AZTECA MEXICAN GRILL
LOCATION: 909 Grantley Road, Spring Garden Township
JESS'S PICK: Fried chicken chimichanga, $6.79, and Mexican soda, $1.99
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
PRICE RANGE: 75 cents, side of salsa; $6.99, steak or ground beef tacos, burrito, salad, fajita burrito, quesadilla or fried chimichanga
ACCEPTS: Cash and credit
KID'S MENU: Yes
DETAILS: Call 717-848-5800 or visit its Facebook page
Fast-casual cafes and grills have become among my favorites in recent years. The idea is you order and pick up food at the counter, then have the choice of eating in or taking out.
If you haven't heard of the relatively new concept, think chains like Panera, Chipotle, Pita Pit, and then add Azteca – a homegrown version – to that list.
The Spring Garden Township Mexican grill offers tacos, chimichangas, salads, quesadillas, nachos and, of course, burritos.
What sets it apart is its own seasoning, its own sauces, its own salsas. Even the tortilla chips are homemade.
And if you venture there on a weekend, you're likely to find Peruvian dishes made by owner Rosa Ayala. Ayala took over at the restaurant about a year ago.
When you head inside the golden yellow building, you'll find the counter directly in front of you, with the menu posted behind it. Warm colors of greens and oranges are inviting, and multiple tables await patrons.
At the counter, first, choose what type of meal you prefer – burrito, tacos, salad and so on.
Ayala said the burritos are a customer favorite, especially around lunchtime. She serves a lot of York College students during the school year.
Then you choose the meat, which changes the price slightly – steak and ground beef is about 20 cents more than chicken, carnitas (braised pork) or vegetarian ($6.79).
As you continue down the line at the counter, you can choose to add sour cream, cheese, shredded romaine lettuce or salsa – pico de gallo (mild), original (medium), green tomatillo (medium hot) or red chili (hot).
Then pick if you want a drink, or a combo with chips and salsa, and pay.
What took my eye on a recent Sunday afternoon was the fried chimichanga, available according to a sign on the cash register. It took a few more minutes to prepare, so the employee brought it to me after I paid.
When dinner arrived, it was a gorgeous, bright display of red, green and white. The chimichanga was topped with lettuce, then resting on the lettuce was guacamole on the left, pico de gallo in the center and sour cream on the right.
Not only did it look good, it tasted good. It was filled with hunks of chicken, flavored by Azteca's homemade adobo seasoning, and cheese. The seasoning was just right for my sensitive taste buds – a hint of spice.
But the best part was the wrap itself – flaky and crisp.
Fountain sodas are available at the restaurant, but for a few cents more, patrons can try bottled Mexican soda. I couldn't resist the sugary (no high fructose corn syrup) find.
For a late-night snack (Azteca is open until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays), the nachos sound fulfilling, starting at $4.29.
And for the kiddos, choose from quesadillas served with rice and beans, or tacos served with rice.
Azteca's concept might be chain-like, but the food and atmosphere are all its own – and who wouldn't want to support that in York County?