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Friday, December 22, 2000

Real translation

Posted on Fri, Dec 22, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Sad to say, there's not much of anything around lately that qualifies as genuine. Oranges are artificially colored, desserts are "naturally" sweetened, and don't get me started with the whole genetically altered deal. So finding an authentic eating place like Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant is a treat.

The restaurant is named after Plaza Garibaldi, both a tourist center and local gathering place in Mexico City, alive with an almost perpetual fiesta. Garibaldi's isn't quite that frenetic, but the constant traffic on North Semoran (near the corner of Colonial Drive) brings a steady flow of diners. By all means, even if the inside dining area is free, sit outdoors (since they opened a couple of years ago, they've added an oversized fountain that muffles the noise) on a balmy night and fantasize about even sunnier climes.

It's probably a credit to the research department of a certain fast-food chain that you will recognize many of the terms on Garibaldi's extensive menu: gordita, chimi-changa and chalupa all make an appearance. These ain't no Madison Avenue inventions but real food done in the traditional way. And perhaps that's the problem with "authentic" – it's generally not very flamboyant or exciting.

"Fajitas de camerón" ($14) is just grilled shrimp, onions and peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas for wrapping – not fancy but certainly tasty. "Flautas verdes" is nothing but corn tortillas rolled tightly around seasoned beef or chicken, then deep fried and topped with cheese and green salsa; it doesn't have fireworks or talking dogs, but it's $6.50 well spent.

Original dishes that do stand out are "fajitas Garibaldi" ($11), which adds chorizo sausage to a combination of chicken and beef on a sizzling iron pan, and "chile Colorado" ($7.95), a spicy beef and chili sauce platter. (And yes, it is served with beans – on the side). The selection of specialties is wide, but if you'd be happier with the standbys of tacos, burritos and enchiladas, there are 30 different combinations of same, along with chile rellenos and chalupas (all $6.50-$7).

Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi is also known for strolling mariachi bands, and we were quite thrilled to see a band tuning up in the parking lot when we drove up. The band is there several nights a week (call ahead). Be aware that they don't "stroll" but, like their compatriots in Mexico City, charge $15 a song if you want them to play. If you enjoy the authentic, ask for a real folk song (I suggest "La Negrita"), the experience is unique and worth the price just as the food is worth the trip.

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