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Steamy Stuff

When we heard recently that Don Tako had degenerated into a steam table operation, we were concerned. This unpretentious, Mexican, neighborhood joint has long been an east-side favorite. Fortunately, the rumor proved only semi-true. Yes, Don Tako has added a buffet at both lunch and dinner. And yes, there's no edible object on earth that's improved by sitting around on a steam table. But Don Tako's new attraction does make a certain sense: from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., diners can quickly sample more than a dozen different dishes (everything from tortilla soup to Mexican pizza) at bargain prices ($5.55, lunch; $6.95, dinner). Workers from area offices and factories, truck drivers and at-home moms with toddlers can get in and out quickly, if need be.

But happily, for those with no interest in the buffet, the menu of traditional, down-home Mexican dishes remains available. And as always, the good, plain food is cheap at twice the price. Where else are you going to spend only $2.50 for a plate of huevos con papas made from fresh eggs and served piping hot with the cubes of boiled potato crisped just right? This omelet-like dish is accompanied by home-style refried beans, fried potatoes and substantial, perfectly blistered flour tortillas -- to say nothing of a garnish of chorizo. The menu also includes any number of "plates" such as the chicken, beef or "meat" fajitas, and a wonderful chunk of diabetes-inducing tres leches dessert -- which is the genuine article. Coarse, yellow Mexican cake is immersed in half-and-half and sweet, condensed milk, then topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. Well, okay, "whipped topping" so white that it's blue and which doubtless owes more to a can than a cow. But if you order something like this in a place like Don Tako, you're not looking for a gourmet experience. You're looking for great goo, and the tres leches is certainly that.

The restaurant's decor remains as cheerfully chaotic as ever, with pinatas and kitschy pottery, serape curtains and plastic tablecloths the colors of watermelon rinds and overripe tangerines. And in a town that virtually rolls up the sidewalks at 10 p.m., Don Tako's hours remain as useful as ever -- Sunday through Thursday 7 a.m. till midnight; Friday and Saturday, 7 until 3 a.m. Steam table or no, I'm going back, and soon.

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-- Joanne Harrison

Don Tako, 8334 Gulf Freeway, 641-4114.

 
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