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Cebolla’s

Out of a possible five
$$

Festive Cebolla’s makes dining a seamless affair

The latest incarnations of the Cebolla’s Mexican Restaurant group have not been Cebolla’s.

First there was Don Chava’s along Wells Street near downtown and, just recently, Mexico Antiguo Restaurante opened along Maplecrest Road near the Georgetown area.

I am not sure why the local chain, which has a fine reputation and a strong following, is not using its original name, and, after visiting one of the originals in Time Corners shopping center, I can assure you it is not because they have fallen off.

The Time Corners store is gorgeous and anyone who has been to Don Chava’s can see the similarities with its Mexican street-style décor.

The place truly feels like a courtyard with a fountain as its centerpiece, mission clay tile-covered faux building overhangs, red tile floors that look like a brick road and all the other funky Mexican design nuances perfectly scattered about. It creates a festive mood without being too over the top.

And the service at this Cebolla’s was also something all of the group’s restaurants should use as a guideline. I was greeted promptly and politely, the servers were on top of things and I never once felt ignored.

One server was particularly professional. I spotted him drifting past my booth several times keeping an eye on the table to see whether there was anything we might need and stopped only to interrupt us if it was clear we were out of salsa, chips or drinks. On another busy Friday night, a manager promptly stepped in to help his staff and brought me take-home boxes and my bill.

So what about the food? There were no problems there, either.

Cebolla’s fare was simply satisfying if not overly exciting. It was solid Mexican that came out fast and there were no mistakes.

For starters, the simple queso dip is hard to beat. This white creamy – almost milky – cheese had just the right hint of jalapeno heat – just like the complimentary salsa.

The Taquitos Mexicanos were crispy with plenty of tender steak and chicken, and its best assets were heaping scoops of pico de gallo, sour cream and above-par guacamole. They stayed on my table long after the taquitos were gone so I could add a little of it to boost my entrée.

The Burrito Grande was a great choice for beef lovers. This big flour-tortilla-wrapped dish covered most of my plate and was stuffed with shredded stewed beef and ground beef with just the right zesty, peppery seasoning. It had been covered with red sauce and cheese sauce, but both flowed over the tortilla to the plate. The sauces still did the job, as I was able to smear each bite through them. The burrito was also topped with a heaping pile of shredded white cheese, along with diced tomatoes, crunchy shredded lettuce and two slices of ripe avocado.

The most surprising dish was the Camarones a la Plancha grilled shrimp. It had 12 plump, sweet shrimp with a salty-but-not-spicy seasoning rubbed on one side. That side was pressed onto a flat grill to form sort of a blackened crust. Anyone who likes a little zip with their shrimp would love these.

I think shrimp would have been a nice substitute for the chicken in the Tijuana’s Enchiladas. The chicken was tasty and plenty juicy, but the somewhat sour green tomatillo sauce could have used a little of the shrimp’s sweetness to counterbalance it. The tomatillo sauce added a real brightness to the dish and tasted green (i.e. fresh), and the cheese sauce again made a welcomed appearance.

I chose grilled steak for my Mixteca Salad and found plenty of it, along with black beans, pico, corn, red pepper, avocado and tortilla crumbles atop my crisp romaine lettuce. The house-made chipotle dressing was just the right amount to flavor without overpowering, and there was a lot of fresh cilantro, which is always a good thing.

Some other good things were the margaritas I had at Cebolla’s. There always seems to be a special on this Mexican cocktail there, and the Texas-sized one – traditional on the rocks with salt, of course – was perfect. For a less tangy blended version, go for the mango as it, too, was excellent.

My meals at Cebolla’s also ended on a high note with a couple of worthwhile desserts.

The Nieve Frita fried ice cream was crusted with corn flakes, which I usually don’t care for, but Cebolla’s did it right so they were actually crisp and fresh instead of soggy and stale like most places use.

The flan was creamy, custardy, soaked in a tasty gooey caramel sauce and had a thick caramelized layer – or “crust” – on the bottom. It was also beautifully plated with a dollop of whipped cream and a cherry on top.

That flan sort of summed up my entire experience at Cebolla’s. It was pretty straightforward, but done to perfection.

Restaurant: Cebolla’s

Address: 5930 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 436-1650

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Queso dip ($3.99), taquitos ($6.99), Burrito Grande ($7.65), Mixteca Salad ($9.50), Tijuana’s Enchiladas ($8.19), grilled shrimp ($15.55), fried ice cream ($3.99), flan ($3.99)

Rating breakdown: Food: * 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutpDuVall.

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