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Hacienda Colorado's many fine attributes display why it's grown into a giant



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With its bombastic size, clinical efficiency and dressed-up takes on Southwestern Mexican cuisine — or "Mountain Mex," as the Colorado chain calls it — the fifth Hacienda Colorado is damn near a theme-park experience. Call it Disneyland for On the Border lovers.

Through the towering front doors lies a restaurant that seats more than 550 people at one time, with either an elevator or a wide, industrial-looking staircase shuttling diners between two levels. Traditional ironworks mesh with nightclub hallmarks, like garage-door walls, a bronze-tiled bar, and even an upstairs-patio fire-pit that looks to be filled with flaming diamonds. Anyone for body shots?

With bulky flatware and purple, plastic water cups the size of Big Gulps, it just continues once you're seated. Behind the upstairs bar, a tap spouts $6.50 Hacienda Gold house margaritas (which aren't bad, though swapping the triple sec-to-Margaritaville Gold Tequila ratio couldn't hurt). Even the available sides of sauce come in multitudes; we counted 11.

But if it's the fried and friendly road to Mexico you seek, you could do a lot worse. In fact, as far as generic Tex-Mex goes — not talking taco trucks, here — I'd call Hacienda Colorado the best in town.

It all starts with the tortillas, and these stand out regardless. Thinner than La Casita's masterpieces, these misshapen, palm-sized, house-made beauties are soft, floury and deeply flavorful. They're an exciting pairing with the plump portobello fajitas ($14.99), an exemplary bit of fun that's priced better, for the portion size, than a lot of others.

Also kick-ass with the rounds: the chorizo fundido ($8.99), wherein a baked shield of hot and salty cheese hides a mix of ground pork and grilled onions stewed in a sweet-ish sauce. Cups of pork green chili ($3.79) and tortilla soup ($3.79) come off OK, though I'm not a fan of the included rice.

"Anything with barbacoa," was the recommendation from our server, so out came the Slow-Roasted Barbacoa Tacos ($10.79). The menu boasts of a various accoutrement — chipotle aioli, crema limón, pico — but I mostly noticed succulent shreds paired with crisp, limey greens. Aside from some watery black beans spiced like a Christmas candle, the tacos were excellent, and beautifully plated on a pale blue, flecked, round thing.

The epic Applewood-Roasted Carnitas & Spinach Salad ($9.99) put the smoky, shredded meat in two balls at either end, and, somewhat overwhelmingly, filled the middle with fat greens, grilled pineapple, cranberries, jicama, bacon, carrots, red onion and a chipotle-lime vinaigrette.

The Chipotle Baby Back Rib Combo ($14.99) was interesting, mainly because it left me wishing I'd ordered the deliciously edgy side of chile relleno à la carte for $3.99. Though bearing no smoke or char to speak of, the ribs easily pulled away from the bone and were well-covered in a hot, bold sauce.

Then there was the Applewood-Smoked Chicken Changa ($11.59), a fried burrito with a name so cutesy, our server brought us two (even though one of us had actually ordered tamales). Then she checked on us. Then she did it again. Then a manager stopped by to bus our plates, which we declined. Then that happened again, which we politely declined again. This bothersome dance only ended when we did, indeed, clean our plates.

But the chimichanga was fine, with savory chunks of chicken that I do not recommend pairing with nacho-cheese sauce; and the inevitable sopapillas (six for $3.49) were fine, too, if a little dense. Nothing I'd complain about, and, all told, part of a meal much more satisfying than I'd expected from a gargantuan dealer of the done-before.


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