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Mexican grill outdoes chains with its warmth

HelenSchwab

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  • Food: **1/2

    Service: ***

    Atmosphere: **1/2

    5110 Park Road; 704-523-1554.

    HITS: Warm service, good chips, and mole.

    MISSES: Carnitas cooked to dryness.

    SEATS: About 130 plus a patio.

    SMOKING: Nonsmoking, except for patio.

    INSPECTION SCORE: 94.5 (July 10).



At its best, 1900 Mexican Grill is a little neighborhood spot that manages to bridge the gap between the simple sit-down taquerias of South Boulevard and Central Avenue and brightly colored Mexican American chains.

It's not as plain as the taquerias, and its most rustic fare isn't as good, either. But its food does beat fajita-and-nacho-heavy American-leaning spots, and gets a warmer delivery.

I tried a dish of carnitas (braised pork) and enchiladas de mole, both recommended by a server, with mixed success.

The mole (pronounced moh-lay) worked fine: a dark rich sauce with a bit of roasted, earthy flavor, though not the sort of depth and complexity you hope for. . (Puebla and Oaxaca are the most noted for it, and the first typically uses chocolate, and pairs the sauce with turkey – but recipes vary.) It was served with shredded chicken enchiladas that were also workable.

The carnitas, though, definitely tended to the dry, without either a caramelized or melting quality. Served with flour tortillas, they also were accompanied by fluffy rice and nicely thick refried beans.

Our server also steered us toward the Tex-Mex fajitas, and this was the least successful dish we had: dry, tough hunks of chicken and steak came with peppers and onions that were much better than the meats. Even if it hadn't cost $14.95, this dish would have disappointed.

Enchiladas verdes, blanketed thickly with mozzarella, were a better choice, although I wished for a less rubbery, Mexican cheese. The green chile sauce boasted some bright flavor – on the whole, these enchiladas tasted fresher and moister.

Rather than long lists of combos and mix-and-matches, the dinner lineup offers just a few, plus some appetizers, salads, fajitas, sandwiches and a full page of “favorites” such as chiles rellenos and mole. Note that tacos in the combo section come with flour tortillas, lots of melted cheese and lettuce, and are filled with ground beef, shredded beef, spinach or chicken. Corn tortillas and pork with cilantro and onions are under “Tacos Mexicanos.”

Tucked into the tiny Harris Teeter shopping center at Park Road and Selwyn, this is an accessible spot. If it's a compromise, at least it's making an effort.

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