After a few hours of shopping in Old Town Pasadena this past Saturday, I worked up enough of an appetite that had no patience for the long lines at Cheesecake Factory, the pricey sushi fare at Sushi Roku, or the other mediocre Italian joints that plague the area, and since I already dined at Cafe Santorini a few weekends ago, it was time to try something new.
Hidden at 20 E. Colorado Blvd, in the same block of buildings situated on the southeast corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado (in the same row as Louise's Trattoria) lies SolyAzul. It bills itself as "a casual and delightful Mexican restaurant in the heart of old Pasadena." I didn't know what to expect, but a copy of the menu placed off its almost nondescript entrance spoke to my grumbly tummy.
Our party of two was seated right away, and since it was Saturday night, we expected the place to be busier. Needless to say I was a little skeptical of the food when I sat down, since all the other restaurants had waitlists 30 parties deep.
Warm chips and salsa (a green tomatillo and your standard smoky red) were served to us. Mmmm... The green salsa was citrusy, while the red pepper proved to be spicier. I knew whatever I was going to order as my entree could be improved with a heap of salsa if need be.
We started off with the Lobster Taquitos, which were dainty red tortilla shells stuffed with lobster meat, rolled up, fried, and drizzled with a creamy chipotle sauce. A mango salsa dipping sauce was also served on the side to offer a cool retreat from the "heat" of the fresh salsa (VERY HOT) also scooped onto the plate. For $6.50, the lobster taquitos are a must!
There are daily chef's specials offered, but I wanted something somewhat healthy, so I ordered the Pescado Ranchero, which on the menu was a "grilled fish topped with roasted chiles and peppers." The fish turned out to be halibut, firm and moist and yes, topped with roasted chiles and peppers. It also came with two sides, of which I ordered the chile red rice and zuni salad (their version of a cole slaw minus all the mayo and fat you come to expect from KFC). Needless to say, the dish was a hit with me (and costing only $10.95 for a very good portion).
My boyfriend went for the Coyote Chicken, a "pan-roasted chicken breast with tomatillo sauce and grilled onions." What was a surprise, since the menu didn't mention it, were the side of grilled veggies (eggplant, zucchini, red and green peppers, and yellow squash) that accompanied the chicken and some sort of corn saute that also topped it. He said the tomatillo sauce added a certain amount of succulence and livened up the chicken, bringing out the flavor of the meat and its juices. The price? $10.95 again!
We decided to skip dessert that night and (being more sensible about our waistlines) went for cups of cafe and tea instead. When the bill came, the total was less than $40 for a great, satisfying meal.
The bottomline: A hidden gem and triumph. It's like nouveau Mexican cooking along the lines of Border Grill or Ciudad for half the price.
Now, being a little selfish, I don't want to find out the next time I go there will be a huge line at SolyAzul like all the other places on that strip, but I don't want the place to close down, either. For being only 2 months old, it wasn't as hopping as it should've been, especially with such fantastic-tasting and well-prepared food.
There is also a downstairs area where you can hold a private party, and an outside patio area for warmer days or summer nights. So give the place a try the next time you are in Old Town Pasadena and don't feel like eating mediocre pasta or shelling out an exorbitant amount for an otherwise forgettable meal.
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