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At the Crossroads 

Want a tasty chimichanga and a six-pack of beer? If you do, Crossroads is for you.

Can you believe that there are actually people in Tucson who think Taco Bell has the area's best Mexican food?

Well, believe it; it's true. I know, because I've spent a great deal of my recent time counting Best of Tucson ballots, and several folks voted this way. I think these people should be rounded up and put in a home somewhere.

This was on my mind when I visited Crossroads Restaurant Drive In on a recent Thursday afternoon. There, I met Dweeb, the Weekly staffer who does not want his name used in restaurant reviews.

Crossroads is a cool place. It's been at 36th Street and Fourth Avenue for decades, and from what I can tell, a good chunk of its business is take-out. (The menu even features a line that says "6 Packs To Go.") However, its décor is nice enough that I recommend dining in, unless you're in some sort of hurry. Brick and/or tile walls, paintings of matadors and plants hanging from the ceiling give the place some serious character. The restaurant offers booths (with steeply vertical backs that will make you sit up straight and improve your posture) and tables with chairs (in pastel blue and pink colors), and Mexican music plays in the background.

After Dweeb and I were seated--twice, actually, since we moved to a table after Dweeb found that he didn't like the straight-and-narrow seating in a booth--we ordered from our friendly server. Dweeb got the No. 2 combination plate with a taco, an enchilada, rice and beans ($5.15), while I got the No. 4 combination plate with a taco, an enchilada, a tamale, rice and beans ($6.15). I also ordered a chicken chimichanga ($4.85) in an effort to upset the lunatics who think Tucson restaurant reviewers shouldn't order chimichangas (when, in fact, the chimichanga was invented in the Northern Sonora/Tucson area, making it a wonderful thing for Tucson restaurant reviewers to order). Crossroads' Mexican menu also offers three other combination plates as well as tacos, enchiladas, flautas, tamales, burritos and tostadas à la carte, along with several "dinner" plates. "American" food--chicken, hamburgers, a hot dog, a grilled cheese sandwich and a fish sandwich, for example--is also on the menu. And then there's a whole seafood menu that I'll get to later.

As we waited, Dweeb and I (mostly I) munched on the chips and salsa. The salsa was a bit sweeter than average, and it also packed a stronger-than-average bite, thanks to the presence of numerous peppers and their tell-tale seeds, along with tomatoes, cilantro and onions. I enjoyed the thick, yet not-too-chunky salsa immensely.

Our food was delivered promptly, and it made our mouths water. My taco (with chicken and the standard accompaniments) was delicious, although the shredded chicken was a bit too moist, causing the shell to disintegrate before I was done eating it. Dweeb's taco looked similarly soggy, but it was similarly devoured. The enchilada, also full of shredded chicken, was covered in various cheeses and a bland red sauce. However, the sauce's blandness was not a problem, as the tasty chicken carried the flavor anyway. Dweeb pronounced his enchilada "good." My tamale, filled with shredded beef and covered with a sauce that had a peppery kick, was amazing--one of the best I've had in a while.

The beans and rice were both fairly standard. The refried beans had a mellow, almost bland flavor, and the rice was somewhat chunky, but good. All in all, it made for a wonderful and inexpensive lunch.

And that leaves the chimichanga. Filled with what seemed to be the same tasty chicken that came in the taco and the enchilada, the chimichanga--served with lettuce and sour cream--was a taste treat. I only had a couple bites before getting a to-go box. (Before he brought the box, the server told me I couldn't take it to-go and that I couldn't leave before I ate the whole thing. Thank goodness, he was joking; the thing was immense.) It was still yummy the next day when it was re-heated for lunch.

The next day, I decided to grab dinner to-go at Crossroads. My motivations were two-fold: one, Crossroads has an entire seafood menu that I was unable to sample on my first visit, and two, seafood sounded quite good. (Incidentally, I was in some sort of hurry, necessitating that I get the meal to-go rather than dining in.) I called in my order from the office. Being a gringo who speaks very little Spanish, I ran into a language barrier, but we managed to work it out in the end.

Crossroads' seafood menu is primarily made up of dishes using shrimp and filet of sole in a variety of ways, in addition to caldos (seafood soups) and cockteles with such things as shrimp, octopus and oysters. I ordered the camaron al mojo de ajo (grilled shrimp with fresh garlic, $11) and the caldo de pescado (fish soup with vegetables, $9.50). It was ready when I arrived.

Once home, I dug in. The garlic shrimp were simple, but good--six medium-sized prawns cut down the center and covered in minced garlic. Since I love garlic, I loved the dish, even though all I could taste was the minced garlic. (The meal got a bit messy, because the shrimp were not peeled.) The accompanying white rice was standard, as were the french fries, toast and salad (iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado with no dressing).

The soup, which came with tasty corn tortillas, was OK. Sole, onions and peppers dominated the soup, which was otherwise bland. After a few bites, I found myself picking the fish and onion chunks out, because the liquid was rather uninspiring.

Despite the so-so soup, I enjoyed both (or, counting the leftover chimichanga lunch, all three) of my meals at Crossroads. Based on my Tucson travels thus far, it's one of the better--and certainly one of the more underappreciated--Mexican restaurants in town. And it's about a gazillion times better than Taco Bell, too.

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