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Taco fare 

Traditional tortilla treats make Las Americas a suitable stop for the hunger bus

Those of us who seek good meals on the cheap return again and again to Buford Highway. Like zombies we're moved by a power seemingly beyond our control. We dream about the multicultural myriad of taquerias, pho houses, pupuserias, restaurants, barras and dives. We imagine an ideal experience with perfect food, no culture or language barriers and a warm welcome from charming hosts who regale us with tales from other lands.

In reality, trying out an unfamiliar restaurant -- wherever it is -- is a crap shoot. Delights may await you, as may discomfort. Bearing this in mind, we recently tried out Las Americas Mexican Grill in Doraville. Despite its location in a grim mini-strip near the Doraville MARTA station, Las Americas welcomes customers with warm colors and architectural accents that lend the appearance of a zocalo, or town square. The welcoming environment is underscored with the presence of the neighboring Tornado Bus Station, which opens into the restaurant. The staff here is friendly, despite the kitchen's sporadic inability to provide much of what appears on the menu and a recalcitrant credit card machine.

Atmosphere-wise, Las Americas feels more pan-Latino than specifically Mexican, with tchotchkes and maps of Colombia and a row of autographed hats from all over las Americas. The menu offers specialties from throughout Mexico as well as the compulsory-but-not-so-Mexican fajitas.

The tacos ($1.49 each) are not ideal, but good enough most days. They are simply and traditionally prepared with onion and cilantro and served with a side of wonderful mild green salsa with roasted tomatillos as well as a hotter red salsa. The Tipo Pastor includes mildly spicy chopped pork and beef and is by far the best taco here. The Carne Guisdada, tender stewed beef, is hearty and comforting. I wanted to like the Chicharron -- the Mexican version of bacon -- en Salsa Verde, but it was all fat.

Las Americas' quesadillas are a reliable choice, unabashedly cheesy and served with lettuce and a dab of pico de gallo. I particularly liked the chicken fajita quesadilla ($5.50) with its salty but moist strips of chicken breast slathered in gooey white cheese and seared in a folded tortilla. The chicken makes another appearance in fajitas, available in both lunch ($4.95) and dinner ($8.95) portions. Grilled chicken, green bell pepper strips and sweet onion are accompanied by refried beans, rice, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and tortillas. This is an especially good deal at lunch, with enough chicken for at least three wraps. Steak fajitas are also available.

We tried Las Americas' $4.95 lunch buffet on a recent weekday, with soap operas blaring en Español above our heads. Though the buffet offers a decent Sopa de Pollo and Carne Guisada, we found the soap operas nearly as interesting. If you go for lunch, you're better off ordering something freshly prepared from the menu.

Las Americas is a good place to try if you're accustomed to more Americanized Mexican food but want something a bit more interesting. It offers a comfortable middle ground between a generic, processed-cheese-mongering restaurant and a purely Mexican taqueria.

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