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by Inlander Staff & r & & r & TECATE GRILL

Like the Baja California town and beer it's named for, Tecate Grill offers a tropical-themed ambience and fun atmosphere. The food is a cut above most Mexican restaurants. You won't find refried beans, ground beef or iceberg lettuce here. Perfectly cooked shrimp appetizers or the Botanero sampler platter are featured starters. We enjoyed the chicken canyon fajitas ($13), adovo chicken pasta ($12) and veggie burrito ($10). South-of-the-border beverages (cervezas and margaritas) and desserts, like the deep-fried ice cream, round out the Southwestern experience. 2503 W. Wellesley Ave. #C, 327-7817 (SH)


You'd never guess it once was a Boston Market/Carl's Jr. on the South Hill: With its wine bar and patio, Vin Rouge has been remarkably transformed. The bruschetta and crab cakes are a bargain ($3-$4) during Social Hour. The chicken breast with creamy risotto ($14) had a luscious mushroom and marsala sauce, while the pork chop with apple-currant compote ($15) was quite juicy. The seared halibut ($19) swims in a lemon caper and white butter sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and saut & eacute;ed spinach. 3029 E. 29th Ave., 535-8800 (LM)


"Eat, drink and be merry" describes Prago, though not necessarily in that order. Some menu items might not be available if the chef didn't get to them before leaving for the day, but no matter: This is a place where spending time and conversing are the most important things. The chicken empanadas -- three small meat pies filled with ground chicken, green chiles, green olives, corn and raisins -- were warm and savory, accompanied by a spring greens salad, which I would have happily traded for a few more empanadas. Finally we dove into the veggie panini, with sliced tomato, red onion, mushroom, melted provolone cheese, mayo and sprouts. The sandwich was soft and gooey, really a treat, washed down with a glass of sweet iced peppermint tea. If you're looking for a place where food is the centerpiece, try someplace else. If food is just part of the experience for you, this might be your place. 201 W. Riverside Ave., 443-0404 (DN)


Like many nightspots, Isabella's boasts a large selection of "martinis" and specialty cocktails, but there's also a strong lineup of wines, many by the glass. The extensive menu emphasizes classic American fare, cleanly executed with simple flavors, plenty of garlic and not a lot of fuss. It's not trendy, but that's OK -- a little black dress isn't trendy either. The house salad is a highlight, with mixed greens, cucumber, blue cheese, walnuts and pears in a lightly sweet vinaigrette. The seafood-stuffed rib eye ($24) could serve two easily and is almost too rich, but the saut & eacute;ed scallops ($18) with fresh pasta are sublime. For dessert, the three-tiered chocolate mousse ($6) delights the eye as well as the taste buds. We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, sharing good food and drink in an atmosphere conducive to conversation while having our needs met by a pleasant and competent server. You won't find Bogie at the bar, but Isabella's is a gin joint worth walking into. 21 W. Main Ave., 624-0660 (AC)

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