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The Dish: Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant

· Open since: Feb. 25

· Location: Los Arcos just moved into the shopping center at the corner of Duluth Highway and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road (the same one that houses the steak and sushi restaurant Utage).

· Owners: A family-owned operation in the truest sense, this Mexican eatery is run by Jose, Silvia, Christian and Gerardo Villareal.

· Hours: Los Arcos is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays.

· Atmosphere: Cookie-cutter Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen in this area, but Los Arcos has a slightly trendier, slightly classier vibe than your typical taquería.

The lighting is dim, and the paintings that hang on the canary-colored walls

are spotlit like stacks of jeans at an Abercrombie and Fitch.

That's not to say a night out at Los Arcos is a snooty affair. The atmosphere, described by Gerardo as "comfortable, but at the same time energetic," is as inviting to families as it is to the margarita-craving after-work crowd.

Gerardo added that, despite having only been in business a matter of days, the restaurant is already attracting a steady stream of regulars.

· The menu: Another thing that sets Los Arcos apart from its Mexican food brethren is a dedication to variety - a desire to stray from that (literally) by-the-numbers list of combination platters that fills the menu at most other places.

"We serve those too," Gerardo said, "but we thrive on our specialty dishes."

For those in a decidedly carnivorous mood, there's La Botana, a sampler platter packed with grilled shrimp, strips of chicken breast and fajita steak sitting on a bed of sauteed bell peppers and onions, lettuce, jalapenos, cubed cheese and slices of avocado.

But Los Arcos can even breathe life into something as simple as a plate of nachos. Piled high with spicy strips of steak, melted cheese, refried beans and sizable dollups of guac and sour cream (the better to cool your mouth off with), the best part about the restaurant's fajita nachos is that the tortilla chips underneath all that messy goodness somehow manage to stay crispy. That's about as rare as finding cereal that doesn't get soggy in milk.

· Beverages: "If you want something, we've got it," Gerardo said. On tap alongside your typical Budweiser and Bud Light, there's Dos Equis Amber. Other Mexican imports like Tecate, Modelo and Dos Equis Lager are available by the bottle.

But you'd rather hear about the margaritas, right? Well, aside from with the standard fare (frozen or on the rocks), the restaurant offers flavors like strawberry, mango and peach, as well as the ever-popular Texas Margarita.

· Dessert: Los Arcos serves traditional post-dinner sweets like flan and fried ice cream as well as xangos, a flaky pastry tortilla.

· Things you might not know: The expansive bar that winds its way along the right side of the restaurant seats a whopping 30 thirsty patrons.

SideBar: On the Menu

· La Botana: a sampler platter packed with grilled shrimp, strips of chicken breast and fajita steak on a bed of sauteed bell peppers and onions, lettuce, jalapenos, cubed cheese and slices of avocado. ($12.95)

· Fajita nachos: Piled high with spicy strips of steak or chicken, melted cheese, refried beans and sizable dollups of guacamole and sour cream. (Half, $7.50. Whole, $10.95)

· Jose's fajitas: Marinated steak or grilled chicken with sauteed onions, spinach and mushrooms, topped with shredded cheese and served with rice and refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and flour tortillas. ($13.95)