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    OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. When I first heard of a 24-hour Mexican takeout restaurant, I shuddered. Having been out of college for many years, the idea of fast-food-grade tacos before sunrise made me just a little bit queasy.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    Beto's won't be winning any prizes for its decor, but the interior of the nondescript building (which at various times was a roast-chicken stand, a bagel place and a Chinese takeout) is immaculately clean and comfortable enough for a not-so-quick eat-in, any time of the day or night. Be prepared to bring half home.

    If there’s one instance where the refrain “the West is the best” rings true, it’s Mexican food. The harsh reality for us in Florida is that south-of-the-border fare served here just doesn’t compare to the stuff served in California, Texas and New Mexico. In fact, sampling such superior and passionately prepared dishes in L.A., Dallas and Santa Fe has pretty much ruined any hope I have of truly enjoying Mexican food in this city. That’s not to say Mexican food here isn’t decent; it is, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m settling for less than the best. Given that killjoy preamble, you’d think I’m setting up this charming little strip mall taqueria for a downfall, but Chilaquiles Mexican Grill is one of the better Mexican joints in town, if that’s any consolation.

    Pedro and Virginia Hernandez offer all your traditional Mexican faves, some prepared in the style of their native Guanajuato, the central Mexican state whose name translates to “land of frogs,” though nary a frog taco is to be seen on the menu. A refulgent green wall may or may not be an homage to those spindly amphibians and, coupled with a yellow wall and a tangerine-colored ceiling, gives the restaurant a lot of color but, surprisingly, without kitsch.

    The strobing effect created by the ceiling fan’s proximity to the light fixture transported me to the opening scene of Apocalypse Now – “Saigon, I can’t believe I’m still in Saigon” – that is, until a soft taco filled with rajas ($1.80) and one filled with beef and potato ($1.49) were set before me. The former featured a savory mix of sautéed peppers, cilantro, onions and gooey queso inside a flour tortilla (corn tortillas are also offered); the latter was a little bland, but a dip in the Guanajuato-style hot salsa, made with jalapeno, habanero, mango and ginger, livened it up nicely. I washed down those peppery bites with a succoring swig of sweet and fruity sangria ($3).

    I expected more from the namesake chicken chilaquiles ($7.25), a dish known for its therapeutic effects in curing hangovers and, thus, typically enjoyed for breakfast. A diminutive layering of mini fried corn tortillas quickly turned to mush after being topped with onions, melted cheese, onions and sour cream, and the wee morsels of grilled chicken, though flavored nicely, were dry. The lack of green sauce had the dish resembling a nachos-like entrée more than it did the hearty, saucy meal chilaquiles usually make.

    I saw shades of Santa Fe in the smoky three-pepper red salsa slathered over carne asada enchiladas ($8.69). And though the beef was a tad chewy, the red sauce made a winner of the dish. A small ramekin of mild green salsa was also offered.

    I had my eyes set on the chile relleno ($8.20), but they were all out, so I opted for a chimichanga ($4.50) instead. The lightly fried flour tortilla, stuffed with yellow rice and seasoned beef, was perfectly crisp and not greasy in the least. Desserts aren’t made in-house, but churros ($1.25), vanilla ice cream with Mexican chocolate ($1.75) or a taza of Mexican hot chocolate all make satisfactory endings.

    Service was amiable and accommodating, and the owners seem genuinely committed to quality. What you eat here is what the Hernandezes eat in their own home. I just hope they can attract a loyal customer base – on the night I visited, the plaza resembled a barren wasteland, devoid of any famished souls. Yes, the West may still be the best, but if you’re craving real Mexican fare a cut above your local Chevy’s, Chilis or Don Pablo’s, my advice is to head north to Longwood.

    A friend from Los Angeles had barely settled into his temporary home here when we called to see if he wanted to have dinner. But as soon as we pulled up at Los Charros in Altamonte Springs, I started to second-guess my decision. What was I thinking, taking a Pacific Coaster to eat Mexican on his first day in Orlando? How could it ever live up?

    The surrounding neighborhood isn't much to look at, but Los Charros itself sits like a bastion of warmth in an empty strip mall parking lot. The orange building, covered with bright blue awnings, seems quaint. I was hoping for something more glamorous to impress our guests from La La Land, but cozy would do.

    We walked inside and I was relieved to smell authentic Mexican spices simmering away – chili peppers, cilantro, onion and tangy tomato. The room was decorated with a hodgepodge of still-life paintings and knickknacks. The hostess greeted us with a huge smile and pleasantly showed us to a table the size of Texas. We sat staring at each other over the vast divide, looking jaundiced because of the harsh fluorescent lighting. (The décor looked a little dingy, too.) Our server was as friendly as the hostess, and she dropped off a basket of chips and salsa and took our drink order. I grabbed a freshly fried tortilla chip, dunked it in cilantro-rich liquid salsa, and turned my attention to the enormous menu.

    A half-hour later our table was a jumble of enchiladas, tacos, burritos and rice dishes. The enchiladas were hit and miss – the bean variety ($1.75) lacked an assertive seasoning, and the cheese one ($1.75) was surprisingly dull, even with the ineluctable fat dripping from the end. The best were the house enchiladas ($7.99), a full plate loaded with chicken-stuffed corn tortillas, topped with melted cheese; the savory sauce hidden in the tortilla brought out the flavor of the fresh chicken, although the meat tended to be tough.

    Two disappointing dishes were the greasy chiles rellenos ($7.99), which were on the overcooked side and had not been fully purged of their bitter seeds. And the queso fundido ($5.50) was standard, but didn't have the usual bite needed to cut through the cheese.

    Skip the hard tacos ($1.75), which mostly tasted like cumin-laced Beefaroni in a stale shell. The soft tacos, however, are stunning in their ability to please. The tacos de carne asada ($7.50) were a trio of pliable corn tortillas filled with piquant marinated steak complemented by homemade tomatillo sauce. The carnitas soft taco ($2) was equally as satisfying, with each morsel of braised pork both tender yet crispy.

    On the upside, anything that isn't pleasing at Los Charros can be covered in spicy guacamole ($2.75). Theirs was some of the best I've had, balancing the creaminess of ripened avocado with lime and salt and a peck of intense herbs.

    For dessert, skip the medicinal-tasting churros ($3.75), and instead order the billowy sopapillas ($3.50), a fried flour concoction drizzled with honey and dusted in cinnamon.

    There is authenticity at Los Charros, but most of the dishes seem to lack something. Perhaps what it needed was the regular cook, since we later found out that he was out of town visiting family in Mexico. I asked my Californian friend what he thought.

    "It ain't California," he mused. But we knew that.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Tijuana Flats in Downtown Orlando.

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