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Masters of masa 

Mega Taco's handmade tortillas are made with love and it shows

FILL 'ER UP: Mega Taco Taqueria y Marisqueria's mini tacos

Jennifer Zyman

FILL 'ER UP: Mega Taco Taqueria y Marisqueria's mini tacos

It's a Sunday afternoon and there's a short wait at Mega Taco Taqueria y Marisqueria (2055 Beaver Ruin Road, Norcross, 770-248-0097). A corner of the restaurant is crammed with boisterous young Mexican guys wearing their green soccer jerseys and cleats. Every one of them is drinking a 10-inch tall frosty mug full of Mexico's favorite beer-based drink: the Michelada, a mixture of beer, fresh lime juice, Clamato, and Valentina hot sauce. Every region of Mexico makes a slightly different version. They're a great way to ease into a lazy Sunday — and a bona fide hangover killer.

Those of you who were fans of Gorditas La Rancherita will recognize many of the now-defunct restaurant's dishes — pambazos, gorditas and huaraches — on Mega Taco's immense menu; Gorditas' cooks migrated to Mega after the former restaurant's closing. The restaurant's centerpiece is the tortilla station where a woman churns out an endless stream of tortillas hecho a mano (handmade). The tortillas, which accompany virtually every order, are slightly thicker than their machine-made cousins, but the thickness provides that telltale layer of creamy masa that lets you know they were made with love. Palm-sized "mini" tortillas serve as the vehicle for Mega's excellent taco fillings. Look for gamey shreds of cabeza (cow's head) coated in sumptuous grease, tender chunks of carnitas that break apart with minimal prodding, and chopped up pieces of griddle-cooked carne asada encrusted in sweet bits of caramelization.

Seafood has an impressive presence on the menu, so it's not uncommon to spot tables of men drinking beer and sharing a platter of oysters. Tostadas — one of the only corn-based menu items not made in-house — are topped with shockingly fresh tasting seafood, like the shrimp and octopus ceviche crowned with beautiful, ripe slices of avocado. Goblets full of seafood swimming in tomato sauce, chopped onions, cilantro and avocado are offered in small and large sizes. Go small so you can save room for some of Mega's specialties.

You'll likely need room. Mega excels when it comes to gut-bombs like its signature Mega Torta, a hulking sandwich packed with ham, a thin breaded and fried steak, fried eggs and white cheese (in addition to the standard lettuce, tomato and chili peppers). Even the nachos — yes, nachos — are a gooey mess of beans, melted white cheese, and a generous portion of chicken or beef. You'll order the nachos for your kids, then end up eating half the portion. The menu has plenty of soup options, whether you want something simply soothing like a hulking bowl of caldo de pollo, seafood soup, or caldo de res — a large bowl with soft pieces of beef, chayote squash, corn on the cob and other accoutrements you can eat like a soup or eat taco-style with the stellar piping hot tortillas.

Unfortunately, dishes made with red sauce — such as the chilaquiles or guiso de Puerco en salsa roja (stewed pork in red sauce) — are tinted an eerily artificial shade of red and the flavor is sadly bitter. The chilaquiles were also on the mushy side, and the homemade mole's success buckled under the weight of too much cinnamon.

If it's too early for a Michelada when you visit Mega, they make awesome squeezed-to-order fresh fruit juices. The orange juice was served still frothy in a domed plastic cup. The platano malteada (a banana milk shake, of sorts) is creamy, but not heavy, and spiced with just a hint of cinnamon. Whatever your poison, Mega delivers fast, cheap and made with love.

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