MOUTHING OFF

Diamond in the roughy: When I can't stomach another bean burrito but still long for those south-of-the-border spices (and prices), I opt for the less-refried Peruvian cooking. Although one of my favorite places, Sergio's in Lakewood, recently closed its doors, El Chalan, at 2257 West 32nd Avenue, is still going strong, serving up fresh, fresh fish and strong, feisty flavors.

On a recent visit, we started with the ceviche mixto ($8.50): orange roughy, shrimp, squid (so tender it practically disintegrated between our teeth) and octopus marinated in lemon and lime juices (with more of the latter), combined with an abundance of onion slivers, a dash of hot peppers, the perfect amount of cilantro and a chilled, cooked chunk of potato. This is not only the best ceviche in town, but one of the town's best dishes, period; the balance of flavors is unbelievable. We weren't as thrilled, however, to find the same seafood selection in the caldo siete mares ($8), a meal-size bowl filled with a tomato-based broth pungent with fish (two unidentified fillets in addition to the familiar orange roughy, shrimp and squid), chiles, onions and cilantro. An order of the caldo de pescado ($5) brought a similar, although less potent, broth, this time augmented by only orange roughy.

Lo and behold, the pescado a la Veracruzana ($7.50) also starred orange roughy, here sauteed with bell peppers, tomatoes and onions in a thick tomato gravy; it was accompanied by an excellent side of dirty rice enhanced with jalapenos and peas. Our other entree, a fish dish with vegetables ($8), featured a lineup of repeat performers: orange roughy, shrimp, squid and octopus, as well as more bell peppers and tomatoes, all swimming in the same soup broth.

We found nothing fishy about dessert, an impressive, made-on-the-premises flan ($3) that contained enough egg whites to give it a sturdy, bread-pudding-like consistency. Equally impressive was the fact that the once-dry Chalan now serves four drinkable wines by the glass ($2.50 to $2.75) and fills those glasses to the brim.

There's absolutely no atmosphere to speak of (unless you're a fan of vinyl tablecloths, lighted beer signs, out-of-place murals in pastel colors and the Spanish version of the song "The Loco-Motion"), but that's part of its charm. Be warned: El Chalan does not take credit cards but will accept checks.

Mexican standoff: My Mexican food scout reports that the two-month-old El Tejado, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week at 2651 South Broadway, shows great promise. The former home of Paula's (and who knows what before that) now features cuisine from Colima, Mexico, with a heavy emphasis on fresh seafood and other traditional delicacies--including terrific beef-tongue tacos, served with both a biting tomato salsa and a delicate tomatilla version. One recent morning, a half-dozen clearly-in-the-know folks sat down to a hearty breakfast of a whole, broiled red snapper (each), accompanied by several Mexican beers, a stack of pancakes--and the music of the mariachi band that plays from noon until 2 p.m. every Sunday.

What a way to start the day.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner