Lucky #13

A big-name UA Wildcats kicker has opened a tiny Mexican-food eatery

Anyone with even the smallest interest in football knows the Zendejas name. This is a family of kickers, those players whose sole job it is to kick the pigskin between the goalposts—often with the game on the line.

The family has produced some of the best kickers in both college and professional football. Alex Jr. is a current UA player, and he kicked the game-winning field goal against Arizona State last year. The previous generation included his dad, Alex Sr., and uncles Luis and Alan (both of whom played for ASU). Yet another uncle, Tony, was a star at Nevada.

And then there's the most famous Zendejas of all, at least as far as Tucsonans are concerned: Max (also an uncle of Alex Jr.) still holds numerous Wildcats records, and gave Arizona fans a legendary win against Notre Dame. It was in 1982, in South Bend, no less, when Max toed it up and made a 48-yard field goal to win the game.

Several members of the Zendejas family went on to successful careers in professional football, and some opened a series of restaurants in Southern California and Glendale.

But now, Max is back and at a most appropriate location—right across from Arizona Stadium, with his restaurant Zendejas #13. The number 13 was Max's UA jersey number.

Zendejas #13 is nothing fancy: This is a college bar and grill. The food is simple, home-style, hearty and budget-friendly. The beer is cold. The pretty, young servers are a bit unpolished but still hold charms. The atmosphere is warm and low-key (although during a UA game, it could really rock). The location is ideal, and with a local legend in the house, and a room bedecked in all things Wildcats, you've got college-student nirvana.

Burros ($5) dominate the menu. We sampled three: the red chile, fish and chicken- mole varieties. This isn't Sonoran-style food; the Zendejas family is from Michoacán, a state in central Mexico that some say is at the heart of Mexican cooking. We also sampled a daily special: cheese enchiladas in red sauce ($8) that came with refried beans and rice.

But let's start with the chips and salsa. The chips are served in tissue-lined condiment holders; on one visit, the chips were warm, and on another, they weren't—but on both visits, the salsa popped. Dark red in color and with a nice texture, the salsa held a nice heat.

The enchiladas—three on the plate—were filled with cheddar and topped with a pleasant enchilada sauce and more cheese. The sauce had the perfect consistency: slightly grainy and still nicely smooth, with just a little heat.

The beans were thick but lacked that lard-y flavor, and the rice was light and fluffy as it should be. Neither stood out, but both satisfied.

The fillings for the burros also pleased. The red chile included chunks of beef dressed in a flavorful red sauce. The fish, a grilled tilapia, was both crisp and flaky. There was also some cabbage; however, a little lime or lemon would've brought out the flavors of both.

Finally there was the mole. This burro was filled with both tender shredded chicken and rice. While the mole sauce wasn't as rich as some around town, it was still savory and flavorful.

The only real disappointment was the margarita ($3, or $2 during happy hour); it was overly sweet and oddly colored. However, the beers—a full slate of domestics and imports in bottles and on tap—were cold and worked nicely with all the spices and heat of the food. On both visits, Max was present in both the front and back of the house, as were several football players.

Burgers, wings and breakfast dishes are also available.

You get the feeling here that the food you're eating is just what all those Zendejas boys ate in their mothers' kitchens way back when. This food is nothing that'll knock your socks off, but it will certainly have you making return visits for more, especially if you're a college student on a limited budget. There aren't many places in town where you can eat so heartily for around $5—while feeling so welcome.

It's a small, friendly place to gather with friends or maybe make some new ones, and even rub shoulders with some Wildcats football heroes.