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by SUSAN HAMILTON and ANN COLFORD & r & & r &


CASUAL Taco Tradition





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & aquerias were originally street vendors in Mexico, serving tacos made from small, soft corn tortillas filled with meat, veggies and salsa. (Crispy taco shells may be familiar to Americans, but they're not traditional.) Since tacos are indigenous fast food -- simple, filling and cheap -- it's no surprise that several taquerias have set down roots in the Inland Northwest and expanded to offer burritos and other traditional Mexican dishes.





TACOS TUMBRAS began its life as a taco truck on Spokane's north side and in the Valley. Recently, it settled down in the former Hula Hut Grill space on East Sprague. The Zuniga family features homemade tortillas, dishes and sauces. The tacos come with choice of meat (shredded beef, chicken, pork, sausage or tongue), onions and cilantro on corn tortillas. Burritos offer options from chicken in chipotle sauce to scrambled eggs with Mexican sausage. The menu includes enchiladas made with Mexican cheese, meat and green salsa; sopes (a corn tortilla piled with refried beans, meat, veggies and cheese) and campechano (a beef/cactus/onion/sausage/Serrano chile mixture served on a corn tortilla).





Also in the Valley, EL GALLO GIRO now has a larger location. The Martinez family's menu has expanded to include sizeable dishes like homemade chile rellenos and enchiladas. Customers can still get tamales by the dozen and individual tacos in traditional or crunchy form.





Filling Giro's former space, TAQUERIA EL MERCADO features traditional Mexican tacos with a customized spin. Customers can add garnishes, pickled veggies, salsas and such from Mercado's large pepper bar to their tacos of tortillas and meat. An authentic al pastor ("shepherd's style") taco is made with grilled marinated meat (usually pork).





If you're not adventurous enough for traditional Mexican tacos, a newly opened north-side TACO DEL MAR offers Subway-type Mexican food in a Baja California atmosphere. Just like its 243 other outlets, del Mar's menu features "mondo" burritos, tacos and enchiladas. Some items are trans-fat free with vegetarian options.


-- SUSAN HAMILTON





Tacos Tumbras, 9420 E. Sprague., is open daily from 10 am-9 pm. El Gallo Giro, 3207 E. Sprague, is open daily from 11 am-9 pm. Taqueria el Mercado, 305 S. Thor St., is open daily from 11 am-9 pm. Taco del Mar, 8801 N. Indian Trail Rd., is open daily from 10 am-9 pm.





PUBS Dueling Irishmen





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & wo longtime Coeur d'Alene pubs recently expanded into Post Falls, setting up a little (friendly) competition. In the grand Super Bowl tradition, let's see how these teams stack up.





Location: PADDY'S TOO is north of I-90 at Highway 41 and Mullan, set back from the road with plenty of parking. CAPONE'S is south of I-90 at 41 where it turns into Ross Point Road.





D & eacute;cor: Owner Rich Hanlon employed Casa Savie to appoint Paddy's Too with an inviting bar space and the classiest restrooms around (wrought-iron fixtures, suspended globe lighting... it's a girl thing). As an Ironman himself, Hanlon honors local athletes with a Wall of Fame, augmented by requisite neon beer signs and oversize sports heroes on the walls. Ten TVs, five pool tables and darts means there's plenty to do and watch.





At Capone's, Tom's trademark tabletops of laminated memorabilia, combined with abundant sports paraphernalia and signage, link this former brewery building to the original 15-year-old neighborhood establishment in Coeur d'Alene. There are seven hi-def TVs, a meeting room and a cozy fireplace area. Both places are non-smoking.





Menu: Perky servers in Catholic schoolgirl garb serve corned beef ($7) and unusual appetizers like Mussels O'Hara at Paddy's Too. (Only the original Paddy's on Appleway serves gizzards.) Gaelic-sounding versions of traditional pub food like nachos and wings ($7-$10) and a delightful range of pasta, salads, steaks and vegetarian dishes are available for lunch and dinner. Capone's specializes in homemade, stone-hearth pizza: vegetarian, spicy Thai chicken, and -- Mama Mia! -- sausage, pepper and onion ($13-$17). Starters include hummus and veggies, artichoke spread and wings ($7-$8), along with generously sized salads, sandwiches and burgers.





Libations: Paddy's Too has a handful of beers on tap, including Guinness, wine and a full bar. In addition to full-serve liquor, Capone's pours 25 varieties of lights, darks and everything in between, including Spaten Optimator, Pyramid Apricot and Guinness.





Entertainment: Paddy's Too features karaoke, a DJ and, on Saturday nights, live music. Capone's opted not to showcase live music in Post Falls -- the Coeur d'Alene location is host to blues and local favorites such as Too Slim and the Taildraggers -- although they're looking into having a DJ on some nights.





Who's my pick for the season? Paddy's Too is great for the more active crowd (pool, darts, etc.), while Capone's is ideal for just kicking back with good friends. This one just might be a tie game.


-- CARRIE SCOZZARO





Paddy's Too, 900 N. Hwy 41, Post Falls, is open Sun-Thurs 11 am-1 am, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am. Call (208) 773-7900. Capone's, 315 N. Ross Point Rd., Post Falls, is open Sun-Thurs 11 am-midnight, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am. Call (208) 457-8020.

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