Clarksville is growing at a ferocious pace with subdivisions and shops springing up all over the place, dining opportunities are still rather limited. That's one of the reasons you'll find a line of diners waiting outside El Azteca Mexican restaurant in the Clarksville Center shopping strip on weekends.

Another reason may be the authentic Mexican cuisine served in this small and family-friendly restaurant.

Owners Gilberto and Francisca Cortes have seen a lot of changes in Clarksville since their restaurant opened in 1992.

"You feel sometimes kind of like you're in the city, not in the country," Francisca Cortes says. "But it's good for business."

The Cortes family came to the United States from Guadalajara, Mexico, about 20 years ago. The couple also own Pachanga Grill in Odenton, and Gilberto Cortes is part-owner of La Palapa Grill & Cantina in Ellicott City.

They return to Mexico four or five times a year to purchase spices and artwork for their restaurants. Francisca Cortes says she prefers to buy spices such as chili, cumin, garlic and cloves from Mexico because "they are fresh and contain no preservatives."

The food is cooked to order. Everything from the salsa and chips diners are served when they sit down, to the sopapillas with honey for dessert is made on the premises.

The menu includes mainstream favorites such as enchiladas, tacos and burritos, but all are prepared in traditional Mexican style.

"We make the tamales here the way we make them in Mexico," Francisca says. "The stuffing is made of shredded beef with vegetables, garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots, spices and chilies."

Diners should give "Gilberto's Specialties" a close look. Items that are not usually found on local Mexican restaurant menus are offered here. Camarones A La Diabla ($13.50) features large shrimp prepared in the style of the Mexican Pacific with a spicy Mexican butter. The Chicken Mole ($12.95) uses three varieties of chili, nuts, dried fruits and unsweetened chocolate in a spicy brown sauce ladled over grilled chicken.

All artwork in the restaurant is for sale. Diners who come Sunday evenings are treated to music by two guitarists who travel from table to table.

The restaurant seats 80, but there are plans to expand into an adjoining space by June. Francisca Cortes says she hopes the expansion will allow the restaurant to offer a Sunday brunch that would include Spanish omelets, huevos rancheros, fajitas and Mexican-style French toast.

The new space is to include a bar and add 25 seats to the restaurant. Francisca Cortes also hopes to have space to sell spices and tortillas for patrons to purchase for home use.

El Azteca

Where: 12210 Route 108, Clarksville; 410-531-3001.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9: 30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95 to $6.50; entrees, $6.75 to $13.95.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover.

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