Imagine, if you will, that you are in an Elvis phase. You watched the 2005 miniseries Elvis starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers for the third time and it awakened something inside you. So you watched Elvis movies and listened to Elvis albums and started checking in on the Graceland live cam (a real thing), and briefly considered purchasing Elvis glasses (complete with sideburns).
Now imagine that, as a travel writer, you have decided that every time you go out of town you will hunt for Elvis sites. If you go to Hollywood you will find his star, if you go to Tupelo you will visit his boyhood home, etc. You expect that what you will find are the usual tourist traps. What you do not expect is to find the unexpected.
So on visit to family in Orange County you swipe open your phone and type in "Elvis Orange County" and "Elvis Anaheim" to see what pops up. To your utter astonishment you find the Azteca Restaurant & Lounge, a Mexican restaurant in Garden Grove that pays brilliant, if incongruous, homage to The King.
Of course, you get very excited and as you pack up the car to head home and punch the address into you navigation system you feel the flutterings of impending Adventure. Then, because you are not only an adventurer but a person who is somewhat shy and anxious in unfamiliar situations, you drive down the adorable Historic Main Street in Garden Grove you feel flutterings of a different kind. Namely, the Carls' Junior breakfast burrito you had for breakfast.
But as you park the car and wander up and down the street, pausing across the street from the Azteca you fight the urge to leave without going inside. It would be such a waste! And think of all the untold Elvis riches inside! So you stare at the restaurant a little longer, shop in the adorable thrift store across the street, stare at it some more in the hopes that someone else will walk inside that you can draft behind, then finally pluck up your courage, cross the street, pull open the heavy wooden door, and are instantly terrified and thrilled at what you see before you. First, the restaurant is empty because it is 11:01 on a weekday (terrifying). Second, Elvis is literally everywhere (thrilling).
As you take a few steps forward you are greeted by the friendliest host you have ever encountered outside of Disneyland. He positively beams as he welcomes me in. You ask him if it would be okay if you take a look around despite the fact that you won't be staying for lunch and he says, "Of course!" As you walk around the empty restaurant you ask a busboy who is putting out place settings if he is an Elvis fan. He smiles and tells you that he wasn't, but he is now. You ask the host if he ever gets tired of all the Elvis and he laughs, "Never!"
Every wall is an Elvis collage of photographs, artwork, and memorabilia. Glass gases display collector's items and Elvis can be heard over the speakers singing Viva Las Vegas. Red twinkle lights are draped across the ceiling and when you look up you see movie posters from every Elvis film. Jackets hang down like ornaments and a motorcycle is perched atop a half wall opposite a life-sized Elvis figure that has probably been in hundreds of selfies.
You have been immersed in Elvis and you hate to leave, but you also don't want to hang around without eating, so you take several pictures, thank everyone for being so nice, and step back out into the bright afternoon sun, vowing to come back with friends to try the undoubtedly amazing food.
Once you get home you can't resist the urge to research this anomalous restaurant. You find out that, as the story goes, the original restaurant was opened by "Aunt Connie" in 1957 and moved to it's current location in 1980. Thirteen years later Aunt Connie retired, handing the reins over to her nephew JJ Jauregui. JJ was a huge Elvis fan and, shortly after taking over, bought a framed picture of The King and decided to hang it in the restaurant. Fast-forward twenty years and that one picture turned into the "largest Elvis collection west of the Mississippi".
But it's the end of this story that's the best part. You don't have to imagine any of this, because you can see and experience it all for yourself!
Azteca Restaurant & Lounge
12911 Historic Main Street
Garden Grove, CA 92840