My fondest memories of living in the United States included hot summer days with my best friends (and volleyball teammates), refreshing margaritas and authentic Mexican food. My mouth is watering just thinking about zesty salsa and chips, table side hand-smashed guacamole and fish tacos with freshly made flour tortillas. When I moved back to Calgary last year I was sad to leave that behind ... until I found Añejo!
I stumbled across Añejo when I met a friend for lunch at Towa Sushi (what you would expect from a six foot CanAsian) and we got there an hour before it opened for dinner. We saw the sandwich board outside that said "HALFY HOUR" (3 to 5pm daily; half price tequilas and tacos and $5 margaritas) and we were sold!
Expecting pre-made lime margarita mix and your standard, run-of-the-mill tacos, stuffed with lettuce and sauce (and a "hint" of protein), I was completely WOW'ed by every part of that first experience (and I'm not easily impressed)! For this reason, Añejo has become one of my favourite restaurants in Calgary.
When you first walk into Añejo you feel as though you've been transported to an established Mexican restaurant with years of family history ... yet with an urban rustic feel. The room is dark with lighting representative of candles lit throughout the room. Sugar skulls, ornate crosses and gilded mirrors line the walls leading to the impressive selection of tequilas behind the bar. It's an intimate setting with leather banquettes and seats, rustic wood tables and colourful pillows all around the room. In one word ... SEXY!
Añejo has become a regular destination where friends gather to relax, laugh and have a good time. This is evident in the fact that every time I visit the restaurant it's buzzing with energy and excitement! But this sense of comfort and belonging starts with the staff proudly wearing their Añejo gear.
With the bar as the focal point of the establishment, staff are constantly smiling, laughing and working together as a team. In addition, I'll catch patrons saying, "Hi!", throwing a high-five or wrapping their arms around their favourite staff members. This place, much like it's Mexican culture, is rooted in a real sense of family and community (even though I doubt any of them are related)!
I am by no means a qualified food critic or proclaim to have an expert palate but, with items like ceviche, oysters on the half shell, tuna poke and table side guacamole, all made from raw elements, you can see the quality of the ingredients that go into every delicious bite! The ingredients in all of the dishes are simple but require great care and respect to tease out the incredible flavours. In fact, of the many tacos, appetizers and mains I've eaten I have never found a wilted piece of lettuce of brown avocado on my plate ... NEVER!
One Tequila ... Two Tequila ...
I have now gained an appreciation for tequila but am far from the experts behind the bar who are well versed on the heritage and distinctions between each of the 200+ bottles carefully selected. What I do know is the bartenders maneuvering the twenty foot long bar truly enjoy sharing their knowledge and pouring shot after shot of delicious agave-based spirits!
I personally appreciate the flavour of the añejo (which means "aged" in Spanish) varieties. These tequilas are aged a minimum of one year to three years, in small oak barrels. With so many tequilas on the list I recommend a tasting flight to learn more about the different types of tequila and identifying which ones suit you best (and you save a dollar on every ounce).
My Recent Experience
After moving to the far southeast side of the city (Walden) I came back to Añejo for the first time in over six months. Craving handmade, table side guacamole and a margarita on a hot summer day I stepped foot in the restaurant, wondering if things might have changed. It's still very much the same ... and maybe even better than I remember! Amazing vibe, friendly staff, fresh, flavourful food and smooth tequilas shown great respect with every glass or shot!
I recently got the opportunity to take some "behind the bar" pics from Añejo restaurant and you can check out the images on social media using the icons at the top of the page.
(This post was originally published on www.sixfootcanasian.com on August 10, 2015)