Sizzlin' Caliente

Two hometown Mexican eateries vie for the hot spot on the grill

Much of what's on the menu is designed to attract those with a healthy appetite — or a guilty conscience. For instance, if you're watching your belt line while simultaneously craving an ass-expanding burrito (a bit of a riddle, wrapped in an enigma), then the South Beach, with a choice of meat, low-fat cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a low-carb tortilla ($7.99) is your Huckleberry. I'm the sort of self-hating overindulger who is more apt to try the vegetarian burrito first ($6.99). This one lets rice and refried beans do the heavy lifting, adding Lime's guacamole, sautéed onions and green bell peppers, sour cream, and a sprinkling of shredded jack and cheddar cheeses as accents. It's a good burrito but nothing to build a diet upon. Ditto the Lime ($6.99), which seems chock-full of more shredded iceberg lettuce than anything else. (Ah, shredded iceberg. It's the nitrogen of the food world — all around us wherever we go, but does anybody really care?)

Tacos, available in hard corn or soft flour varieties (alas, no soft corn tortillas here), also fall prey to the dreaded iceberg trap. My original ($3) was loaded with the stuff, but thankfully, the open-faced nature allowed me to brush off what I didn't want clouding up the flavors.

Fed up with the lettuce, I ordered a platter of fajitas ($9.99) in the hope that I could craft my own hit. What I got was a combination of steak and chicken, fanned out in thin strips on a sizzling platter alongside peppers, onions, and the usual host of fajita accompaniments. I also opted for multigrain tortillas and an addition of guacamole, bringing the price tag to $12.49, about what you'd expect to pay in any full-service haunt. The multigrain tortillas packed a subtle flavor and a more toothy bite — but, guys, if you're gunning to be the Healthy Grill, these should be offered as an option on any dish for free. As for the rest of the fajitas, the combination of pregrilled meat and heated skillet left many of the thin strips overcooked and dry by the time I got to them.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

601 SW 145th Terrace
Miramar, FL 33027

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Miramar

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

4425 Lyons Road
Coconut Creek, FL 33073

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Coconut Creek

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

14831 Biscayne Blvd.
North Miami Beach, FL 33181

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: North Dade

Details

Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, 601 SW 145th Ter., Pembroke Pines. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. till 9:30 p.m., till 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-436-4700. Also, Zona Fresca Fresh Mexican Grill, 1095 S. University Dr., Plantation. Open daily from 11 a.m. till 9 p.m., till 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-370-3332.

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Lime would do well to keep an eye out for another of its competitors, the Fort Lauderdale-based chain Zona Fresca Fresh Mexican Grill. There are plenty of similarities between the two ventures: Like Lime, Zona is also in the infancy of its expansion stage, having recently opened a second location, in Plantation. Both are chef-driven. Both use only fresh, raw ingredients that require extensive prepping. But unlike Lime, Zona has eschewed the franchise route, opting to move slower and focus on consistency before cultivating an image.

Tim Dobravolskis and Oscar De Armas, two childhood pals who came to Florida by way of California, opened the flagship Zona in 2001. Dobravolskis, a longtime restaurateur who's spent most of his career in white tablecloth dining, is the food guy. He refers to his menu as a rendition of the authentic, simple food he enjoyed on his many stays in the coastal areas of western Mexico.

New Times first reviewed Zona back in 2001, just weeks after its Fort Lauderdale location opened. We loved it back then, praising its crunchy/supple/savory/sour fish tacos, its reasonable prices, and its monumental return on investment (read: Portions are huge). The praise continued two months ago, when we named its habanero salsa the best in two counties in our Best of 2008 issue. To ensure that quality doesn't peter out, Dobravolskis and De Armas sent their head chef, who's been with the company since day one, to open the Plantation location. Does the new store hold up to the high standard?

Emphatically, yes. The fish taco ($2.75) is still the best around. We'll let you debate whether an inch-thick wedge of white fish, batter-fried and put to bed inside two soft corn tortillas along with crisp cabbage, pico de gallo, and a smattering of tangy sour cream sauce flecked with cilantro, is authentic Mex. We frankly don't care. It's delicious. Same goes for the taco with marinated, grilled shrimp ($2.65); you rarely get shellfish cooked this perfectly at even the best restaurants.

Zona's burritos are remarkable too. The veggie ($5.50) is filled with grilled poblanos, yellow peppers, onions, beans, guac, sour cream, and roasted corn so fresh that it clings together as if still on the cob. The siesta maker ($7.50) doesn't disappoint either: It took me two sittings to get through this beast, though I admit I did get it "enchilada style" — a covering of light and crisp tomato-ancho sauce for just 99 cents extra.

Although the health benefits of diet burritos are questionable, you can't deny the salutary qualities of the garden chicken salad ($7.25). Shreds of romaine are blanketed with juicy, grilled chicken, salty cojita cheese, tomatoes, huge wedges of creamy avocado, and more of that delicious roasted corn. The dressing is essentially just olive oil and lemon juice. Perfecto.

The salsa? It's still here, though on my first visit, it didn't quite sing the way it usually does. Two return trips proved that was an aberration. Thankfully, Dobravolskis and company are still taking their time with it, marinating and grilling the tomatoes, onions, and peppers each day. It's a process he calls "rather laborious." Slow, yes. But it's a course that fits Zona snugly.

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