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NEW IN TOWN: Azul
The name may have changed one more time at this ever-evolving bar and eatery just north of Central Library on 9th Street downtown. But while it began as Bar Yats and morphed into simply The Bar at the Ambassador when Yats owner Joe Vuskovich pulled out of the business venture, what’s now Azul (43 E. 9th St., 602-2279) looks almost the same as it always has with its stark black walls, spacious banquettes, and plate-glass windows facing Pennsylvania Street.
A few Mexican tourism posters have gone up to match the change from classic Cajun to south-of-the-border specialties. The biggest change is in the stapled, two-page menu, which is now filled with tortas, tacos, burritos, and enchiladas that fall in a tasty zone somewhere between those Mexican family restaurants known for their chips and queso and bona fide Latin eateries. Guacamole leans toward the latter approach with chunks of fresh avocado so big we could hardly scoop them up on our tortilla chips. A bit more lime might have been nice, but this was definitely a sign that owner Tom Megenhardt wasn’t merely making a last-ditch effort to get customers into seats with a tried-and-true concept. Enchiladas filled with tender, well-seasoned pork al pastor were smothered in a tasty green chili verde sauce and served with rice, refried beans, and a pile of iceberg lettuces dressed with tomatoes and sour cream. A veggie burrito with a creamy cheese sauce had more mushrooms than we had planned for, but it, too, had a homey flavor to it that made for a satisfying lunch. One wonders if the place will need a few more sincere changes in decor and atmosphere, and perhaps a bit more punch in the entrees, to pull off the Mexican switch. But for now it’s a nice—and open—alternative in a downtown neighborhood wanting for casual eats.