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Dos Margaritas
** 1/2
Out of a possible five

Mexican spot alive with color

It was a big move.

When Las Lomas owner Martin Quintana closed his restaurant at Lake Avenue and Coliseum Boulevard and took over the former Ryan’s Steakhouse just south of Coliseum on Clinton Street, he not only changed the name to Dos Margaritas Mexican Grill & Bar, he also went from a little more than 80 seats to about 280.

I don’t understand the name change given Las Lomas had built such a solid reputation for good food and attentive service at the old spot and its original sister store at 2202 Fairfield Ave. And bigger did not prove to be better at Dos Margaritas.

The restaurant is a sight to behold. Bright pastel paint that many Mexican restaurants use on chairs and tables extends to the ceiling and the walls here. It is a panorama of colors.

The menu is in line with what Las Lomas offered, only larger and more diverse.

My lunch visit was the most pleasant, but even it was flawed.

A basket of warm, white and yellow corn tortilla chips and salsa arrived as soon as I was seated and my service was splendid throughout.

The Border Nachos appetizer was great with 12 crisp tortilla triangles individually topped with some of Dos Margaritas’ chunky, better-than-the-norm refried beans, ground beef and cheese. There was sour cream, pico de gallo, lettuce, diced tomato and delicious chunky guacamole on the side that I could add to my liking.

The $5.99 create-your-own lunch combo allowed me to choose two items from a list. The chicken flauta was perfect – crispy but not at all oily and jam packed with tender chicken breast meat – but the tamale was not. It was mushy and the pork inside was underseasoned.

The Max Burrito was huge. It was soaked in white queso sauce, topped with sour cream and was accompanied by rice.

Grilled steak and chicken were mixed throughout with onions and rice. I wondered why the dish did not have a side of beans instead of the rather pale, flavorless rice given there was rice inside. But when I was nearly done, I found a pocket of tasty black beans at one end, which I could have enjoyed more had they been properly distributed throughout the burrito.

My dinner visit was flawed from start to finish with a poor server in the spotlight.

The server handed me one of the drinks to pass to a dining companion even though he could have easily walked around the table and done it himself in the barren corner we were seated in.

When he took our orders, he tried to talk me out of the Queso Flameado appetizer, which he said was too big for my party of three. Also, when verifying our entrée selections, he read back two of the three wrong and had to be corrected.

The Flameado was a fantastic choice and was not at all too big. Crumbled chorizo, peppers, tomatoes, onions and cheese were served on a cast-iron fajita skillet with flour tortillas. The cheese was chewy, the onions and peppers had caramelized to be a little sweet and the chorizo had some kick.

The simple bean dip, however, was terrible. A small cup was filled with a soupy mess with way too much flavorless queso sauce. The beans in the bean dip were pretty much lost.

When the entrées arrived, again, the server made me pass a plate of food to another person at my table and was ready to hand me another before the third person insisted he bring it himself.

At least he was consistent.

The shrimp on the Camarones Dos Margaritas and atop the Las Lomas steak were consistent – all were nearly raw.

The T-bone was OK, but without the shrimp it was just an ordinary cut of beef. The entrée was also missing a menu-promised side of pico de gallo.

The Camarones could have been fantastic. Half of the shrimp were simmered in a bright, fresh-tasting green tomatillo sauce and the other half in a smoky, slightly spicy red chipotle chile sauce. It looked beautiful and the fresh avocado slices on the side were a wonderful touch. Too bad nearly all of the shrimp were inedible.

Adding to the consistency issues, a side of guacamole, which was chunky, thick and delicious during my lunch visit, had little flavor and no texture this time. It was overwhipped so badly that I think the sour cream was thicker.

Both desserts were delicious, but the wait for them was excruciating. The Tres Leches Cake was rich and dense with a light whipped icing and the Chimi Cheesecake – cheesecake stuffed tortillas deep fried and dusted with cinnamon and sugar and drizzled with caramel and whipped cream – was as good as it sounded.

But my coffee, which was ordered with the desserts and that I hoped to enjoy with those desserts, took even longer to arrive than they did.

Maybe the server just got lost while fetching it in this huge but beautiful restaurant.

Or maybe the size of Dos Margaritas has made the things that I loved about Las Lomas – solid food and service with personal touches – simply impossible to attain.

Restaurant: Dos Margaritas

Address: 4230 N. Clinton St.

Phone: 426-1118

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Queso Flameado ($7.99), Border Nachos ($8.99), Las Lomas Steak ($15.99), Camarones Dos Margaritas ($15.99), Max Burrito ($7.29), Chimi Cheesecake ($3.99), tres leches ($3.79)

Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.