Tortilla Flats

There were no complaints about the burritos (two dollars and up), which are served open-face, topped not with lettuce and tomato but with a simple sprinkle of onions and cheese. For the ravenous, there's the "burrito loco": the diner's choice of meat, poultry, or beans, topped with onions, cheese, two sauces, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and jalape*os. Rice and refried beans accompany this aptly termed "monster," which costs five bucks.

Garnished with cheese, onions, and a creamy "chicken loco" sauce and served with rice and shredded lettuce on the side, chicken and sour cream enchiladas ($4.25) weren't much smaller than the burrito loco. Although wrapped in soft corn tortillas, these delicacies were anything but delicate, and, with every food group in attendance, qualified as a complete meal.

Those who tire of tortillas may want to try the "taco burger": taco fillings on a sesame-seeded hamburger bun. We, however, found the bean burger unbelievably bland. The "apple loco," on the other hand, was a tasty spin on apple pie, made with a fried flour tortilla, melted cheese, and a sprinkle of crushed Red Hots.

Location Info

Map

El Rancho Grande

314 72nd St.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: South Beach

We did experience some difficulty in making special requests. It wasn't that the San Loco staff wouldn't fulfill them; they simply didn't seem to understand them, or the motivation behind them. Orders tended to be somewhat off: bits of cheese here and there, as if the ingredient had been added and then scraped off; sauces that had been requested on the side just plain forgotten. Then again, they were always willing to correct mistakes, even on delivery orders.

Six-week-old Tacos by the Road, at 638 S. Miami Ave., is a pleasant lunch alternative for office inmates who are tired of downtown's somewhat stale cuisine scene. Not that the restaurant's three salsas will power things up much -- the most piquant version, a fresh, chunky combination of tomato, white onion, and chopped cilantro, was zippy but nowhere near as hot as the day. Still, this pretty little place presents quick, fine fare in an exceptionally clean setting.

Tacos, burritos, fajitas, and quesadillas, ordered at a counter contrived from hurricane shutters, are assembled from your choice of steak, chicken, pork, or vegetarian (beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, and guacamole). As at the Burrito Place, flour tortillas are the norm here, with corn putting in an appearance only as a basket of chips or nachos. (Unlike at the Burrito Place, these chips were freshly prepared, crisp and barely touched by salt.) Though skimpy on cheese, nachos grandes ($4.79) were liberally laden with peppery beans, newly mixed guacamole that was a bit heavy on the lemon and light on the salt, sour cream, and steak.

Owner Carlos Fournier, a former head line cook at Chi-Chi's, bought out the lease of a pasta restaurant called 638. In opening his taco stand he deliberately kept the menu simple, just the way they do along the byways of Mexico. The name of the restaurant is an apt double-entendre that also plays on the proximity of the locally legendary Tobacco Road. (Old Roadsters may remember an earlier incarnation of the location: Shagnasty's, where Delroy "Cheese" Gibb's chicken and steak fajitas, flamed to order on an outdoor grill on weekend nights, earned two Best of Miami awards.)

Like its venerable neighbor, Tacos by the Road maintains its own individual style. Beans, for instance, are whole red kidneys, not pureed refrieds. Beef is marinated and sliced flank steak, not ground chuck. And the only beer available is Miller Lite on tap, not lime-topped, bottled Corona; twelve-ounce cups of homemade sangria are another choice.

The lone special the day we visited, tequila-and-lime-marinated shrimp ($4.99) served with a corn-tomato salsa in flour taco shells, was an admirable achievement. After soaking in the margarita bath, the shrimp were grilled, then cradled in just-warm tortilla shells. The chunky corn-and-tomato relish added garden punch but unfortunately little in the way of spice.

Sauteed onions and red and green bell peppers contributed to steak fajitas ($4.49), two hot flour tortillas filled with meat, vegetables, and guacamole. A side dish of beans provided extra emphasis, though they couldn't overcome the fact that the steak was overcooked to dryness. As with all other orders, chips were served alongside.

A chicken burrito, priced at $4.29, was warm and fragrant, a well-rolled flour tortilla sandwich suitable to pick up and eat with one's hands. The oven-stiffened shell hid an oozy burst of chicken, guacamole, and salsa -- sans cheese, if you like. Tacos by the Road takes healthy requests with aplomb.

Of course, we're probably all better off if we keep an eye on what we eat. Then again, if we swallowed everything the media fed us, we'd never eat anything at all. And doesn't your own common sense tell you that a certain dish, deep-fried and layered with beef, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream is -- at least in the colloquial sense -- "bad" for you?

At the full-scale eateries such as Mrs. Mendoza's out west and El Rancho Grande on the Beach, the menus have a greater scope, offering something for even the most fastidious dieter. And a drive south to Homestead is sure to yield authentic Mexican results. But for more immediate cravings, check out the taco stands -- they sure beat a Big Mac.

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