The Place: Chips Mexican Grill, 2801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (across the street from the Ringling College of Art and Design); (941) 355-4620.
The Fare: This short-order purveyor of Mexican fare with a Southern California gloss reminds me of Tucson, where I lived for many years. The minute I walked through the door and inhaled the celestial aroma of corn tortillas frying, I was hooked.
The Drill: Order at the counter from a pleasingly diverse menu that includes tortilla soup, big salads, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, tacos and some interesting sides. Soft drinks (including Mexican sodas), smart waters, wine and Mexican beer round out the list.
The Bottom Line: Don’t go in thinking Taco Bell. Everything here is fresh and authentic, not Americanized fast food. For a terrific budget-friendly lunch, we’re recommending a trio of superior tacos. Go first to the Mexican Street Tacos heading, which offers four different savory meats or tofu (!) on a soft or crisp corn tortilla garnished with cilantro and onion for $1.95 each. I sampled the yummy slow-cooked pork carnitas and an excellent chile-marinated pulled chicken. The tacos came in a basket with perfectly crisp fresh tortilla chips and a little cup of thick and delicious tomatillo green sauce. Next, drop down to the Baja Fish Taco and order one of those babies for $3.25. Inside a big soft corn tortilla you’ll find freshly grilled and nicely garnished white fish asserted by a generous slice of avocado with pico de gallo on the side. A welcome bonus is a cup of what Chips calls Holy Mole Chipotle Slaw, a lightly smoky and zestier cousin of good old cole slaw.