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Dining review

Up the road for south of border at Plaza Mexico in Fallston

For The Baltimore Sun

When friends who lived in Costa Rica told us how impressed they were with the food at Plaza Mexico in Fallston, we knew we had to try it. They raved about the fajitas, the margaritas and fun atmosphere.

They were right.

The family-owned restaurant opened three years ago in the former Fallston Diner. Major renovations were made to the interior, said Jose Leon, the general manager, who is the brother-in-law of Plaza Mexico's owner, Benigno Ayala. The family also has a second location in North Beach, Calvert County.

The Mexican dishes are typical of what you'd find in our area, but are made fresh in the kitchen and taste accordingly. The guacamole, assembled at your table, is a luscious must with the restaurant's housemade chips.

There are nine variations of fajitas, each served in a cast-iron pan. In addition, the menu includes dozens of seafood, steak and chicken entrees as well as nachos, quesadillas and salads.

Birthdays are celebrated with gusto as servers, wearing beautifully embroidered sombreros, serenade the special guests. Mariachi nights are lively, too.

There's no need to travel far for excellent Mexican fare. Just go north on I-95.

Scene & Decor From the street, Plaza Mexico won't turn heads, but once inside, patrons will feel welcome in the comfortable setting. Yellow tables, earthen vases, paper decorations dangling from the ceiling and colorful dishes set the stage for a satisfying meal. We sat at one of the tufted window booths, and while busy Bel Air Road isn't scenic, we enjoyed our private spot in a room where tables are not stacked up next to each other.

Appetizers After we were seated, our server brought a carafe of salsa and housemade chips to munch on while we leafed through the eight-page menu. We couldn't resist ordering the jalapenos con queso ($5.95). The five cheese-stuffed poppers, scattered atop shredded lettuce with a dab of sour cream, were wonderful snacks and mild enough for any younger palates. But the must-do starter is the guacamole made at the table ($8.95). You have to ask for it, or you'll get a smaller version of already prepared guac. For the show, your server will roll up a cart stacked with fresh avocadoes, limes and bins filled with tomatoes, jalapenos and onions. Our waiter was a pro with the ingredients, preparing an avocado with the ease of a banana. He turned out a chunky, addictive dip in an impressive molcajete, a Mexican mortar. There's a tip jar if you're pleased with the performance.

Entrees When we asked our waiter for a recommendation, he didn't hesitate: the Guadalajara special, he said. It's a doozy of a meal ($9.95) with one tamale, two taquitos Mexicanos and nacho chips on a bed of beef, chicken and beans, covered with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole. We liked it, but the flavors get mixed up in the mélange. Next time, we would go with a simpler dish. Plaza Mexico is known for its fajitas, and we were happy with the ones we tried. The mixed fajitas ($12.95) featured strips of tender steak and chicken intertwined with grilled red, yellow and green peppers, onions and tomatoes. Sides included Spanish rice, fried beans, guacamole salad, shredded cheese, sour cream and flour tortillas.

Drinks With its party vibe, Plaza Mexico is a great place to sip on a variety of margaritas, mojitos, sangria, beers and Mexican sodas. It also has its own bar area.

Service Our server was polite and enthusiastic about the menu. We appreciated his thoughtful suggestions.

Dessert We can't go to a Mexican restaurant without ordering the churros, and Plaza Mexico was no exception. The fluted pastries ($5.95) were denser than most but still were delicious sweets. The scoop of vanilla ice cream was a nice touch. The mini flan ($3.95) was a fine custard, but it sat in a distracting syrupy liquid that overpowered the dessert.

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Plaza Mexico

Backstory: Plaza Mexico opened in Harford County three years ago after the owners refurbished the former Fallston Diner, said Jose Leon, its general manager. "We liked the area," he said, "We thought it would be good business to be here." A sister restaurant, offering the same fare, is in North Beach in Calvert County.

Signature dish: Mixed fajitas with steak and chicken

TVs: Four, two of which are in the bar area

Where: 2314 Bel Air Road, Fallston

Contact: 410-877-2461, plazamexicomaryland.com

Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Yes

Bottom line: In a suburb with a plethora of chain restaurants, family-owned Plaza Mexico offers freshly made food in a cheerful setting.

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