Restaurant Review: Aldana brings Guadalajara's colors and flavors to Troy

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

These late summer, early fall evenings are just right for sitting on a breezy patio with an icy, salt-rimmed margarita glass in your hand and a plate of fragrant, sizzling fajitas making their way to your table.

All that is possible at Aldana Mexican Bar and Grill in Troy, which was one of the first new restaurants to land on the dining scene this year. It's brought to us by veteran business owners Maria Aldana and her husband, Nabil Ashi, who are also partners in the Las Cazuelas Grill fast-casual Mexican restaurants, which have locations in southwest Detroit, Melvindale and Southfield. 

The first Las Cazuelas opened inside a gas station in 2009. With this new venture, Maria Aldana, who is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, has come a long way from the gas station setup. Aldana Mexican Bar and Grill is a polished, sit-down restaurant that is bursting with bold colors and flavors and has been well-received since opening in January. 

The menu offers familiar Mexican staples — tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, tamales — but with a unique, house-made seasoning and family recipes, like the Birria El Chato, a Jalisco favorite of juicy and flavorful stewed beef. It's served as an entrée or inside street tacos topped with cilantro and white onion. The entrée is named after Aldana's late father, who she said made this same recipe for family parties in her hometown of Guadalajara. Her mother taught the cooks at the restaurant how to make it.

A detail Elote, or Mexican street corn, Friday afternoon, September 10, 2021.

The chicken fajitas are a solid choice, with generous cuts of meat and perfectly cooked peppers and onions that still have a slight crunch. This is where you find that house-made blend of seasoning that stands out with a smoky, chili flavor throughout the dish. The portion is enough for two to share. 

The salsa tastes bright and garden-fresh, but doesn't come free with chips at the start of the meal. (A completely fair move, but something worth noting.) Instead they're $4, or you can pick three dips to try for $15. Options include guacamole, melted queso, an avocado sauce, pico de gallo, hot salsa and mild salsa, which I think is the best choice. 

Even better is the Mexican corn side dish with in-season yellow corn on the cob smothered with shredded queso fresco, cilantro, lime, mayonnaise and topped with some chili threads. It's juicy, cheesy, warm and crunchy. 

I think the wow factor here is the décor. Aldana and Ashi wanted to design the dining room to resemble a  plaza you'd see in many Mexican cities, like the images Aldana remembers from growing up there. The vibrant glass light fixtures seem to dance above a dining room packed with colorful imported tiles and heavy wooden tables and chairs adorned with Mexican artwork.

"I wanted people to know that there's not only horses, and cactuses and sombreros in Mexico, there's more than that," said Aldana, who says Mexican plazas are where magical things happen and family and community come together. "There's a lot more art and we can give the message of art through flowers, through colors, glass and textures." 

Co-owner Nabil Ashi, left, of Allen Park, talks with Ema Sandler, of Detroit, before she shoots pictures for the restaurant's social media sites, Friday afternoon, September 10, 2021.

The atmosphere is upbeat and boisterous, but family friendly. Indoor seating is a mix of low tables with a view of the busy kitchen, high-top tables along the front windows or at the bar, which features artisan glassware, also imported from Mexico. While the margaritas are superb here (not too tangy and not too sweet) the bar program also has other beverages from the region, including micheladas and craft cocktails like the Oaxaca Old Fashioned made with reposado tequila, smoky mezcal and bitters. 

For beer fans, Aldana is launching a mug club with custom-made vessels that will be marked with the member's name or number for them to use and enjoy a discount on their favorite Mexican or American craft beer.

If you go this week, raise a glass to Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16. Aldana Mexican Bar and Grill will be celebrating with a party and live music. 

Hand-made beer mugs in the ceiling behind the bar, Friday afternoon, September 10, 2021.

Aldana Mexican Bar and Grill

2896 W. Maple, Troy

(248) 792-2111

Rating: ★★ (very good)

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tues.-Sun.

Prices: Appetizers $4-$15; tacos and taco dinners $6-$14; entrees, $9-$29; desserts, $8; cocktails $10-$19; beer, $5-$6, pitchers $20 and up; wine, around $8 glass and $32 bottle. Parties of six or larger may be charged an automatic 18% gratuity. 

Reservations: None needed

Noise level: Loud when full 

Outdoor dining: A pretty, partially covered patio that faces Maple road

Accessibility: No barriers 

Parking: Strip mall parking lot

What the stars mean: 

★ — good

★★ — very good

★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — extraordinary

Twitter: @melodybaetens