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Cotija's, which to our way of thinking is twice as good as most Tex-Mex restaurants in Central Arkansas, thanks to the Alvarez family's touch, is now twice as large, having knocked out a wall in its Louisiana street restaurant to expand into a storefront to the south.
Here's what knocked us out on our most recent trip there: The fact that you can get a meal here that, should you be strong enough to ignore the other fattening things on your plate, is pretty healthy: The carne asada burrito.
We didn't order it ourselves, being intent on gorging on a huge plate of alambre de camarones, helpfully called alambre de shrimp on the menu. But our companion shared a portion of her order: A soft flour tortilla tucked around slices of grilled sirloin doused in pico de gallo. It was simple and well-seasoned, with a low guilt factor to boot.
The shrimp dish was another thing. The shrimpers (bigger than popcorn-sized and plentiful) were grilled and mixed with the Alvarez's famous melted white cheese and pico de gallo. The guilt factor was high, but the dish was delicious. Both concoctions succeeded partially on account of the fresh cilantro so generously applied, both as garnish and ingredient.
The alambre — a lunch special like the burrito — also came with a dollop of fresh guacamole, a choppy rather than pureed version of refried brown beans (the way we like it) and seasoned rice. We were as hungry as a caballo and that will sometimes make an ordinary meal seem extra special. But it seemed to us that our meal at Cotija's, where we have dined before with fine but not spectacular results, was on a higher level than usual. Perhaps keeping strictly weekday lunch hours (it was more ambitious when it opened) has energized the Alvarez kitchen. Whatever. The grub was good.
Happily, Cotija's extra room means you are no longer backing your chair into the stranger behind you or tripping the unfailingly polite waitresses with your purse or hearing things not meant for your ears. Actually, as to the latter: It's quite loud now in Cotija's, what with the additional concrete, so you may have a hard time hearing what is meant for your ears. Never mind.
We've mentioned but two of the 27 lunch specials on the menu, which stuffs beef (ground or sliced), chicken (shredded or strips), pork, shrimp and even liver into tacos (soft and crispy), chalupas, fajitas and enchiladas. You can get chili rellenos, huevos, nachos and even a tropical fruit salad. A la carte are tortas, tamales, taquitos. Veggie chimichangas. Mole sauce. Hamburgers. On and on it goes. There's flan and fried ice cream for dessert, but does anyone actually ever get that far in a Mexican restaurant?
If all you want is a snack at your desk, you can grab a big bag of chips and salsa to go. All other to-go orders include them, too.
We're glad Cotija's has grown, even if it means our own personal expansion. We could, of course, just eat the burrito and leave everything else on the plate untouched. Sure we could.
406 S. Louisiana
Don't fill up on the chips. It will be hard, because the salsa is good and fresh (though it could be spicier), but don't do it. You'll end up having to skip the refried beans if you do, or the rice, and you don't want to do that. Easier said than done, of course.
11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
No alcohol, credit cards accepted.
Wow...just wow... For literally years I've held my tongue about the quality of the of…