7530 Transit Rd, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: La Tolteca
Rating: [learn more]
A strong local option for Mexican food, offering very good renditions of low- to mid-grade Mexican cuisine such as tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tamales, and faijitas. No big issues.
Menu omits the higher-class Mexican food found in certain restaurants inside both Mexico and heavily Mexican-influenced areas of the U.S.; occasional live music can be loud.
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
Clarence Mexican Williamsville
"The prices are reasonable, the variety of meat and vegetarian dishes is generally impressive, and we have yet to receive a meal that fell short of expectations."
For years, the closest Buffalo's suburbs came to authentic Mexican food was the chain restaurant Chi-Chis, which served decent enough meals but was only a shade closer to the real deal than a Taco Bell. As some point, Chi-Chis disappeared, Tex-Mex chains found their way into town, and virtually the only place to find Mexican was in the city. Thankfully, that's all changed. La Tolteca, part of a small chain with nine locations in Delaware and one in Pennsylvania, has brought the Williamsville and Clarence area as close as the area is likely to come to Mexican authenticity. Situated amidst a mini restaurant row consisting mainly of Red Lobster and Ichi Shogun, La Tolteca has taken over the site of the old Macaroni Grille, converting its interior into a cantina and dining area with space for occasional Mariachi Band visits. The food here is good enough to satisfy even experienced fans of Mexican cuisine, and reasonably priced, too.
The Story: Despite their deservedly poor local reputation, there are indeed places outside of Mexico where Mexican restaurants - not just taco shops - are excellent, and frequently packed with people. Significant Mexican populations in California and Texas have succeeded in winning over local crowds to the benefits of the cuisine, which adroitly transitions from mild, room temperature seafood delights such as Ceviche to heavier meat dishes including specially marinated beef, pork and chicken, and fiery items with red or green chiles. Some places are geared mainly towards lunches, offering nothing more than markedly superior renditions of the tacos Western New Yorkers have been eating for decades; others are full-service, full-menued brunch and dinner establishments, not afraid to offer significant numbers of Mexican shrimp, lobster, crab, or fish dishes.
La Tolteca is somewhere in-between, a medium-sized restaurant that leans closer to the fuller menus of California's better Mexican restaurants. You'll find plenty of beef, chicken, and pork, tacos, taquitos, and chile sauce, but few shrimp dishes and - very sadly - no Ceviche. Fajitas, nachos, and burritos, yes, but crab and lobster are no-gos. What's here is very good, so long as you're not craving the exotic.
Highs: Normally, we'd skip right past a mention of the complementary tortilla chips and salsa, but La Tolteca's salsa is actually good - the chips are fresh, but really it's the just-spicy-enough salsa that did it for us. We try not to overload on these baskets of carbs, which is easy if the salsa's watery or otherwise bad; here, it's just great.
All of the other items we've tried at Tolteca are at least as good as they should be expected to be, sometimes a little better. Taquitos ($3 appetizer, $10 entree), a variant on the taco that consists of a small corn tortilla wrapper stuffed with beef or chicken and then flash-fried, are simply delicious alternatives to the traditional hard shell taco, while the Tacos de Asada ($11) load you up with three sliced steak-filled soft shells, accompanied by a side dish of savory pico de gallo vegetables and piquant sauce, as well as a plate of forgettable beans. The star of these tacos is the referenced "Asada," steak roasted in a Mexican marinade of peppers and spices, which isn't the bland, lifeless meat of a Chi-Chi's fajita - you could, and can, eat this rich-tasting steak as Carne Asada ($12) without the tacos. A favorite from our time outside of Western New York, this dish is done almost as well at La Tolteca as at the best places we've previously visited.
Other Mexican classics, such as the Quesadillas, Enchiladas, and Tamales, are sold individually for $3 or less, with larger entree versions ranging from $7-11; similarly, all of the familiar fare you'd expect, such as hard or soft shell tacos ($2), burritos ($3.75 each), taco salads ($8 and up), and fajitas ($13 and up), remains available on the reasonably sized menu as well. We're partial to La Tolteca's tasty Tamales, a stuffing-like mix of meat and corn dough wrapped inside corn husks and served under a mildly spicy red sauce; we'd prefer, however, that the restaurant warn diners that there's cheese in the sauce, or instead offer it on the side. An order of Enchiladas was custom-ordered ($8), dispensing with red sauce in favor of green (Verde) sauce, and its softened corn tortilla stuffed only with cheese rather than chicken. Delivered just as requested, it was very good.
Lows: As a modest qualifier to our praise for the food quality, we should note that while we've been very satisfied with the items we've ordered, none fall into the category of "high" Mexican cooking - these are mostly commonly available items, prepared well and presented without pretension, rather than the stuff of Caribbean resorts and four-star dining. If you go in with the right expectations, you're guaranteed to be satisfied, but if you're expecting a fancy meal, look elsewhere.
Additionally, though it's certainly not universal on the West Coast, or for that matter Mexico, many patrons have come to expect a cantina and fiesta atmosphere when they enter Mexican restaurants. La Tolteca's cantina area certainly does not counteract the stereotype, and on our first visit, we felt like we were enduring rather than enjoying the music of a live mariachi band that made its way across the dining room playing Latin classics. While the music wasn't bad, the band's instruments were a little too powerful for a restaurant of La Tolteca's size, and our meal felt as if it was being disrupted rather than enhanced. Thankfully, the band only plays once every couple of weeks, and/or on holidays, so you can call in advance if you have an aversion to loud music.
The only other issue we experienced at La Tolteca was an extended, somewhat uncomfortable wait on one occasion for a table. Roughly 45 minutes passed before we were able to be seated, with our choices limited to grabbing high stools in the bar area or hanging around outside. Such is the quandary of any packed restaurant, but some handle the waiting process a little more comfortably.
The Verdict: Though it might not win national or international competitions, and doesn't cater much to those familiar with higher-end, spectacular Mexican seafood, La Tolteca is a superb Mexican restaurant by local standards. The prices are reasonable, the variety of meat and vegetarian dishes is generally impressive, and we have yet to receive a meal that fell short of expectations on either quantity or quality. We would love to see some more seafood options, particularly Ceviche, spicy shrimp, and lobster, but we'll be going back even without them - as long as the mariachi band's not playing.