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Mexi to the Max

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Christopher Gardner

Tortilla Shift: Mexicali Market's cooking techniques use oil sparingly.

Mexicali Market satiates Baja taco longings

By Andrew X. Pham

THE LATEST arrival in the Cal-Mex taqueria revolution, Mexicali Market expertly adapts popular Mexican food to Californians' fat sensitivities without sacrificing flavor. Recipes employ vegetable oil sparingly and whittle away meat fat without mercy. Even the low-oil tortillas seem fairly light without being bready.

Hopping with salsa music, Mexicali Market stages bargain meals amid a riot of colors reminiscent of a lively mercado. Green ceiling fans dip down into the dining area like palms from the airy corrugated aluminum ceiling. Behind the faux adobe counter and shop fronts, busy with mosaic tiles and potted plastic flowers, are a tortilleria, a large grill, a deli, a juice bar, and shelves stocked with pistachios, salsas, chiles, fresh corn tortilla, spices, herbed oils and chips.

Our fish taco ($2.95) wasn't the popular Baja taco--it was better. The fish got a spicy marinade before hitting the grill for a good charring. Served with diced tomato and cilantro on a fresh corn tortilla brushed with lime-mayo, the cubed fish filet definitely satiated any of our Baja taco longings.

The carnitas taco ($2.75) raised our eyebrows with its surprising leanness. Traditionally, the stewed pork brims with juicy fat. Here, the peppery meat was tender and flavorful without any evidence of extra calories. The taco itself came as a straight-up affair of corn tortilla, sweet red onion and fresh salsa--not bad at all.

We spotted a not-often-seen camarones burrito ($5.95) in the company of nine more well-known amigos. Gracing the inside of an almost oil-free flour tortilla, the creamy sautéed shrimp filling pleased with its simple richness. Mild chile sauce, rice and whipped avocado added much character, although a fistful of tortilla chips would have made the burrito seem less lonely.

Much to our disappointment, nothing on the menu or at the self-serve salsa bar struck our palates as fiery. Still, we agreed that the Cabo Sunset smoothie ($2.50)--a blend of orange juice, pineapple, strawberries, bananas and pineapple sherbet--would make a tasty and effective remedy for chile-singed tongues.

We took home from the deli section a plastic-encased chile colorado and popped it into the microwave as per the instructions. Meager tokens of Spanish rice and mashed pinto beans could not redeem the over-salted chile sauce. We wondered why $5.95 didn't fetch us some tortillas as well. They would have gone well with the generous chunks of pork, admirably lean and soft.

A choice stop for fans of Cal-Mex cuisine, Mexicali Market makes for a good cheap feast with pleasant little touches and authentic flavors.

Mexicali Market is located in Kirkwood Plaza at 1710 W. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408/378-1190. Open daily, 11am­9pm.

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From the January 30-February 5, 1997 issue of Metro

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