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Originally published October 23, 2009 at 12:05 AM | Page modified October 30, 2009 at 12:07 PM

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Restaurant review

Laredos Grill is a Queen Anne cantina for Tex-Mex bites and good times

The Lower Queen Anne space formerly occupied by upscale Veil is now Laredos Grill, a cantina for Tex-Mex bites and good times.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Panchos $8.95
Tacos al Pastor (plate) $10.50
Chile Relleno $12.95
Pollo Laredo $13.95
Carné Asada Norteño Style $14.50

Laredos Grill 2 stars

Tex-Mex

555 Aloha St., Seattle

206-218-1040

www.laredosgrill.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: Dinner 4 p.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Prices: Small plates $2.25-$8.95; large plates $10.50-$17.95.

Drinks: Beers from north and south of the border; a few wines; specialty cocktails.

Parking: On street.

Sound: Festively loud.

Who should go: Young hombres and their mujeres.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

There are few more striking examples of the direction restaurants have taken since the economy became a fallen soufflé than the demise of self-consciously chic Veil and the rise in its stead of Laredos Grill.

The brick walls and rough beams once hidden by Veil's filmy curtains, sleek white dining room and tuffeted lounge are now exposed. Gone are the swell-dressed clientele who sipped Champagne or rosemary-scented chartreuse cocktails and supped on toro belly, kobe beef cheeks and foie gras with peanut butter and jelly.

Veil offered a $65 tasting menu. At Laredos, four can fill up for about that price. A young crowd of would-be cowboys and girls jam the bar and the rough-hewn tables and booths consuming tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas with gusto and chasing them with bottles of Shiner Bock, drafts of Negra Modelo, or frozen margaritas whipped to a creamy froth with avocado purée.

This is a cohort the owners of Laredos know well. Jose Betancourt was a longtime G.M. at BluWater Bistro; Dave Brownell's ventures include Talarico's in West Seattle.

A trip to Laredo, Texas, yielded much of the décor, which handsomely evokes a border-town cantina with lots of carved wood, ceramic tiles and, up above, decorative Spanish playing cards interspersed among the ceiling fans. The whoops and hollers of the bar crowd spurring their team to victory sometimes supersedes the hip-twitching sounds of Spanish-language rock.

Those here for the food will find a familiar roster. My favorite among the bar bites sampled are Panchos — nachos re-imagined as dainty canapés. It's worth an extra couple of dollars to add chicken or beef to the cheesy melt topped with jalapeño and a drizzle of crema. A bonus is the abundant salad that fills the middle of the plate: zesty with lime and cilantro and loaded with chopped tomato, red onion and cotija cheese.

Tacos al pastor showcase the ruddy, rotisserie-cooked pork that you can see dangling on a giant skewer in the open kitchen. The succulent marinated meat is bracketed with hunks of braised pineapple; morsels of both are nestled in a fluffy white corn tortilla along with onion and cilantro.

Taco plates include three tacos (other choices include shrimp, beef, fish or cheese and beans). Like the dinner combos, they come with rice; fresh, assertively seasoned, sautéed vegetables (zucchini, bell pepper, onion); and wonderful beer-braised borracho beans — firm red beans flecked with jalapeño.

Carné Asada done in the style of Northern Mexico is among the regional Mexican dinner plates. Think fajitas without the sizzling platter. The large dinner plate holds thinly sliced mesquite grilled skirt steak, onions and other vegetables, all skillfully cooked and seasoned. Crisp greens are topped with house guacamole (flecked with bits of onion and chilies) and a baked poblano pepper cups molten cheese.

I wish chile relleno had been as simply prepared. The roasted Anaheim pepper contained a potent mix of corn, garlic and onion, but to get to it you had to excavate a small mountain of tediously bland chili con queso.

Pollo Laredo struggled under a similar cheese sauce, burdening that otherwise excellent grilled chicken breast and all but extinguishing the mesquite flavor along with the robust bacon-olive-and-onion stuffing.

If it is heat you want, try Camarones ala Diabla, shrimp smothered in a truly devilish sauce that still retains the nuance of its tomato and cilantro base. Thick corn tortillas made a most effective sponge in that case, but they proved a little too absorbent for enchiladas banderas, soaking up much of the red and green chili sauces and making the dry chicken filling seem even drier.

Service can be casual to the point of careless; the remains of dinner may still be littering the table when dessert arrives. Those are no less belly-filling than the rest of the fare, perhaps none more so than sopapilla: whipped cream atop dulce de leche ice cream richly laced with caramel and ringed with dozens of brittle triangles of lightly sugared fried dough. Anyone over 40 should approach it with caution, which is also true of Laredos.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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