Bites Nearby: Run to the Border of Farmington Hills

El Patio dishes up fresh Mexican fare faster than you can hit a drive-through.

Overview: dishes up fast, fresh, inexpensive Mexican fare that doesn't wreck your digestive system. Sometimes Mexican food can feel like concrete in your stomach. El Patio’s food generally doesn’t leave that heavy feeling in your gut.

Decor: No-frills, casual, borderline-dive restaurant with bright yellow walls sporting Mexican accents for flair. It's very clean and should be; even though it’s not décor, the sickly stench of pine-scented cleaning solution that permeates the air, at least in the front area, is definitely worth mentioning. This will be important later.

The Drinks: Margaritas are sweeter than the awesome-looking cactus-inspired glasses they are served in. How sweet? I left some in my glass. And I never do that. If you like some booze with your tacos, opt for a cold cerveza instead or get your adult beverage of choice from the full bar.

Appetizers: Typical starters such as guacamole and cheese dip. Try the botanas (beans and chorizo topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocado and radishes) for a different twist on the nachos you may be used to.

Entrees: Try anything from the grill (de la parrilla) or the specialties (El Patio Especial). These have more flavor than the basic items that are featured in the combination dinners. For protein, pick chicken vs. the beef; El Patio's ground beef and steak tend to be salty and/or overcooked. For example, the beef for the fajitas, which smelled heavenly when served, was so overcooked that it had a chewy, almost, mealy texture, which was unfortunate because the flavor was bold with just the right amount of spice. The tacos al carbon are overpriced; at $9.95 you should get more than overcooked steak served plain on tortillas. Other than a couple of sides of salsa (one is darker and smoky, the other is a pico de gallo), these tacos are quite naked without even a piece of tomato or shred of lettuce (these cost extra). El Patio offers the convenient option of making your own combos. Don’t want one taco, two enchiladas and rice? Make your own combo. For $7.75 you can select two items from a list that includes tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, chile relleno, tamale, cheese dip and beef tostada, flauta, chalupa and enchilada. I got a three-item combo with an enchilada, a burrito and chile relleno. All three items were underwhelming: The chile relleno was slimy and had no texture (the chicken filling, however, was tender and flavorful); the burrito, with only meat, had a dry tortilla and inexplicably tasted like pine-scented cleaning solution; ditto for the enchilada. It may be a psychosomatic reaction, but I was at home eating the food … so that is one powerful smell that followed me all the way home.

Sides: Standard rice and beans come with most dishes. There are also several different salsas. The fresh salsa that comes free with chips has a spicy kick. Guacamole salad comes with many entrees; the one that came with our fajitas looked a tad bit oxidized but was still delicious. Accoutrements such as grilled onions and bell peppers, cheese and cilantro will cost you $2.25, $1 and 85 cents, respectively.

Desserts: The usual suspects—sopapilla, fried ice cream and flan. You can also get sopapilla deluxe: fried flour tortillas with ice cream and whipped cream.

Service: Faster than cruising through a drive-through. On a recent weekend night, the hostess had menus and was waiting for us at the door as we walked in. Our waiter was very polite yet businesslike—not chatty at all. On another night when I ordered carryout, the food was ready in less than 10 minutes. It took me longer to get home (while inhaling the intoxicating aromas) than it took to get the to-go boxes.

Signature Dish: Fajitas

Address: 39241 Grand River, Farmington Hills, 48331

Cost: $


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