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Comfort Me with Taquitos

Solid Tex-Mex fare and knockout margaritas at Coyote's

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Cue the tumbleweeds. The sunlight's glare off passing cars is nearly blinding. Wind blasting through a knocked-out, diamond-shaped sign reaching past the building's rafters rattles the steel frame so violently, we duck and run for the door. A large plastic banner strung across the front of the restaurant snaps like a flag whipped by gusts. Its sand-pink walls glow like the Painted Desert in late afternoon. Coyote's feels remarkably out-of-place on College Avenue among dreary strip malls and long-shuttered auto stores.

Howlin' at the bar: If you were to wake up inside Coyote's, you'd think you were in Phoenix. The interior is straight-up Southwestern, with cacti playing a major decorative role. Sun pours through wraparound plate-glass windows. Black vinyl booths, including a massive one that could seat eight, stretch from the entrance to the bar in one corner. Coyote statuettes, including a howling stuffed coyote, are arranged neatly on the bar shelves.

Tequila K.O.: Despite the decor, Coyote's menu offers a roster of standard Mexican-American favorites — burritos, enchiladas, tacos soft and crunchy, and, of course, margaritas ($4.50). Spring for the killer frozen version. Don't let the smooth, Icee-like texture fool you, though. These chilly concoctions will knock you in the dirt. Served in a cactus-shaped glass, the margarita features an added bonus: On top of the slushy raft floats an extra splash of tequila.

Tortilla treats: You better get your snack on with those margaritas. Freshly made chicken taquitos ($5), served with a generous dollop of guacamole and a tuft of sour cream, are superb. Tender shredded chicken braised with pasilla chiles and studded with roasted bell peppers are rolled up in flour tortillas and fried. Chicken chilaquiles ($6.25) comforts in a casserole sort of way: corn tortillas, pulled chicken, tomatoes and peppers are topped with sour cream and shredded cheese.

Escuela vieja: The last time I had a crunchy taco, my older sister was still in braces and we had an Atari hooked up to the TV. It's a happy return to old-school Mexican eats with two crunchy beef tacos ($4.25) accompanied by refried beans, rice and a nest of shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Juicy adobo-seasoned beef is topped with lacy filaments of orange cheese and iceberg lettuce. Shells are delightfully crunchy, not stale, and the tacos shatter all over the plate with the first bite. And just try to stay away from the bean and cheese dip ($3), an indulgent, porky, creamy treat of refried beans and goopy white cheese. Coyote's is a gem for those on the city's east side. On bright afternoons, visiting almost feels like a trip out of town.

cynthia.wong@creativeloafing.com

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