new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Rey Azteca: Mmm, Camarones

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rey Azteca: Mmm, Camarones

Rey Azteca Taqueria & Catering
6140 Fair Oaks Blvd
Carmichael CA, 95608

Rey Azteca has been a wonderful find for us - a tasty and friendly little enclave of Mexican food in our Carmichael neighborhood. I seem to find myself stopping in there almost every week, plopping myself down in one of the gaudy but comfortable booths and stocking up on huge amounts of incendiary salsa.

We always begin with a big basket of the excellent house-made tortilla chips, still hot from their immersion in the frier - a world away from the bagged junk most places serve. Don't miss the excellent tomatillo salsa. The guacamole ordered separately and thus freshly made is also unusually good here, although the guacamole that automatically comes with entrees isn't as delicious - I suppose that's pre-made stuff.

(Image from the Rey Azteca website. Note cerveza.)

My favorite starter is the shrimp cocktail ($11.99), a big glass tub full of tomato juice, avocado, cucumber, tomato and lime juice, filled with plump and perfectly cooked shrimp. Crumble in the accompanying saltine crackers and it's rather like a Mexican variant on gazpacho...especially delicious if you add lots and lots of hot sauce and salsa.

The menu is impressively long, but I do have a few favorites - the camarones endiablados ($12.99) comes to mind, a huge plate full of shrimp simmered in a spicy and chunky tomato sauce. It's not as hot as some versions I've had, but I love the silky smoothness of the tomato and green peppers juxtaposed with the slow burn of the's a truly excellent dish, and I find it hard to order anything else. I usually substitute salad for rice and beans, but I fully admit that is heretical and you do not have to do so.

Rey Azteca shines as well when it comes to delicious, delicious meat. Pictured in this wonderfully blurry photo is the steak a la del rey ($11.50), chunks of steak sauteed with onion and red and green bell peppers. The carne asada ($11.50) is tasty and generously portioned here as well.

Of course, this is a taqueria, and the tacos are very good and by all means the real deal, garnished with onions and cilantro (though you can have a good ol' American style taco in a fried shell with cheese and sour cream if you want.) The choice of meats is considerable, but standouts include the spicy, smoky, and decadent chorizo ($1.99) and the expertly grilled and tender fish taco ($3.50.)

Burritos are ginormous and can be ordered covered in sauce and cheese, though that may very well kill you (happily.) I tried the chile relleno burrito ($5.95), which was a truly impressive hulk filled with a generously sized cheese stuffed chile relleno, rice, beans, and guacamole. Damn, son.

One final word: if you're looking for a tamales supplier for Christmas Eve festivities (and we always are), Rey Azteca is a good place to go. The tamales are large and have the right ratio of masa to filling - although only chicken and beef are on offer, both are flavorful and will surely bring much joy and calories to your holiday fun.

The space is small and, uh, intimate, but I think that's just about perfect for a casual Mexican joint such as this one. The clientele tend to be local blue collar types chowing down on huevos rancheros or plump, juicy tamales, as they watch football, soccer or boxing on one of the taqueria's many and large TVs.

Order a cerveza, watch the game, and enjoy some tasty Mexican food: the perfect recipe for a slow weekend.

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