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The Monitor, McAllen, Texas, Amy Nichol Smith column
[December 21, 2012]

The Monitor, McAllen, Texas, Amy Nichol Smith column

Dec 21, 2012 (The Monitor - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Sometimes the best restaurants are the tiny eateries we only hear about by word of mouth. The little hole-in-the-wall places are usually my favorites.

Al Fresco, the small joint in Edinburg, is a restaurant I will definitely visit again when I'm downtown and hungry.

About a year ago, I tried the chef's jalapeno-cream cheese cornbread and loved it. When I ordered it recently, though, they were out of stock (I'm unsure whether they sold out or just didn't make any that day).

So I ordered a plate of fish tacos with a side salad. The plate itself was hardly visible under the four corn tortillas topped with grilled fish, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, onions and avocado. The tacos are drizzled with a lemon-basil sauce. The fish and all of the vegetables tasted fresh, although the fish lacked a bit of flavor for me.

My side salad was a garden-variety salad, but beautifully prepared. Also, the chipotle ranch was very good, and much more appropriate for the fish tacos. I'm glad I saved some of the dressing to pour over the tacos.

David (manfriend), Adam (guy friend) and Madeleine (girl friend) joined me for lunch. The guys stuck to a safe menu item: the sandwich. David went with turkey and Adam chose chicken breast. Both sandwiches came stacked high with meat, veggies and cheese, and they came with fresh fruit.

Mads ordered the pasta with marinara, but they were all out of the red sauce, so she chose the alfredo instead. Really she just wanted the garlic bread. The chef really does take liberties with the classic white sauce here. The sauce was full of sharp parmesan cheese, but also a ton of herbs like thyme -- so much so that the sauce had turned green. The flavor was OK, but it certainly wasn't what Maddy was expecting.

I haven't mentioned yet just how big the portion sizes are at Al Fresco's. Even by describing the bowl as ridiculously large and filled to the brim won't fully convey just how much pasta you get at this restaurant. It could've fed all four of us easily.

I really like what the chef is doing at this restaurant, but it's disappointing to not get what's on the menu (or being misled by the menu item names). Al Fresco's has some flavorful sauces and fresh ingredients (and decent unsweetened tea) and is worth a visit.

(Al Fresco's, 219 E. Cano Street, Edinburg; (956) 414-6211) ___ (c)2012 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas) Visit The Monitor (McAllen, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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