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Rey Azteca  |  Butler, PA

Rey Azteca | Butler, PA

A Mexican Empire in the Middle of Pennsylvania

Whether you're looking for Tex-Mex or more upscale Mexican cuisine, Reynaldo Palacios has you covered. That's because between his three Tex-Mex locations of Rey Azteca and the newly opened La Casa, with a more refined regional menu, Palacios has brought the cuisine of his country to the Pittsburgh area.

The restaurateur is building a small empire (he also owns Acapulco about an hour away in Irwin) and it looks like it's something the people want. Case in point: the readers of the Butler Eagle newspaper have named Palacios' Rey Azteca the best Mexican restaurant in the area for the last six years.

The colorful and warm 18-table BYOB restaurant caters to the tastes of the Butler population and makes sure to not have dishes be too spicy — although people can add heat if they like it. The menu features all the food you'd expect from Tex-Mex like tacos, enchiladas and chimichangas, but it also has chile rellenos, camarones con hongos (large prawns sauteed with garlic and mushrooms) and pulpo a la diabla (a spicy octopus dish). And it's their quality and attention to detail that sets Rey Azteca apart.

"It's all about the flavor," said Rey Azteca's corporate chef Yanitzin Sanchez. "Everything is homemade fresh daily and we are very specific and selective about who we're getting our food from."

Palacios hired Sanchez, who owned Chicago's Sabor Saveur before it closed and she moved to Pennsylvania, to oversee culinary operations for all five restaurants. She helps set the menus and is the chef at Palacios' newest restaurant, La Casa.

With La Casa, Palacios is looking to help introduce more traditional, regional Mexican cuisine to Butler. Sanchez, who joined the team in June of 2015, combines her training in French techniques with the flavors found throughout Mexico to bring a more modern approach to the food at La Casa and is slowly introducing her food to Butler's food-curious residents.

"We want the people in Butler to experience the food and see that Mexico isn't only Tex-Mex flavors," Sanchez said. "Contemporary Mexican cuisine is a new direction. It's still traditional, but the presentation and the way we cook is the next level to make it gourmet."

While La Casa has dishes like shredded chicken enchiladas suizas; camarones al ajillo with garlic and chipotle sauce; and Mahi Mahi al pastor with guajillo pepper, tequila and pineapple relish, one thing it doesn't have is Rey Azteca's fan favorite: flautas.

"The flautas are the number one item that people go back to often," Sanchez said. "They tell us they're lovely and easy to eat. The beauty of the dish is that the flauta is made with flour tortillas. It's like a deep-fried mini-burrito."

Sanchez also loves enchiladas verde served with slices of steak, the carne asada tacos, and the build-your-own fajitas with chorizo, steak, chicken and shrimp.

If customers get to Rey Azteca and truly can't decide from the extensive menu, Sanchez recommends getting their "special dinner," that includes a chalupa, burrito, and enchilada served with rice and beans. "It's good for different palates and flavors and we want to give our guests that experience," she said.

Rey Azteca offers more than a dozen lunch combination specials, generally served with rice and beans for around $7, but also various dishes like Tex-Mex favorites at lunch. Even though it's lunchtime, Rey Azteca ensures the quality isn't lost.

"At lunch the food needs to be super fast, but we give you the whole experience in one dish," Sanchez said."

And that experience translates to the service, because the customers always come first, Sanchez said.

"For us, we make sure to provide food, flavor and customer service," she added. "We have great servers who received upscale training. And we're a friendly company."

No wonder the empire keeps growing.

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