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Senor Tequila Cantina Grill

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Tequila Sunset

South of the border in south Charlotte At seven o'clock, the sun sets over the neighborhood of Piper Glen in south Charlotte. You open the door to Señor Tequila Cantina Grill and quickly feel at home. A bevy of black paging beepers, an indication of the restaurant's popularity, are clustered beside the entrance. The place is small, only 48 seats, but the soaring ceiling lends an openness. Oak barrels used to age tequila emerge from one stuccoed wall while a faux shuttered balcony counters it.From the simplicity of the room, you'd never guess that an in-depth selection of tequilas is presented. "We offer 24 different tequilas. It is the largest selection in all Charlotte," noted owner Oscar Gonzalez. If you want to "bite into the earth" as the Mexicans say of tequila, you have a choice from Jose Cuervo to Sauza Commemorativo and Cabo Wabo. In addition to tequilas, the drink list offers margaritas, flavored margaritas, beer, sodas, and 22 bottles of wines, primarily from Spain, Chile and Argentina. Señor Tequila is more homey than haute, but their well-crafted dishes tender a welcomed port in Charlotte's sea of mediocre Mexican food. The menu is a mix of the staples: burritos, chimichangas, taquitos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and fajitas. But then it goes a step further with pollo con mole, a New York strip steak with butterflied garlic shrimp, and camarones Jaliso (pawns with mojo de ajo). Presentations are upscale. Rather than dishes flooded by an unbounded pool of refried beans, the sloppy sides are contained in crispy fried flour tortilla shells. These shells are also used for side salads. Portions are unrestrained, which you may find challenging after scarfing down several baskets of their crispy fried tortilla chips dunked into a delicious salsa fresca. The nacho appetizer is a party-sized platter filled edge to edge with chips slathered with refried beans, white cheese, guacamole, sour cream, bits of tomatoes, and onions. One starter standout is the sopa de frijoles negros (black bean soup), which is offered in only one size: huge. This soup is Puerto Rican in style: thick with beans, ham, herbs, onions, spices, and topped with a grating of cotija (queso anejado) cheese. These appetizers may be enough and you could stop there. But if you want more, try the natural charmer, pollo con mole: tender chicken breasts steeped in a smoky, very luxurious, poblano sauce with a touch of dark chocolate that takes the edge off. Another good choice is a sizzling steak fajita that we quickly bundled into a waiting warm flour tortilla and then savored. Prices are unexpectedly reserved. Dinner entrees range from $8.50 for a vegetable quesadilla to $15.25 for the New York Strip, and most are about $10. Lunches are $5 to $6.25. Table service is unhurried and friendly, a distinction Oscar Gonzalez intended when he opened SeorTequila with his wife Maria Jose Gonzalez in March 2002. Currently the Gonzalezes have another restaurant under construction, the 2000-square-foot Cilantro, planned to open in Colony Place (Rea and Colony Roads) this December or January 2004. Cilantro's menu will feature Mexican, South American, and Spanish cuisine. Oscar Gonzalez is from Venezuela and Maria is from Honduras. At Cilantro, Oscar Gonzalez will also dish up some Venezuelan arepas. For now, Piper Glen is lucky the Gonzalez family chose to operate this unpretentious spot with splendid renderings of Mexican favorites at modest prices in their neighborhood. No wonder it stays packed.

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