By Vickie Lewis
Mazatlán is a popular Mexican tourist city, boasting miles of beautiful beaches and the largest commercial seaport in Mexico. It is also home to one of the world’s largest shrimp fleets and is often referred to as the Shrimp Capital of the World. So it seems fitting that the menu for Mazatlán Taqueria and Grill in Hercules features many authentic Mexican dishes that include shrimp and various other types of seafood. This small but extremely busy Mexican eatery opened ten years ago with a simple, one-page paper menu which has expanded now to a colorful tri-fold menu with nearly a hundred food and beverage selections. So if you like variety and you love Mexican food, you’ll definitely want to try Mazatlán Taqueria and Grill.
Owners Mauro and Lilia Cazarez emigrated from Mexico over 25 years ago with two of their five children. Mauro was born and raised in a city near Mazatlán and so was very familiar with the culinary opulence of that city. After moving to California, Mauro worked as the head cook for a Mexican restaurant in Marin County for just over fifteen years before he and his wife decided to open Mazatlán Taqueria and Grill. They had never owned or operated their own restaurant business before, but they persevered and made their dream a reality, naming the venue after Mauro’s “home town”. They still occupy their original location, and their business has grown steadily over the years. Mauro would like to expand the Taqueria if a larger space becomes available in the area, as he would like to add a bar and additional seating. At the present time, he is also considering opening a second location, possibly somewhere in East Contra Costa County.
Located in an end unit of a Hercules strip mall just off the Willow Avenue exit from Highway 80, Mazatlán Taqueria is easily accessible and offers plenty of parking. The restaurant’s interior has eight four-person tables, as well as several outdoor tables situated under the building eaves and out of the sun. The interior is clean and bright, and nicely decorated. Upon entry, patrons queue up at a long counter to place and pay for their orders prior to being seated. Copies of their colorful and pictorial menu are posted along the counter for diners’ reference as they prepare to order. When food orders are ready, servers promptly deliver food to the tables and ensure customers have everything they need to enjoy their meals.
Like so many other local eateries, Mazatlán Taqueria is a family business. In addition to non-family employees, owners Mauro and Elvia, and three of their children, Lissette, Mauro, Jr., and JuanCarlos, and a few extended family members, frequently work at the restaurant. During our visit, we interviewed Lissette, who shared the history of the business with us, and helped to familiarize us with the extensive menu. We found the dining atmosphere to be casual and pleasant, with plenty of natural light from the large windows adjacent to the dining area. During our Saturday lunchtime visit, there was a constant ebb and flow of customers, and the tables always were occupied. Patrons of all ages, races and ethnicities were observed, many of whom were obviously repeat customers and knew just what to order, and a few others who, like us, were experiencing the menu for the first time.
As mentioned earlier, Mazatlán Taqueria offers many shrimp and seafood selections, which are especially popular with their Hispanic clientele. Among the most popular of these are the Cocktel de Camarones (Shrimp Cocktail) and the Aguachile, and the Aguachile Campechano, the latter of which includes shrimp, octopus, and scallops, mixed with red onion and cucumber. On this Saturday afternoon, we observed order after order of Cocktel de Camarones delivered to nearby tables. The large chilled goblet glasses filled with colorful shrimp and cocktail sauce brimming with fresh ingredients made for beautiful presentation. Other seafood entrees also popular that day included the Shrimp Caesar Salad, Shrimp Fajitas, and Fish Tacos. Lissette told us that their fish entrees are prepared exclusively with salmon to enhance the taste and quality of their food. Also noteworthy is that Mazatlán Taqueria uses olive oil in their food preparation, which also enhances the overall flavor of their offerings.
It took some time for us to narrow down the food items we wanted to try from the large menu, which features numerous selections in each of the following categories: Salads, Quesadillas, Tacos, Seafood (Mariscos), Fajitas, Burritos, Mexican Soups, Nachos and Dinner Specials. There is also a section for Combination Plates, and a list of side orders and extras available a la carte. There are also kids’ selections on the menu, and we observed many families dining with very young children that day. Beverage selections include a full array of juices, iced teas and sodas (including Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar), and the popular Mexican Jarritos in various flavors. Also available are fresh Horchata and Tamarind drinks, made fresh at the restaurant, and served over ice. The only alcoholic beverages offered are domestic and imported beers, and they have quite a number of selections available. Finally a drink that seemed to be extremely popular with customers on the day of our visit is the Michelada, which Lissette described as a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary. A mixture of beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, and tomato juice, served in a large chilled, salt-rimmed glass, with a slice of lime for garnish that resulted in a beautifully-presented, refreshing drink.
When we were finally ready to order, my guest chose the Enchiladas de Camaron (Shrimp Enchiladas). Being a burrito lover, I ordered the Mar y Tierra Burrito (Surf and Turf) which included grilled skirt steak, prawns, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, ranchera sauce, rice, black beans, salsa fresca, roasted tomato sauce, cheese, chipotle sauce and sour cream. We also ordered a Chile Relleno on the side to share, and a small order of Pozole, home-made Mexican soup with chunks of pork and hominy, served with a side of lime, purple cabbage, radish slices, and peppers. We each opted for a tall, icy glass of Horchata to accompany our meals.
Although we’d ordered in the middle of the lunch rush, our food was prepared and served relatively promptly. The two enchiladas were topped with a green sauce and sour cream, served with refried beans on one side (though my guest had requested pinto beans) and rice on the other. The sauce was spicy, and the ample shrimp inside the enchiladas were tender and mildly spicy. She enjoyed the food, but said she’d likely opt for something different on a subsequent visit. My burrito was large, colorful, and beautifully presented with a side of salad. The tomato tortilla in which it was wrapped was red and the burrito was topped with red and green sauces, with a dollop of sour cream and a black olive in the center. The inside of the burrito was filled with large prawns and wonderfully spiced beef. It was a “moist” burrito, filled with all the various sauces and other ingredients—the kind of burrito one must eat with a fork. I found it to be very savory and I would definitely order it again! Each of us tried the chile relleno, and but both of us agreed that we prefer them to be cheesier and spicier. When we tried the Pozole, we both agreed that it was our favorite flavor of the day. The soup had large chunks of pork and hominy “beans” that looked almost like garbanzo beans. The flavor of the broth and the meat was wonderful, even without the accompaniments provided with the soup. But when I squeezed the lime into the broth and added the radishes and cabbage, the taste was even more appealing. I hadn’t tried Pozole before, but I am now a fan of this delicious soup.
I believe the best restaurants are those that are always busy. This was observed at Mazatlán Taqueria during my visit—tables that were rarely empty, a line of people waiting to order for nearly two straight hours, and most importantly, almost every plate was empty when the diners left. During the week, the restaurant does a robust take-out business, but on the weekends—especially Sundays—they are extremely busy for dine-in business. Food is prepared to order, and the cooks work quickly to keep the food coming up hot and fresh. You might find the prices to be a bit higher than at other taquerias, with meals/entrees ranging from $10 – $17; however, individual items, such as tacos, enchiladas, or burritos are available in the $4 – $9 range. A complimentary basket of chips and house made salsa is provided to in-house diners, but refills cost $1.25. I recommend that you visit Mazatlán Taqueria and Grill if you are looking for a variety of authentic Mexican options, including great, fresh seafood selections. They also offer catering with very little advance notice. Although they do not currently have a catering menu, owner Mauro will be happy to discuss available options with those interested. Oh, and I almost forgot. . . if you’re still hungry after you’ve finished your meal at Mazatlán Taqueria, you can also order home-made Flan. Ole!