Az-T-Ca Mexican Grille: If You Know, You Know
One of Springfield’s best ‘IYKYK’ places to have more than good food but a great dining experience is Az-T-Ca Mexican Grill. ‘IYKYK’ stands for ‘If You Know, You Know’, but if you know – you knew that. The restaurant, located in the Montvale Junction Shopping Center, has amassed a great number of fans through the business’s inception and subsequent expansion. It is a balmy 48 degrees outside this evening, but the temperature indoors is as close to perfect as a guy from the Midwest could ask for. The wall near the entrance is home to a growing collection of awards for the business, with the most recent coming from the annual Illinois Times “Best of Springfield” contest, where they won an award for “Best Burrito.’ The owner, Nicolas Paz, can often be seen balancing the front of the house with the kitchen and making sure that each customer is having a stellar experience from the moment they enter until the moment they leave.
One thing I have always loved about this place is the atmosphere. The interior is decorated with walls and rooftop shingles that you would expect to find on buildings in the Southwestern United States. I am greeted by the owner of the business, who asks if I want to sit at a table or a booth as he quickly scans the room for the best seat. This is not my first Az-T-Ca experience, and Paz always makes a point to acknowledge this by saying, “Good to see you again,” each time I have visited. Several people stop to mention how great the food was and otherwise make small talk before they leave. These short interactions go a long way to establish relationships that, when coupled with the amazing cuisine, keeps fans of the restaurant coming back again and again.
There are several people in the building tonight, but the dining room is split into sections that stagger the seating. The arched walls that serve as decoration also do a good job of reducing the background noise, which is good for me as I squint my eyes to focus on the artist playing on the radio. It sounds like the international superstar and, in my opinion, one of the greatest tenors, Marc Anthony. The Shazam app on my phone confirms that I am right. The music plays just loud enough to hear but also loud enough that you would have to raise your voice to be heard by someone sitting across from you.
While looking over the menu, I hum along to the song playing overhead with confidence that you would not believe it was my first time hearing it. I think about getting an order of Street Tacos, an assortment of steak, pork, grilled chicken, BBQ pulled pork, and mushroom tacos. I try not to make the rookie mistake of filling up on chips and salsa before the main course, but it is hard because they are so good that I can only promise to pace myself.
I ultimately decide on the Az-T-Ca Chimichanga. The dish features a soft flour tortilla with beans, cheese, chicken, and steak. It is covered in enchilada sauce and melted cheese after being perfectly set on a plate. The presentation of the food at this place is so good that I take multi-angled photos without embarrassment while admiring the artwork placed before me. Though I have eaten here dozens of times, each visit is as good – if not better – than the last. The fried ice cream served at Az-T-Ca looks like something you would see in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – it is delicious and one of the most unique desserts you will ever see. Also good are the Mini Churros Fries with powdered sugar.
Az-T-Ca Mexican Grill is closed on Sundays, so you will need to make it in between the hours of 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday or between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.