Thursday, July 10, 2008

ANOTHER ROADSIDE ATTRACTION

Ocoee taquería serves up standard-issue dishes

Posted on Thu, Jul 10, 2008 at 4:00 AM

I've given up lamenting the lack of quality Mexican food in this city ' it's become a futile endeavor. Let's face it, Floridians with a fondness for south-of-the-border fare have to settle for second-best, and if you want second-best, there are scores of taquerías where you can get your fill. You might even say there are a plethora
of taquerías, and I know each one of them like I know my own smell.

Yes, I've resorted to using catchphrases from the Three Amigos and, recalling the words of Dusty Bottoms, I felt the urge to ask my waitress at the Guanajuato Grill if there was anything here besides Mexican food. But that compulsion quickly dissipated at the sight of glistening fresh tortilla chips and two colorful, chunky salsas being placed on the table. Color, aggressive and bright, plays a central role in the restaurant's interior as well, so if your eyes are sensitive, bring your shades or an extra-large sombrero.

To be fair, there is an authentic arched door from Mexico built into the wall, quite a lovely fixture, and just as lovely was the crema de elote ($2.99), a fixture on the uncomplicated menu. The corn chowder is a smooth puree bumped up with whole kernels and thickened with cheese; strands of queso will inevitably get stuck to your chin. And viva el carne asada taco ($1.90)! The savory, slightly chewy, entryway to more traditional plates and specialties was one of those betcha-can't-eat-just-one appetizers. Sopes de pollo ($5.99) were a sight for hungry eyes, but not so welcoming on the tongue. Piled high with lettuce, onion, tomato, cilantro, pinto beans, queso crumbles and shredded chicken, the fried corn-dough shells were surprisingly insipid, and were salvaged only with a liberal dosage of El Yucateco habanero sauce. If you go too far on the hot sauce, a glass of cherry-sweet sangria ($4.95) does its part to control oral conflagrations.

The pacing of dishes is perfectly timed, but that doesn't mean you can't shimmy to the catchy Tejano music in between plate pick-up and arrival. They play it loud, which just adds to the exuberant ambience, and no sooner had my head stopped bopping to the accordion-tinged sounds than a cheesy plate of chiles rellenos ($9.95) was delivered. Two large poblano peppers filled with gooey queso, then battered, deep-fried and ladled with plenty of salty red sauce, were standard-issue and served with humdrum rice and refried beans. Ask for their spicy green salsa to add a peppery kick. Filete Guanajuato ($14.99) proved a little more gratifying. The flat,
rectangular tenderloin steak came layered with glossy hunks of green pepper and onion, with corn tortillas on the side. Like the carne asada, the beef was nicely seasoned and flavorful.

Desserts are made in-house, but fail to rouse. Crepas con cajeta ($3.50) was nothing more than folds of thin, dry pancake arranged around a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce. Almonds were promised as a topping for the flan ($2.50), but were nowhere to be seen.

Guanajuato Grill is a true roadside diner situated in the unlikeliest of places ' an isolated thoroughfare pockmarked by industrial warehouses and not much else. When driving along West Story Road, look for the Ocoee Business Plaza and a sign saying 'Mexican Food Carnitasâ?� ' but if you'd rather not bother making the drive, no problemo. There's sure to be a second-best Mexican joint close to where you live.

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