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Munch goes to El Campesino

Friday, July 25, 2003

By Munch

Though it is generally Munch's practice not to visit the same type restaurant in consecutive weeks, many readers will admit that once you get thin but tasty salsa introduced to your system, it's hard to break the chip cycle, no?

Thus with the pleasing experience of El Toro and the always affable Zelienople still hot in the memory, Munch entered the new El Campesino on McKnight Road toting a frenetic salsa jones and reliable thirst.

You know you're thirsty when the waiter says, "Can I get you something to drink?" and you say "Yes!" way, way too loud. Naming a common brew, Munch was stunned to hear, "We don't serve alcohol."

A Mexican restaurant sans beer, margaritas, wine, tequila. Can it happen here? Oh youbetcha. You can bring your own, of course, but in the absence of competent advance scouting (Munch glared at Friend of Munch -- that's right, your fault!), Munch uttered a heart-wrenching, "Club soda, please."

"Pepsi?" said our waiter.

"Fine," Munch said, too dispirited to protest.

El Campesino's liquor license is in the bureaucratic pipeline. In the meantime they get to post a giant orange sign in the window saying so. Ain't Pennsylvania great?

Opening the menu, I found -- guess what? -- combination platters. No. 1 through 25. I got the No. 6. It's just one of my favorite numbers, and it looks more like I felt that day than, say, No. 1 or No. 7. The food? Not even sure. A chicken enchilada, a beef taco, rice and beans, a cheese burrito, a beef enchilada, a chicken taco, what difference does it make? I think you just pick a number and if it matches what arrives on your plate, you win something.

A beer would be good.

I was sitting under a dark, taunting, unplugged neon sign for Miller Genuine Draft after all. This place used to be Buffalo's, which obviously had a liquor license.

A note on our menu warned that quality Mexican food takes time to prepare (although El Toro had no trouble bringing it promptly), which, re-translated into Spanish means, "We're in no hurry, so don't you be." Munch, Friend of Munch, Friend of Friend of Munch, and Friend of Friend of Friend of Munch thus consumed three baskets of chips and thin but tasty salsa -- delightfully spicy actually -- before Munch got to a second club soda. Uh, Pepsi.

For ambiance, El Campesino's conversion is reasonably successful, meaning that it has only the annoying accoutrements of most Mexican restaurants, maddening canned South of the Border music and insanely bright tablecloths. As a bonus, the lightbulb over our table was of the official Tijuana police station intensity.

Also on the menu, a notice that takeout arrangements will cost you an additional 30 cents. Thirty cents? Why even mention it? Is someone going to say, "Thirty cents? Why that's an outrage!" And storm out of the place? I don't think so.

To be sure, the food at El Campesino (loosely translated, the country kitchen) was highly pleasing all around the table. Friend of Munch raved about the rice, which included corn and lima beans, and tacos and entrees, all priced modestly in the Mexican tradition, were universally praised.

Munch's No. 6 turned out to be led by a chicken enchilada of hearty taste, but Munch added some hot sauce from the center of the table to the rice and noted a funny color to the refried beans, which Munch generally hopes to find a solid-to-dark brown. These were pinkish if not downright taupe.

Could have been the police lighting.

El Campesino is at 4771 McKnight Road and is open 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon until 9 p.m. Sundays. Phone: 412-366-8730.

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