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No Bravo

Rio Bravo Catina serves fine food, but the atmosphere can be less than grand.

No bravo: The idiots were out in full force during a recent stop at Rio Bravo Cantina, one of the many new restaurants that surround the Mann Chinese Theatre at Arapahoe Crossings. This is the first Rio Bravo west of the Mississippi -- the chain originated in the late Seventies in Buckhead, Georgia, a Cherry Creek-like area outside of Atlanta -- and from the looks of the jam-packed all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet (which we were too late for), it's made a few friends out here. The space and the food reminded me of a chain I frequented during my bartending days in Pittsburgh, Chi Chi's, with its faux roadhouse look and tidy gringo fare, although a few of Rio Bravo's dishes were definitely a step above.

But the group we encountered was anything but tidy -- I'd say they were drunk. And their antics were not amusing to me as I watched my kids watching them. In fact, there were several irritated families trying to catch staffers' attention and have something done about the six foul-mouthed diners, but no one seemed to care. Even my server, who said she's a mother, too, and wasn't thrilled about what was going on, confessed that no one knew quite what to do.

Well, I did. I went over and told them to shut up and watch their language around kids. Not surprisingly, this went over real big. Our server said the manager wasn't in at the moment and that she had told the table's server to give them the check, which he did. They took their good old time leaving, with a few parting words for everyone within earshot.

Throughout it all, we tried to enjoy the meal, which wasn't bad. The steak fajitas ($7.79) were the best of the lot, with medium-rare sirloin that arrived sizzling and soft enough to cut with a fork. They came with Rio Bravo's special pinto beans, which were cooked down in a broth spiked with minced chiles, along with a helping of rice, a smattering of pico de gallo, a decent guacamole -- not too gooey, with a nice lemon kick -- and the ubiquitous blob of sour cream.

The chimichanga ($7.99), however, was American all the way, a huge puffball of a fried tortilla filled with refried beans, chile con queso (read: cheese dip) and fire-roasted chicken that had a chemical taste. The whole thing was topped with enough sour cream to fill a half-dozen baked potatoes. We welcomed the portion on the Yucatan taco-enchilada combo ($7.29); we had ordered the beef-lover's special, which included two shredded-beef-filled enchiladas and one spicy ground-beef taco, both of them nearly a foot long and fairly tasty, especially the shredded beef. But the burrito del mar ($9.99) contained very few scallops and shrimp, instead offering mostly bell peppers and black beans as its filling, and the lemon in the lemon cream sauce was very faint.

The biggest disappointment, though, was the margarita ($4.50), which was so tart it made the back of my throat get all phlegmy. Lousy margaritas are becoming the norm, but it doesn't have to be that way. The following recipe is not for purists who insist on the original blend of lime juice, tequila and orange liqueur, but it tastes incredible and goes down easy. I was handed an innocent-looking cup of this elixir at a party in Salida, where the aptly named hostess, Margie Geurs, has been giving the locals hangovers for years. A few pitchers later, I had no problem understanding why.

Margie's Margs

10 ounces tequila (Cuervo Gold or better)

1 can frozen limeade

1 spoonful frozen orange juice concentrate

3-4 ounces Grand Marnier

ice to fill blender

lime or orange slices for garnish

Place tequila, limeade, concentrate, Grand Marnier and ice in a blender and pulse until concoction is frothy and ice is well-crushed. Garnish with fruit slices. Makes about 8 good-sized margaritas.

One of my favorite restaurants is also becoming a mini local chain. El Azteca now has three locations: the original, at 3960 South Federal Boulevard in Sheridan; the second, larger location, at 1780 South Buckley Road in Aurora, which has a liquor license, makes a mean margarita and serves Cuban food; and now the latest, at 303 16th Street in the Republic Plaza food court, in the space that was Las Palomas. Owners and old buddies Sean Irwin and Jerry Sanchez -- Jerry's mom, Alicia, co-owns the other El Aztecas with her husband, Sergio Hernandez -- are doing their super-seasoned rotisserie chicken, and by the end of the month, they hope to be doing the killer tortas, too. "We just opened on April 1, and it's been tough trying to find the right machine to make the tortas, since we don't have a grill here," explains Irwin. "I'm going to California soon to get the right equipment."

The eatery delivers downtown -- you can fax them orders at 303-893-1968 -- but they aren't doing the Cuban food, nor do they have a liquor license. "But this is the real stuff, from the original El Azteca," says Irwin.

That's good enough for me. -- Wagner

 
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