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Dining Out: Fiesta Grande; not always authentic, but always tasty

Fri., March 7, 2014, midnight

At a recent lunch/strategy session we were talking about the fact we hadn’t addressed Mexico food.

Our plates featured Pobre Compesino (chicken sautéed with onions, bell peppers, carrots and mushrooms in a red spicy jalapeño cream cheese sauce) and Amigo Especial (sautéed shrimp, mushrooms and skirt steak in a Guadalajara-style enchilada with guacamole, pico de gallo and tortillas) – both delicious.

We came to the realization it’s almost impossible to cover Mexican food.

Over the years we have found delicious Mexican food in a variety of places, from the chains to the mom and pop shop like the one we were sitting in – Fiesta Grande at 32nd Avenue just west of Pines Road in the Valley.

It’s hard to stumble into horrible Mexican food. It’s comfortable: meat, tortilla, maybe some sautéed vegetables, often times a red sauce, beans and rice. Judging how authentic the food is? That’s another matter.

We have a close friend who loves Chipotle and Costa Vida, chains that certainly aren’t bad but, outside of the names of the food, don’t make anyone think much of Mexico. Other friends frequent Azteca on Taco Tuesday, loving the excuse to have a margarita.

One wife loves Senor Froggy’s, often frequenting the one in the Valley because she loves the fresh salsa bar, the closest we get to a rave review.

By no means have we discovered all the good places. Recently a colleague passed right by one of the aforementioned chains and took me into one of the four local Atilano’s. It was delicious. And our last lunch together was at Senor Froggy’s on Division.

High on our wish list is Borracho Tacos & Tequileria, which was written up recently in the 7 section and has been highly recommended by friends.

We decided we liked Mexican food in general and that our guiding principles are the same as any other place we go to eat. We expect friendly service, clean surroundings and a fair price for what we order, which seems to be universal in the Mexican places we’ve visited over the years. And for us, it means we’re going to avoid big chains. It’s obvious in the small places the owners are working hard.

Because we wouldn’t call Mexican food gourmet or romantic – and it could just be us – we usually find ourselves stopping for a quick meal. Which usually means close to home.

In addition to Fiesta Grande, our two other nearby stops are Tacos Tumbras, on Sprague Avenue just east of Argonne Road, and Aracelia’s on Trent Avenue, west of Argonne.

All have been given high marks in casual conversations with our Valley friends. Some swear they are as close to authentic as you can get. That, we don’t know. Any place that gives priority to sour cream has to be questioned, as that’s not a big deal in Mexico.

As the restaurateur said, there has been an interesting evolution of Mexican cuisine here in the U.S, which is catering to the American palate. Have you ever had an authentic margarita?

That would be tequila and lime juice on the rocks, not a sweetened slushy with salt on the rim.

But while it may be hard to pick between places to eat Mexican and it may not be our first choice for special occasions, we find it hard to say anything bad about Mexican food. And we’re certainly not going to complain about a sweet slushy with salt on the rim.

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