Frontera is a best of breed restaurant, the very best of the “Atlanta style” Tex Mex restaurants. They serve good food and they have generally good service, with this particular restaurant having better service than many. They are fast to the table with crisp, warm chips and they serve two salsas, one red and one a browner chipotle sauce. The chipotle salsa is, in a word, excellent.

Being an “Atlanta style” Tex Mex means they have a staple set of dishes that do not change from restaurant to restaurant, chain to chain. You can get a Speedy Gonzales here, the numbered combinations, the Crazy Taco. But they do it with more of a twist than the others. Their chicken seems to be spicier, more flavorful than their competition. You can get the Crazy Taco (Taco Loco at other joints) at dinner as well as lunch. They have a very nice burrito al carbon, and they are, to their credit, expanding their menu, adding dishes (generally in the $12 range), looking for keepers. Because of this, they do tend to be a little more expensive than Poblano’s.

Some nights there will be a musician in the restaurant, playing for tips.

They are located on Highway 78, just over the hill to the north of the Highpoint Road – Highway 78 intersection. Frontera’s is next to a Ruby Tuesdays and the newly opened Albatross Bar and Grill.

Verdict: Highly recommended. Good food, sometimes very good. Service is very good and perhaps exceptional, considering how hard it is to get good service in Snellville.

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El Toro Mexican Grill appears to be a member of a chain, one of 19 restaurants whose core menu is based on a set of Tex Mex dishes, whose names are unique to Atlanta, that simply do not change from restaurant to restaurant (other examples include Fronteras and Poblanos).  The existence of the common Atlanta Tex Mex can be recognized by the dish called a “Speedy Gonzales” (taco, enchilada, and rice or beans).  And I can say, after some years in Houston, Texas, going to school here, and eating occasionally at Houston’s Mexican restaurants, I never once heard of a “Speedy with beans”. Not once.

So, having identified the cuisine, is this a good thing? Well, the best thing that can be said about it is that it’s filling and inexpensive, and not all that bad. It’s not really the acme of Tex Mex, but neither is it the abyss either. So, if the high end of border cuisine is a restaurant like Ninfa’s on Navigation, in Houston, or perhaps Posados in Bossier City, Louisiana, or Pappasitos wherever the Pappas family stakes a claim, this restaurant is living in the comfortable middle. And it’s not a bad place to be, the middle. When your entrees begin at $6.75 and many are under $8.00, then someone with a limited budget and a largish family might be able to afford to eat there.

This particular location is new, occupying a place at the corner of Pleasant Hill and Club Drive, in a building that used to contain a Japanese restaurant, which failed, and then Gaucho’s Grill II, an Argentinian steak house, which also failed. It’s a nice location, easy to access, and I had some hope that this restaurant would turn out all right.

A brief taste test suggests it will. I tried the Enchiladas Supreme (identical dish can be found at Poblanos), and my daughter tried their sopapillas (which looked suspiciously like chips drizzled with cinnamon, as opposed to the New Mexican style sopapillas I grew up with). The best of the enchiladas was their chicken. I couldn’t be sure if they flavored their chicken the way Frontera’s does.

The restaurant was pretty full considering that they just opened, and Hispanics dominated the restaurant. The waitress was very nice, and told us that two weeks from now (now being April 7, 2009), they would be having a half price off special, probably on a Saturday. Might be worth looking forward to, for those in Snellville. If you like this kind of food, stop off as you drive down Pleasant Hill road sometime.

El Toro Mexican Grill
1492 Pleasant Hill Road
Duluth, Georgia, 30096
(770)-921-9656

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Taqueria Los Hermanos sits in the corner of an ‘L’ shaped strip mall on the northeast side of the intersection of Highway 29 and Indian Trail/Killian Hills. The main sign is dark these days, and as we’ve driven by, my wife was convinced that it was closed.  Closer examination shows that not to be the case, and that’s a good thing, because this taqueria has some nice food, worth a stop if you’re in the area.

