Run for the Border, Via Yorkville

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satisfying drinks and apps, with entrées that could use a little punch

by shani r. friedman

when you think yorkville, the words "dining destination" don't generally come to mind. in fact, it's often difficult at all to find any interesting place to eat that far to the east. coming to the rescue on an otherwise barren stretch of the avenue is palacio azteca, where you can kick back with cerveza and tuck in for a bountiful, inexpensive mexican meal.

we arrived close to starving on a balmy tuesday night when the place was nearly empty. unlike many other mexican restaurants that look like a piñata exploded inside, decorations are limited to a chandelier and native wall art. we took a seat at one of the eight tables and dug into the crispy chips and salsa the waitress

quickly set down. you can't have chips without drinks, and i chose sangria ($6), which didn't overwhelm me with booze, while my dining companion picked a non-alcoholic mango horchata ($2), which is made with milk and rice. when my friend said her "amazing" horchata "tasted like summer," i did wonder if i had picked unwisely.

the two of us are guacamole junkies, so of course we ordered a plate to share ($6.95). at first i worried that they had been skimpy with the portions, but i realized that if they had given us any more, we would have just stuffed ourselves with an excess of chips. the guacamole was smooth and very fresh, but we fanatics wouldn't have minded a little fire mixed in.

since we had already gorged ourselves, we decided to scale back a bit, rather than go for massive entrées like burritos or enchiladas. my friend found the appetizer version of the chorizo and potato flautas ($6.95) to be more than enough food. i had a hankering for hard tacos, which weren't on the menu, so i subbed in a pair of soft tacos with tilapia, which came with rice and beans and more guacamole ($11.50). i had a bit of a back-and-forth with the waitress trying to find out if the refried beans were made with lard or were vegetarian. after consulting with the cooks, she reported that they're made with vegetable oil and onions, which satisfied this non-pork eater. again, we concluded that the food was tasty, but a bit bland. the dessert menu (flan and tres leches cake) didn't tantalize us enough to risk exploding stomachs, and we were already close to uncomfortably full.

perhaps it's the neighborhood, where diners are perceived as not very adventurous. but given that the crowd picked up later in the evening, the kitchen clearly has a following. palacio azteca should reward both old and new devotees by showing a little more imagination in the kitchen, and putting some olé on the menu.


palacio azteca

1374 york ave. between east 73rd and 74th streets


entrées: $9.50 and $19.50

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