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Flavor Fiesta

Patrons of Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant are seated at eye-numbingly colorful, festive tables and served warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa. Both are homemade and come in endless quantities. The chips are thick and flavorful and the salsa is a smooth blend of sweet tomatoes and spicy peppers.

There are more than 50 different ways to quench your thirst at Vallarta’s on 56th St. in Temple Terrace. The 46-oz. “Monster Margaritas” come in lime, strawberry or “Texas.” Mexican beers, such as Corona, Dos Equis, Tecate and others, come in pitchers and 32-oz. mugs. Wine and sangria are sold by the glass or bottle, and Mexican soft drinks offer a more authentic addition to your visit.

Diners have an extensive menu to choose from, including soups, salads, burritos, fajitas, nachos, enchiladas and tacos in innumerable combinations, as well as a special selection of vegetarian entrees. It’s almost overwhelming; offering a list of options that could be combined in any way would make choosing a meal easier and more personalized.

Vallarta’s quesadillas come filled with steak or chicken and cheese and are fried in butter to give the outer tortilla extra flavor and crunch that set them apart from the competition.

The chimichangas are tortillas filled with steak and beans, covered in a queso-type sauce. Lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream come on the side in a crispy tortilla bowl. The variety of ingredients in this dish and the contrast between the cool, fresh vegetables and the hot, zesty filling create a flavor fiesta.

Enchiladas are soft tortillas wrapped around a cheesy filling and doused in a red hot sauce. This dish works better accompanying another entree as there is not much to it. Enchiladas are not for everyone – only those who can handle the spicy heat.

Owner Jose Jimenez and manager Gustavo Alejandre are both from Mexico, as is most of the staff, making sure the food and the dining experience are as authentic as possible. Mexican mood music adds to the atmosphere, as does the red and green decor and the strings of white lights adorning the walls.

Vallarta’s offers its casual atmosphere, delicious dishes and huge drinks at a very reasonable price, easy to take on with a college student’s budget, yet far classier than the local Taco Bell.

Grade: A