Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dining Out: Cazador

It all started when I was a poor college student living in Ames. Chicken tortilla soup at Cazador was just about all I could afford, so I ordered it every time my friends and I felt like Mexican food.

Surprisingly, the soup was actually good - a smoky broth with melty queso, fresh green onions, and generous chunks of ripe avocado. So I went back again and again, ordering the same thing each time. Powerless to overcome my tortilla soup addiction, I remained unaware of the rest of Cazador's offerings.

Fast forward a few years. I discover there is a Cazador just a few minutes from my house in Ankeny...

Though the atmosphere doesn't quite live up to what I remember from college, the tortilla soup is just as good. I order a cup of it every time, along with a Dos Equis draft and - at long last - I've branched out to the rest of the menu.

Cazador's tortilla chips are warm and light (not too thick - you can tell they are freshly made), the salsa tastes fresh and is packed with just the right amount of cilantro, and the menu has plenty of variety. I've had better chile relleno and tamales elsewhere, but they do the basics very well and everything tastes like it is made in-house. The service is friendly (embarassingly enough, Charlie and I seem to have become regulars and are usually greeted not with a hello, but with "two Dos Equis, guys?"), and the prices are extremely reasonable.

And of course, the tortilla soup is addictive.

Now that I'm no longer a poor college student, I know that Cazador is about more than just tortilla soup. I am consistently impressed with the quality of their chicken, and absolutely any dish made with picadillo is a good bet. It's not your typical shredded meat - think big chunks of tender, juicy beef.

The nachos picadillo are simple enough - it's really just tortilla chips, beef, and cheese - but there's something about the cheese that tastes fresh and a little sweet, not rubbery and grease-laden like you might expect from a lesser restaurant. This is one of my favorite things to order at Cazador, but consider yourself forewarned - the nachos come in two different sizes, and the "small" nachos in the picture above are still more than Charlie and I can finish!

I'm also a big fan of Cazador's enchiladas con mole...

Upon first glance it doesn't look like anything fancy, but it tastes wonderful. The mole is not too thick, and tastes more savory than hot. With cheese melted on top and picadillo inside, these are my favorite enchiladas from the rather extensive menu.

I can't say that Cazador has the best Mexican food I've ever tasted, but it's certainly the best I've had in Ankeny - or even in the Des Moines area. The service is always warm and friendly, and with such reasonable prices, we always know we'll be treated to a delicious meal without having to splurge.


Size of Dos Equis drafts relative to price: five stars.
Food: four stars.
Atmosphere: two stars.
Service: five stars.

Let's see, that's five plus four plus two plus five...

I feel like Tim Curry in "Clue."
Let's just say that averages out to a grand total of: FOUR STARS.

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