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Gringo Juice

Abuelo's serves good Mexican food -- if you make it past the bar.

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Next time we drop by Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy (26100 Harvard Road, Warrensville Heights, 216-360-9030), we may skip the well-appointed dining room and head straight for the bar.

Not that the food at the Texas-based chain isn't good. Ultra-sheer tortilla chips are killer, in fact, arriving at the table still warm from the fryer and served with a savory homemade salsa -- and the freshly made guacamole is delicious as they come.

But for our bucks, the real action is at the granite-topped bar, with its tantalizing assortment of booze, beer, and top-shelf tequilas. We started our exploration with micheladas, a traditional beer concoction served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass, with a garnish of crushed lime. Tecate ($3.50) was our brew of choice, but next time we'll go for the Negra Modelo and spike it with Tabasco, Worcestershire, and pepper.

Then it was on to the sipping tequilas -- more than two dozen of 'em -- served up neat in miniature snifters, a chaser of spicy sangrita (citrus juices, spices, and ancho chiles) on the side. While giant producers like Jose Cuervo and Herradura are heavily represented, there are some interesting alternatives, included El Tesoro Añejo ($9) and Espolon Resposado ($7). The annotated menu offers plenty of tasting notes to aid in picking your poison.

And if you favor your poison on a full stomach, Abuelo's big menu offers a satisfying balance of upscale, Mexico City-style fare and typical Tex-Mex standards, such as fajitas, tacos, and enchiladas. The main courses we sampled tasted OK; but we've certainly enjoyed more macho preparations at such locally owned taquerias as Mi Pueblo, Luchita's, and Jalapeño Loco.

Tremont eats . . . Big Guys Pizza, the Tremont eatery run by John and Sheila Hotz (owners of Hotz Café next door), debuted its predictably big new menu last week. Besides the well-endowed pies (thin-crusted cuties like the piquant Hawaiian-style "Book 'Em, Dano," with pineapple, bacon, ham, and sweet peppers; or the southwestern "Hook 'Em Horns," slathered with barbecue sauce, chicken, bacon, peppers, mozzarella, provolone, and cheddar), Big Guys also serves succulent ribs, better-than-average wings, foot-long Sabrett hot dogs, and a surprisingly yummy version of the ubiquitous fried mozzarella stick, among a host of other noshes. For carry-out, call 216-436-8888; or eat in at the tavern at 2529 West 10th Street.

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