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Cheap Eats - Tex-Mex eye-opener

Siesta Grill has something for everyone

It's hard to get Tex-Mex wrong. People normally won't say no to layers of cheese, sour cream and juicy pieces of meat. But it's even more pleasing when someone does it right. Located on the ground floor of an office building in downtown Atlanta's tourist central near Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe, Siesta Grill takes over where former occupant Rio Bravo Grill left off.

Brought to you by Killer Restaurants, the folks who own Killer Creek Chop House and Ray's on the River, Siesta Grill is a lower-end but quality result of that culinary marriage. It features the same faux-Southwestern stucco and turquoise, but the healthy-seeming dishes are worth venturing out for, maybe even after dark.

Service: The lunch crowd that packs this low-lying eatery demands prompt, polite service, and they get it. My Canadian friend arrived first and was seated without complaint despite my tardiness. He was even offered a chance to order without me. Water glasses are kept full — a plus during busy lunch hours.

What we ate: Chips showed up quickly with a standard salsa that wasn't very spicy. To complement the chips, we ordered a Spinach & Artichoke Queso ($6.95). The dip was creamy, with melted cheese, plenty of spinach and artichoke hearts, and (supposedly) roasted poblano peppers. I couldn't find those peppers, but I did find a jalapeno or two, which gave an extra kick to the queso. Before we could quite finish the dip, our entrees were at the table.

Looking for something outside the norm of quesadillas, burritos and fajitas (does every place do those now?), I chose the honey-lime chicken salad ($7.95). Iceberg and Romaine lettuce was drenched in a house honey-lime vinaigrette with touches of cilantro. The topper of peanut dressing gave the greens and chicken real personality.

Lunch fajitas include chicken, steak, combo or vegetable. We got the combo of chicken breast strips and skirt steak, and there was plenty to be shared. The steak was supposed to be served medium-rare but it showed up medium and continued to cook on the sizzling plate. Mexican rice and black beans, as well as sour cream, guacamole, cheddar cheese and salsa fresco are standard side items. We traded the rice and beans for a side of spicy coleslaw. The server brought it out without any hitches, balking or strange looks.

The vegetable fajitas, called a "California vegetable plate," contain fresh carrots, green and yellow squash, yellow peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and cobbed corn seasoned with rosemary and herbs. Instead of beans, a side of fresh fruit and ranch dressing is served.

Wait time: Our food arrived quickly. The fajitas arrived still sputtering and splattering — hot off the grill.

Cheapest item: The quesadillas come in at $5.75. You get a choice of fajita chicken, beef or vegetables. They're served with sides of guac, sour cream and pico de gallo.

Most expensive item: The lunch steak fajitas are $8.75, which ain't too bad for plenty of skirt steak strips, sauteed vegetables and sides. For dinner, things ring up much higher — shrimp fajitas for $16.25.

Who to take? This is a great place to take co-workers for a birthday or going-away lunch. It's not all that distinctive, but there's something for everyone's picky tastes.

Most annoying thing: Parking. I had to circle several blocks to find a parking lot that had space. Then it was five bucks to park for 45 minutes. Plus, they wanted me to leave my keys if they needed to maneuver other cars in and out. That's a big hassle for a few beans and tortillas.

Overall rating (out of four):

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