Multi-culti chow 

Make a run for any number of borders at Plaza Fiesta

The strip mall sandwiched between Buford Highway and Clairmont Avenue transforms itself every so many years. Its current incarnation, Plaza Fiesta, with its eye-popping colored walls, is probably its most significant in a while. Its two throwaway anchors -- a seedy Marshalls and Burlington Coat Factory -- can be overlooked. But its diverse mix of Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants are all within walking distance of one another.

Mexican wonderland: Walk in the front side (facing Buford Highway) at the Clinica de la Mama and you find an open-air video arcade and a large jungle gym to keep the kids happy. There's usually a music event or contest going on, which keeps things lively throughout the day or evening. There's also spill-over from whatever band is playing at the DeKalb Atlanta Centre, which is located around back.

Food court fun: There's not a Mickey D's or Chick-fil-A in sight at the mall's food court. (Can you imagine?) Tacos La Nortena (404-320-0770) offers Mexican, Cuban and Colombian cuisine. My Spanish-speaking dining partner tried the chicken enchiladas with salsa verde ($6.95) and a side of refried beans and rice. They were filling, if not very fancy. Canadian-born owner/manager Dianne Babyak pegged me as a non-Spanish-speaker and presented me with the gringo menu. But I chose one of the daily specials, the yucca con carnitas ($8.95), large chunks of pork tossed with fried hunks of yucca and topped with a vinegary slaw of carrots and cabbage. The dish was good, but could've been great if it had come with the lemon-and-garlic dipping sauce that often accompanies such dishes. The biggest disappointment was the pupusas ($1.65), which were too bready -- not cheesy -- and contained no chopped pork, as far as I could tell.

I was tempted to order the lengua quesadilla ($3.89) at Sonora Tacos Express. Then I decided I wasn't up for cow-tongue no matter how much cheese was oozing around it. Tongue also shows up in a burrito ($2.99) along with more traditional chicken, beef, pork and barbecue filling options. Tortas (sandwiches) include similar stuffings.

Mariscolandia (404-315-1030) is the priciest of the restaurants, with plenty of camarón (shrimp) choices, including quesadillas ($6.50), breaded and fried plates ($10), and shrimp with octopus ($8.50). Of course, if you're not that daring, there's always the hot dog ($3).

On the flip side: Along the front of the building are several pho shops (including the ever-popular Pho 79, 404-728-9129) as well as the Chinese restaurant Happy Valley. One of the best pho shops in the city, Pho Ca Dao (404-982-0700), is a good quick stop for hearty meat and vegetables steeped in soothing broth. The pho ga ($5.25) includes chicken -- and for red-meat eaters, there are plenty of brisket and flank steak varieties. The fresh spring rolls ($2.25) hit the spot.


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