Milwaukee has an interesting array of Mexican dining, with a thriving 6th Street district perhaps better known for its libations and fun atmosphere than fine cuisines, and a smattering, city-wide, of more "uptown"-- if you will -- Mexican eateries, including Rey Sol, Bay View's Riviera Maya and Taqueria Azteca, and Brady Street's Cempazuchi Comida Brava, 1205 E. Brady St.
Cempazuchi has been on Brady Street nearly 10 years, and while many of its neighbors have come and gone, Cempazuchi remains, bright and carefree on the corner, and it recently phased smoking out of its bar and dining areas.
Décor here is fresh and bright, mirroring the menu, which also showcases fresh produce and in some cases unlikely combinations which shine and keep the mood and menu light and fun.
Cempazuchi's menu begins with antojitos (appetizers) including a good take on guacamole ($6.25), a totopos loco ($8.25, half order $6.25) nacho platter spiced with chorizo and jalapeno peppers, and a tlacoyo zapotec ($6.50) a blue cornmeal masa cake topped with lettuce, tomato, crème fraiche and Mexican cheeses.
All three appetizers we sampled were unique and obviously made with fresh ingredients, although in some cases, we felt were a little bland. The fresh guacamole garnished just about every other appetizer, and the nachos were a clear favorite, especially in the bites that carried the good, spicy tang of chorizo.
Especiales de casa (house specialties) include common Mexican items like enchiladas, with a Cempazuchi flair. Enchiladas Oaxaquenas ($8.95 with choice of chicken, steak, pork, or a combination of chicken and pork (tinga), $7.95 for cheese and onion, $9.25 for seafood) shunned a boring presentation of rolled up tortillas and instead delivered a stack of fresh tortillas stacked amongst the tender shredded chicken and red chile sauce.
Tacos de Tio Israel ($9.50) pair perch rolled in a lightly crunchy blue cornmeal with a crisp and delicious lime slaw and a thick serving of stew-like black beans which were excellent when cut with a dab of crème fraiche.
The especiales regionale cena section of Cempazuchi's menu features dinner menu items available only after 5 p.m., including a chuleta en crema de hongos ($15.95), a simple breaded pork chop dish over a sweet potato mash paired with chipotle portabella cream sauce. Dinner items also include choice of protein served with pipian, a lovely Aztecan poblano pepper sauce made with ground pumpkin seeds and peanuts for $15.95.
One of the highlights of the Cempazuchi menu is its torta selection, especially the Cubana ($8.25), a rich, heavy and absolutely delicious Mexican sandwich on a sweet and light pan Frances sliced flat roll, stuffed with pulled pork, bacon, beans, avocado and jalapenos.
The meat was tender and not greasy, despite the normally fatty contents of both pulled pork and bacon, and was seasoned generously. Jalapenos peeked out from the mixture periodically just to deliver a pleasant punch to the sandwich and perhaps remind the eater of the dishes' ethnic origin. The torta was truly exceptional and a rare find.
Cempazuchi's bar features fresh margaritas and a respectable sangria, both of which complement the food and flavors well, and the atmosphere here makes it a destination spot for a first date or casual night out with friends. For diners seeking Mexican food quality that meets or exceeds that of the margaritas, Cempazuchi does very well with both.
Cempazuchi opens Tuesday through Saturday at 11:30 a.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.