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Jan 16, 2009 05:02 PM

La Casita Azteca...yes, it smells like Taco Bell

I've known for a while that you really shouldn't expect to find great Mexican food anywhere in Western MA or New England for that matter. Usually I go to La Veracruzana in Noho because it's easy, familiar and fairly consistent. Consistently mediocre. When I saw a new Mexican place opened in Easthampton I was skeptical that it would be anything more than flavorless beans, piles of melted cheese and iceburg lettuce. I have learned over the years though that sometimes great Mexican food can come from unusual locations, like a supermarket in Berkeley, CA.
I decided to look online for reviews of La Casita Azteca and didn't find any formal ones but saw 2 from random people who both said it was very good, authentic and that everyone they knew had raved about the place. So I decided to give it a try. I checked out the menu online and was surprised to see items like hoja santa and huitlacoche (a weird fungus that grows on corn), ingredients I've never seen on menus around here.
Inside La Casita Azteca it's small and I was the only customer. Granted it was 5pm and this place is fairly new, but it also was a Friday night so I was a little suspicious. I ordered posole, tacos de cazuela, tamale mole negro, tinga and chips/salsa to go. While waiting I was pleased to see that the kitchen looked clean and so didn't the rest of the place. After a few minutes passed I kept noticing the lovely sounds of a microwave beeping and the door of it slaming shut. Not a good sign. I expected my food to be ready pretty quickly since I was the only one in there, the tinga came off of a steam table and the microwave that must have been heating the rest of my order. I paced around starting to get worried about what I had gotten myself into. After about 20 minutes I finally got my food and rushed home in the freezing cold, starving.
Once home I ripped open the food and without my usual inspection began eating. Once I had a few bites to satisfy my incredible hunger I slowed down to have a peak. The posole, a classic pork and hominy soup, had a thick layer of fat on top and literally(this is no joke) smelled like taco bell hot sauce. I'm not exageratting. It was incredibly greasy and had no visible pork in it. The tamale was shalacked in a thick, dark mole which looked really good but was so incredibly dry that it did not at all taste like a tamale. It was like a REALLY dry cornbread. The mole tasted like a banana puree with a little chile in it. The beans that accompanied this were so flavorless it was amazing and the rice had clearly been heated multiple times so it was dry and crumbly. I tried the tinga and it was also surprisingly dry and flavorless for a slow cooked pork dish. I moved on to the tacos. In the menu description it mentioned pineapple so I was a little suspicious but was hoping it would resemble tacos al pastor, a pork taco cooked with pineapple. I was SO wrong. It was a mix of Mexican food and something you might find at a Trader Vics. The pineapple was clearly canned and still in its chunck form, there was a thick coating of cheese that clearly had been nuked in its styrafoam container to get it melt. The tortillas that came with it were dripping with grease. It was easily the worst thing I have seen in years. Terrifying. I don't even know how to describe the taste. Taco Bell meets a scorpion bowl.
To conclude, do not eat here. Not only was it inedible, I literally threw it all out, but it was overpriced. I spent around $35. Not that it mattered, but the portions were small also. Once again I spent the rest of the night dreaming of food from some long off city. Let down again...

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  1. You may want to add Pedro Diego's in Haverhill, MA to your list of Mexican Restaurants to avoid.

    1. thanks for saving me a trip. i had seen a few folks mention this place and was curious, and saw the menu online and had the same thoughts you did re: huitlacoche, etc.

      you ever go to mi tierra in hadley? it's still new england mexican, but their homade corn tortillas as some of the best i've ever had anywhere, and i've lived in california and new mexico. it's by far my favorite mexican in the valley. pork tacos (carne enchilada) are excellent, and other dishes - chiles rellenos, carne asada are also good enough to give me my fix.

      1. Get yourself pronto to Sarapes in Enfield Ct just over the Longmeadow Ma line!!
        Carnitas, peurco en pipian to die for, tamales, tacos al pastor, chile rellenos...even barbacoa on the weekends.
        (but I agree with the above poster about the homemade tortillas at Mi Tierra - alas Sarape's are not.)

        1. I am a very busy person and for that matter i don't have time to navigate the internet so often, but today i decided to go online to serch for peoples oppinion on my favorite places, and it surprised me to find on this website a comment about one of the most authentic and different mexican restaurants in New England. I consider myself a person with some world knowledge and culture and certainly know about mexican food, and this place is the closest i have tryed to authentic mexian food. I personaly think that the comment of this person is really personal and also believe that this little restaurant is affecting their interests. I only want to let people that are able to try new thing by themselves and don't let others decide for them. this is my really personal oppinion.

          3 Replies
          1. re: phill morris

            phill - it sounds like you like the place - want to tell us more? your favorite dishes, what you like about them, what other sort of food you like, where else you have eaten similar food and thought it good or bad, some general context for your opinion? i was excited about the place when i first heard about it, but when i read a few bad reviews online i figured it wasn't worth making a trip for, so i've stayed away. i'd be curious to hear more specifics from people who think it's good.

            1. re: andytee

              i haven't been yet, but i've heard from four people that it's great so i will try it despite this review. one friend said that he "dreams about the mole" and he is not one for hyperbole.

              1. re: caughtstars

                post when you go, please!

                i live in montague, am a very busy grad student, have a new baby, so i'm really reluctant to make a trip if i'm just going to be dissapointed. if you have been to mi tierra, and think they are good but really just ok, and think this place is better, i'd be glad to make a trip to check it out.

          2. You must have had a cold. I loved the guacamole. it was made fresh and had just the right amount of lime. The salsa and chips were homemade and fresh. The tomatillo sauce is great. Be sure to try the chile relleno, it is made with real queso fresco, lightly breaded and sauteed to perfection. The restaurant is also BYOB. The tortillas are freshly made each day. I can't wait for the warm weather to sit on the patio in the courtyard and soak up some sun and sauces.

            3 Replies
            1. re: charoz

              How do you make guacamole that's not fresh?

              Phil, what is authentic about microwaved tacos with canned pinapple? Maybe I got it on an off night but that was the worst meal I have had in years. Literally. No joke. Terrible. I wrote a fair, unbiased review.

              Andytee, if you still haven't been yet, I wouldn't do it. To drive there from Montague would be crazy in my opnion.

              1. re: corriveauamc

                Yeah, I made it in actually - I was heading home from Springfield and took a crazy detour trying to avoid backed up traffic on 91. Saw the place and figured "What the heck, it's almost lunchtime".

                Something about the place is off - hard to say what, but it just didn't feel right. Maybe it was the bottle of "RealLemon" juice and bag of lathed mini carrots I peeped on the kitchen counter, but I dunno, it just was not quite right.

                That said, I ordered the posole and it was actually not bad. Not a big bowl of the stuff, but a nice broth properly laced with oregano - too much if anything. Not a whole ton of either posole or pork in there but all in all not terrible.

                My waiter was bad, white teenager trying to hard and corrected my pronunciation of posole (turned my "poh-soh-lay" into "puh-zole" like he knew what he was talking about).

                Still, while I would rather be at Mi Tierra anyday, if I were in Easthampton often I would eat here more, while it was weird it showed enough promise to keep fishing for the better menu items and nudging the cooks in the right direction. From Montague though, no, not likely I will be back.

                1. re: andytee

                  The place is nice and cozy and colorful and you want so much for the food to be good BUT the food is not tasty or well prepared. I had the microwave problem too. Just a not-so-big plate of Blah. Too bad.