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Southwestern cuisine at Pappasito's is subject to arrest

A recent trip to Marietta's Theatre in the Square put me in search of a local restaurant open late. After a tour of the square found nothing very appealing, I headed back toward Atlanta and pulled off I-75 to pay my first visit to Pappasito's Cantina (2788 Windy Hill Road, 770-541-6100).
I would have been better off at a Dairy Queen in suburban Smyrna. Yes, Pappasito's gets my award for one of the worst dining experiences I've had in a long time.
It's a bit mystifying. Pappasito's sits next to Pappadeaux, a Cajun venue owned by the same folks. Although the latter depends as much as Pappasito's on high-volume sales, I've had decent meals there. But my meal at Pappasito's, with its dreadful Tex-Mex border decor and cuisine, plunged me into memory of once being trapped at a table by a mariachi band that knew 10,000 verses of "Besame Mucho." Empty your pockets, for we are not leaving until you pay us very well to go.
Where to begin?
The chips. Our first basket tasted vaguely rancid, as if they'd been fried in oil gone bad. A bland salsa, little better than chopped canned tomatoes, did nothing to disguise this. We ordered a second basket of the chips that tasted the same.
Like the huge, festively decorated building, the menu is an unending litany of Tex-Mex clichés with a few novelties like mesquite-grilled quail and jalapeño sausage. I ordered what I thought would be the kitchen's least challenging dish: beef fajitas. The price, $12.05, was a bit odd. Generally, I counsel you to pay close attention to the menu's prices. Our server bouncily asked me if I wanted cheese and sour cream with "those fajitas." "Sure," I said, unaware that I would be paying an extra $2.10 for very bad grated cheese and sour cream that I didn't eat.
The fajitas were over-tenderized, almost mushy, and, frankly, had neither the usual texture or taste of skirt steak. The portion was enormous. All portions here are enormous or made to appear so, anyway. Size matters most, apparently, when all else falls short.
As further evidence of the weird pricing: A plate featuring two chile rellenos is $12.95 but you can order the rellenos on the side for $2.10 each. If you think the plate's rice and beans warrant the extra $9, be my guest. Best to avoid the dish altogether. I ordered one chile relleno — an utter monstrosity of overcooking, demonstrating the triumph of very bad design over content. The chile was a speck compared to the excess of breading and tasteless cheese spilling onto its big plate. Imagine food impersonating road kill.
Enchiladas ordered by Rose D'Agostino were inedibly greasy and overcooked. A tamale tasted like it had been rolled in salt.
Wayne ordered a dish costing about $14. After 10 minutes or so, a server came to our table and announced that the restaurant was out of that dish but would happily substitute another. Without seeing a menu, Wayne followed the server's recommendation of the "plato del mar," a plate of (pretty good) brochette-style shrimp and chicken fajitas ($20.85). When the bill arrived, the server announced that his dish had been discounted since he'd had to settle for a substitution. How generous. The discount amounted to about $1 but the dish still cost him $5 more than he expected. Hello!
We could hardly wait to leave.
Meanwhile, if you want some real Southwestern food, head to Sundown Cafe. I've been lunching there pretty regularly and I've been repeatedly impressed. Tacos, including state-of-the-art carnitas, are always a good bet and under $2 each, but the weekly specials best reveal the kitchen's talents.
My favorite recently has been a New Mexico-style tamale stuffed with pork and red chiles, served with two picante sauces ($7.95). My one complaint: The kitchen steams the tamales in corn husks but removes them before serving. When I whined to the lunch-meister, George, he explained that he'd seen several people trying to eat the husks.
I've paid one brunch visit to Ria's Bluebird, a new diner in Grant Park (421 Memorial Drive, 404-521-3737). We're happy to have another new restaurant in the hood. The owner/chef is a veteran of venues such as Roman Lily and Flying Biscuit, so, similarly, you'll find inventive takes on classics.
I sampled a version of the classic Mexican huevos rancheros and thought it was killer. It features two blue corn tortillas topped with eggs and a chipotle sauce, along with pinto beans. Unfortunately my biscuit, ordered as a side, was stone cold. Wayne ordered a tofu dish and thought it excellent. I'll report in greater depth in a few weeks.
Mea culpa: Recently I mis-reported that Michael Longshore, formerly chef at Sundown, is now working as a dining critic. His actual employer is atlanta.citysearch.com. Moreover, Longshore tells us that he has never worked at Tiburon Grille.
The plain pizza crisp at Everybody's remains one of my favorite snack foods. We know some people who claim to be making crispy, thin-crust pizza who need to pay a visit to this old favorite.

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