READERS' PICK: Not everyone has time to make dinner, and even fewer have the dough to go gourmet. That's why God invented fast food. It is fast food--not missiles, not "Democracy"--that won us the Cold War and made America the greatest country on Earth. I, for one, count myself blessed to live within walking distance to two Los Betos. Los Betos is the bomb, the big nuke that makes the other McChains look like so many 99-cent bottle rockets. Burros and more, 24-7. And we're talkin' food. At Los Betos, the employees know that "chorizo" and "machaca" aren't nasty skin conditions the guy at the fryolator suffers from, but tasty Mexican concoctions that should be investigated by the palate. Night owls of all feathers hit the L to the B for late-nite eats; a friend of mine even met the ghee-tarrist from ZZ Top there one night at 3 a.m., gnawing on a potato, guacamole and beef burro. Los Betos is a far cry from what you'd expect from fast food. The California Burrito (not available at all Los Betos) is excellent. My inner restaurant critic even thought he detected the taste of fresh cilantro. At Los Betos they stay up all night so you can eat a full meal at a really disgusting time.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Nico's Mexican Food, 1855 E. Ft. Lowell Road; 4090 N. Oracle Road; 7114 E. Broadway Blvd. Considering the number of Mexican drive-thrus in this town, even to be the runner-up you'd have to be ... well, the best! Friendly people, great food, it's open 24/7 and it's cheap, cheap, cheap. They don't even round off their prices: any taco (including vegetarian) for $1.71; burritos ranging from $2.14 to $3.05; and a side of cheese or sour cream for exactly 43 cents. Who does that? (Answer: really nice people, with a good sense of humor.) One day, we showed up at the drive-thru window after ordering all our favorite items, starting with the delicious fish taco combo--always hot and crispy on the inside, with creamy tartar sauce and lots of shredded cabbage (the distinguishing touch for people who take fish tacos seriously). Next came nachos supreme, a mountain of tortilla strips loaded down with real cheddar, flavorful carne asada, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes and jalapeño slices (easily steady work for two); and finally a chile relleno burrito, which you just have to try to believe. (To say nothing of the enchiladas and tortas, which come in every kind of meat you might crave, except seca: machaca, chorizo, asada, carnitas, chicken and ham.) There at the window, we realized we didn't have enough cash. Oops. So what did these smiling take-out Samaritans do, but tell us to take the food while it's hot, and come back with the money. "You promise you'll come back, right?" she says to this perfect stranger. Not only did we go back on that day, but we've kept coming back, ever since. (Now that we've printed that for 180,000 readers, don't expect a repeat performance, though.)