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Fresh & amp;amp; Tasty 

by SUSAN HAMILTON and CARRIE SCOZZARO & r & & r & DINING Latino Fare


Mexican-American food may be known for its gooey nachos, spicy combination plates, sizzling fajitas and frozen margaritas, but its roots go back hundreds of years to Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Food historians note that Mexican restaurants gained popularity in America after 1950 with the arrival of Mexican immigrants. East Los Angeles, the cultural heart of Latino life in the City of the Angels, is a hotbed of Mexican-inspired cookery. Now Inland Northwesterners have a place to go for authentic East L.A. Mexican dishes at the newly opened AMELIA'S.





"This is something I wanted to do for 25 years," says owner Bob Johnson, who painted the former Top Notch Caf & eacute; in traditional white, red and green. The eatery's interior still sports the wooden counter and swivel chairs, tile floor, cozy booths and historic photos of the Top Notch era. But Amelia's menu features the holy trinity of Mexican cookery -- corn, beans and chilies -- alongside buttermilk pancakes, sirloin steak and eggs, bacon cheeseburgers and French dip sandwiches.





"Our salsa is homemade from a family recipe," Johnson says. "Our delicious breakfast burritos are just like those you'd find in East L.A."





The breakfast burritos ($3) are a favorite at the north-side eatery. Fresh flour tortillas are filled with three scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, bacon, ham, salsa, Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, and rolled up tight. Amelia's East L.A. omelet features three eggs, saut & eacute;ed onions, sliced jalapeno chilies, taco meat and jack-cheddar cheese. The Denver omelet is another popular item, with three eggs, saut & eacute;ed onions, tomato, green peppers, honey-cured ham, Monterey jack and cheddar cheese. Both omelets ($7) are served with hash browns and toast.





Mexican lunch dishes ($1.50-$7) include a pork-steak burrito, marinated in salsa and covered with Monterey jack and cheddar cheese. The pan-fried taco is a hard-shell corn tortilla filled with ground beef, onions, cheese and veggies. Enchiladas are made with corn tortillas, chicken or beef, cheese and green onions. American offerings include made-to-order hamburgers and sandwiches with soup (like baked potato), house salad, pasta salad, potato salad or Jo Jo's, as well as chef and Cobb salads ($4-$7).





"Our food is a melting pot of Mexican-American cooking," says manager Anthony Gates.


-- SUSAN HAMILTON





Amelia's, 825 N. Monroe St., is open daily 7 am-2:30 pm. Call 325-0908.





FESTIVALS Sample Sandpoint


Raise your hand if you played with your food as a kid. Still do? Even better. You're invited to Sandpoint's second annual SUMMER SAMPLER, a community-wide foodfest featuring good eats and local laughs. Sponsored by the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce, the Sampler includes events like food sculpting, waiter races and a Mystery Cooking Box Competition.





Look out, Iron Chef. The Mystery competition involves a box full of products from Litehouse. (It's easy to get hooked on their bleu cheese dressing.) Sandpoint-based Litehouse is being honored for community involvement -- you might say, putting its money where its mouth is -- such as its new employee stock option program. Gabe Cruz, of Caf & eacute; Trinity, has challenged Coeur d'Alene's Adam Hegsted from Brix Restaurant to a throwdown of sorts. Up for grabs are bragging rights and a chance for Cruz to redeem himself after Hegsted's Crab Ravioli with Bourbon Cream won People's Choice at this year's mARTi gras benefit for Coeur d'Alene's Art on the Edge.





Want more hands-on involvement? Try fowl play -- bowling with frozen Cornish hens and turkeys, with prizes awarded to winners. Even kids who don't like veggies will enjoy making a Mr. Potato Head sculpture or even a 3-D artwork out of cheese curd.





And, of course, you can lay hands on plenty of food and drink, like finger-lickin' barbecue from Duke's Cowboy Grill (ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and other Tex-Mex specialties). Wash it all down with an ice-cold one from local Laughing Dog Brewing or a refreshing glass of Huckleberry Blush from Pend d'Oreille Winery. You can also stay cool with fruit smoothies from Bongo Brew Hut and gelato from Caf & eacute; Bodega. Tickets to taste these goodies range from $1-$7, with portions conducive to sampling. (Are you listening, Pig Out?)





If the food isn't enough incentive, the Chamber is also raffling a $1,000 gas card -- it'll help you get to all these great restaurants once the Sampler is over.


-- CARRIE SCOZZARO





Sandpoint's Summer Sampler is Thursday, June 21, from 4:30-7 pm, at Farmin Park, Jeff Jones Town Square and along Third and Main. Free admission; samples, $1-$7. Visit www.sandpointchamber.com or call (800) 800-2106 or (208) 263-0887.

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