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Gaucho's Grill



Perhaps it was the proximity of the International Farmer's Market or the elderly customer blowing his nose directly onto the pavement outside while an unfazed waiter chatted with him in rapid Castilian that told me that Gaucho's Grill, an Argentinean/ Uruguayan eatery, was truly free of pretense. The restaurant is named after the archetypal Argentinean cowboy figure, paintings of whom adorn the wall. Gaucho's is a comfortable, everyday spot that serves up traditional, no-frills South American favorites. Hyper-drive air conditioning blankets the windows with a Christmastime-like frost and fútbol flashes on the restaurant's TVs. Large tables of celebratory families clink glasses and pose for group photos, heightening Gaucho's cheeriness.

GOOOOAAAALLL!: Home cooks and diners in a hurry can satisfy themselves in the restaurant's bakery/dry goods area, which is stocked with goodies such as triangular meat and cheese sandwiches, dough for empanadas (meat pies), pastries slathered with dulce de leche (caramelized, sweetened condensed milk) and Peruvian quinoa. Lunchtime patrons luck out with the selection of meat-and-potatoes specials starting at the extravagantly bargain price of $4.50. Although prices are slightly higher in the evening, a dinnertime guest can still, as an appreciative friend remarked, drink a bottle of wine and eat for 90 minutes straight for approximately $25.

Butifarra-licious: Atkins dieters can party from the get-go with the cold cuts grouped together as the assortment of fiambres ($9.95) that includes the Catalan sausage butifarra or with the outstanding crispy-yet-tender mollejas (sweetbreads, $5.95), which are doled out so generously that the portion could serve as a meal in itself. The empanadas ($1.75) are dreamy mouthfuls of blistered crust alternating with pungently spiced beef as piping hot as the earth's core. The less meat-inclined will not fare shabbily, however. A variety of salads are carefully prepared tableside with great gusto.

Meat Me in Norcross: The parilla (mixed grill, $23.95 for two) is a carnivore's delight, replete with asado de tira (crosscut ribs), kidneys, sweetbreads, chinchulin (chitlins), and a double dose of sausage and morcilla (blood sausage), accompanied with fries, rice or salad. Innards-shy diners can order an organ- free version of the parilla, which is recommended for slower nights, as offal that is less than especially fresh can quickly develop unpalatable flavors and odors.

On the first visit, the kidneys fairly reeked of ammonia and were just short of inedible, and the sweetbreads were a bit past their prime. We ordered the dish again during the second visit on a bustling Friday night, and the organ meats were clean and delicately flavored. Vegetarians can opt for a dish from the array of meat-free pastas ($8.95-$12.95) or pizzas ($12.95). Those who wish for a composed plate will enjoy the specialties like the Milanesa Gaucho's ($12.95), an extravaganza of pounded, breaded and fried steak topped with ham, cheese and a fried egg.

It takes repeated asking -- close to wheedling, actually -- to get the check. However, the staff's exceptional graciousness, paired with the fair prices and large portions, make Gaucho's an enjoyable choice for even the pickiest cowboy.

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