By Nathan M. Walters, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – If not for the snow in Chicago, the city of Rio may not have been graced with the delicious authentic Mexican food now being served at Azteka in Ipanema. Because of the wintery weather in North America, Aglika Angelova and her husband Miguel Campos decided to relocate to Brazil and realize their dream of opening a restaurant.
For expatriates craving real Mexican food and locals wanting to try something new, Azteka is music to the ears, and mouth. Campos, a Mexican-born chef from one of Chicago’s premier French restaurants, and Angelova, a Bulgarian-born concert pianist, made the decision to relocate to Rio while watching one of Chicago’s fierce snowstorms.
“We had the idea for a Mexican food place, and decided we wanted to live someplace warm,” explains Angelova. “Spain was an option but it was easier for Miguel to come to Brazil on an investor visa.”
Their dream came together quickly, in a matter of months they had gone from looking for a location to grilling burritos. Now open for a just shy of a month, the restaurant is thriving with the ideal mix of locals and visitors. “Ipanema is the perfect location. We liked the composition of the neighborhood,” says Angelova. “The expats know Mexican food and the locals here are open to try new things.”
Foreigners and Cariocas alike are getting hooked on Azteca’s simple authentic Mexican food, specifically on the burritos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches). Angelova is happy with the response: “We have a lot of repeat customers already, locals that have their usual dish here many times during the week. Our service is focused on ensuring people have a great experience and that has paid off, people are comfortable here so they come back for more.”
Directly on Rua Visconde de Piraja (number 156), in the heart of Ipanema, people are not only stopping in the restaurant because of the aroma wafting from the grill but also to check out the design. “We envisioned the place as a bistro and designed with that in mind,” explains Angelova.
The design, including a very original geometric wall piece, is sleek but inviting and gives the place a very upscale feel similar to the Mexican bistros that are now very popular in New York City. It is also one of the few locations on Rua Visconde de Piraja with street-side seating ideal for people watching.
The place may feel upscale but the prices are very reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food. Burritos and tortas range between R$17 and R$22 and are delicious. Prepared in the style from Campos’ native Acapulco in Southwest Mexico, the meat in the Yucatan burrito is tinged with a subtle hint of cinnamon and clove.
Everything served at Azteka is teeming with flavor. In addition to Campos, the two other chefs are Mexican natives and know how real Mexican food is to be prepared. The kitchen also makes an effort to use organic ingredients and the quality comes out in vibrant flavor.
Azteka is a godsend for American expatriates searching for the tastes of Mexican food in Rio (it is easy to underestimate how much Americans love Mexican food). Although the food and ambiance of the restaurant should be a draw for all types of people in Rio looking to enjoy something different.
The newly arrived couple plans to expand the menu to include weekend brunches and deserts, though, for now, they are happy of being part of the culinary growth that is happening in Rio. A smiling Angelova explains: “Now is great time to be in Rio, food wise. More people are interested in trying different good food.”
Azteca is one more example of how foreigners are bringing more quality dining experiences to Rio, and we can thank the snow for that.