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BLAND ON THE RUN

The chicken mole ($5) looked incredibly tidy by comparison, even though it featured a large pile of tender chicken chunks swathed in sauce. I'm a big fan of mole and always order it when I can, but La Costa's mild mole didn't have much taste, much less a discernible trace of chocolate (actually, only some regions of Mexico use chocolate in their mole, which technically translates to "chile," not "chocolate," sauce).

By comparison, the steak ranchero ($7) fairly burst with flavor. Soft bits of beef had been slow-cooked with tomatoes, potatoes, jalapenos and onions; the dish smacked of an expert hand in the kitchen. And that same hand must have selected the superb flan, which La Costa buys from a catering company called Paella, Inc. The perfect balance of egg whites and yolks had created a sturdy custard that was still soft and creamy--more than a match for the not-too-sweet caramel sauce topping. We'd also ordered a sopaipilla, but it was hard to concentrate on anything but the flan. It was so good, we even forgave La Costa for serving warm beer.

These days, it's tough to keep anything cool.

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