This is a restaurant whose Tucker location has been often reviewed, by Meredith Ford among others, and has been mentioned in best fish tacos in Atlanta lists. The Lilburn site was opened in 2003. When you enter there is seating on both sides of a bar. The restaurant is bright, shiny, perhaps just a little cramped. They serve a variety of beers and a machine to one side of the cash register has the label “Best Margaritas in town.” As I step in, waiters that have served me 3 years ago are still here. It has kept its staff, a good thing.

I have to order to go this time, for me and my daughter, and I order my favorite trio: a pastor taco, a carnitas taco and a fish taco. My daughter wants a burrito and I get the asada burrito for her. I occasionally try their other dishes (the marisco enchiladas aren’t bad), but I drift back to the tacos continually. Perhaps it’s just food imprinting. I had never had a fish taco before I ate one here.  Maybe that’s coming back to me, like zombies in a Bruce Campbell film.

I was told it would take 20 minutes but it felt a lot shorter than that. The food traveled surprisingly well.  The pastor taco, rich with a red pork filling, was quite good, as was the carnitas taco (pork again, but with a greenish hue and a very different flavor). The fish taco probably suffered the most from the trip but it was still tender and good.  Of course, the hotter you can get it home, the better it will taste.

The salsa was good, the chips were crisp and dry. The salsa had a bright tomato flavor shot through with fresh cilantro, and as you ate it, hints of some pepper begin to settle in.  They also provided two sauces, a mild salsa verde and a brown salsa with smoky chipotle overtones. There were a couple lime slices on top of a mix of cilantro, onion, red and green onion, and bits of cheese. Think of pico without tomato.

Where does this place fit in the ecosystem of Atlanta restaurant choices? I like it as a lunch spot, or an inexpensive dinner spot. 2-3 tacos are filling and most of the tacos are under $3.00 (fish taco is $3.75). It does so many of the little things well that it seems silly to me to grade it against a four star midtown Zagat rated restaurant. It’s not that kind of place. It’s a place to go with that cousin you know is on a budget, to take the friend who is missing a couple dollars, and yes, you know you can lend them a couple because your meal won’t be pricey either.

When I was working in Norcross, just east of I-85, I’d drive here for lunch sometimes. It was often packed, and I found over time, if I didn’t get the tacos, I was always angry with myself.

Verdict:  Supreme tacos. Nice salsas. Very heartily recommended.

Taqueria Los Hermanos (Lilburn)
4760 Lawrenceville Hwy NW # B3
Lilburn, GA 30047
(678) 380-3727

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It’s one of three restaurants on Jones Street in downtown Norcross, and of the three, it is the newest to that location and perhaps the best. I took my family there tonight, and as is typical for the times I’ve been, it was full. The wait, however, was short, and we were seated within 2-3 minutes.

There are a couple draws for this place to eat. For one, they claim their food is more authentically Mexican, as opposed to a border Tex-Mex cuisine.  The second is their use of a molcajete, a mortar made of volcanic stone, as a serving instrument for a number of their dishes.  They heat the stone mortar up, let it cook the food, and of course the molcajete comes out with the mix of cheese and meat openly bubbling. The molcajete is edged with green onions, tomatoes, and cactus. There are sides: rice, beans, and ground chorizo sausage, along with hot steamy tortillas.  So, you get a tortilla, and add sides, meat and cheese, fold it up and eat it.

My wife was fond of their cooked plantains, which were both dry and tasty. A lot of cooked plantains have an oily texture, but not these. I had a chile relleno, with meat. I’d have loved to try their relleno stuffed with cheese, but I know from experience that’s something I can’t eat this late at night anymore. Just too much fat in the dish.

Service was, for the most part, excellent. As cramped as the restaurant can be, they clear tables and moves people to their seats with a lot of skill. Waiters drop by often, are attentive, drinks are filled quickly. They have good chips, and a good salsa. In terms of price, entrees in Zapatas run from about 11 dollars to 18 dollars a plate. Obviously there are less expensive alternatives to Zapatas, but the sheer spectacle of having your food delivered in a mortar made of volcanic rock makes this a place I heartily recommend.

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