Trago Mexican Kitchen uniquely delicious

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Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: 8700 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, Suite 167, Vancouver.

Telephone: 360-984-6546. Trago also may be found on Facebook.

Health Score: Trago Mexican Kitchen received a zero on Aug. 18. Zero is a perfect score. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.

Why: Trago Mexican Kitchen recently opened at the Westfield Vancouver mall. The restaurant departs from the traditional atmosphere commonly associated with Mexican cuisine, and the menu is more a hand-picked collection of specifics instead of pages of combinations and meat categories typically found at Mexican restaurants. Trago keeps restaurant hours instead of mall hours, making it a viable part of Clark County’s dining scene.

What I tried: I had the chili colorado burrito, and my dining companion had the carne asada.

The burrito was served covered with spicy chili colorado sauce, and topped with pico de gallo and fresh, chopped avocado with a drizzle of crema. Inside the burrito was a mixture of tender, cooked chunks of steak, rice and beans. Every bite possessed its signature flavor and, as a burrito should, it successfully wrapped a meal experience in a tortilla. It was very filling, so I took half of it home for lunch the following day. I thought the size and quality of the burrito was worth the $13.

My dining companion’s dish consisted of a grilled skirt steak that had been marinated in the chef’s secret sauce, and served with grilled onions and a smattering of green chili pesto over the top. Street-style grilled corn topped with crema, queso fresco, tajin — a seasoning consisting primarily of chile peppers, lime, and salt — and salt accompanied the steak. It came with a rice and freshly steamed flour tortillas. He said he found the dish to be satisfying and mentioned that he would definitely have it again.

Atmosphere: The decor incorporates decorative skulls, representative of early Mexican art, and ornate crosses. Gothic, wrought iron-style light fixtures display faux candles, which lend subtle light to the restaurant and complement the medieval atmosphere. Dark wood is used throughout, which contrasts with ivory walls and imparts an uncluttered, comfortable vibe. The space is divided about equally between the bar and general dining. Both booth and table seating are available. Several large-screen televisions offer entertainment. Although the emphasis at Trago is the bar, the restaurant is undoubtably family-friendly.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The bacon-wrapped jalape?o rellenos are stuffed with cream cheese and topped with queso fresco and cilantro with a homemade dill sauce. Enchiladas may be filled with a choice of meat and smothered in one of the house specialty sauces: rojo, verde, chipotle, cream or mole. The sonny red trago burger puts a new twist on an American favorite. The 10-ounce beef patty is topped with haystack onions, pico de gallo, guacamole, an over-easy egg and salsa picante. I thought the Oaxacan tamales sounded delicious. These are made with seasoned chicken wrapped in cornmeal dough, baked in a banana leaf, and topped with crema and queso fresco. Rice and charro beans come with the tamales, as well. Trago’s veggie quesadilla is made with a whole-wheat tortilla and filled with pepper jack cheese, fresh mushrooms, squash, red peppers and saut?ed spinach.

Other observations: I recognized the manager from a recent visit to a different Mexican restaurant, where he was making very positive changes to attract diners. It is Trago’s good fortune to have him.

The wait staff was attentive, friendly and professional. The food was outstanding, and I appreciated the unique atmosphere that really nicely rounded out the dining experience.

Our first choice of seating, the booth along the wall in the bar, was not as comfortable as it appeared; it seemed to be missing support in the middle of the seat. We opted to sit at a tall table instead, which worked just fine.

Cost: Appetizers range from $7 to $14. Soup is $10 for a large bowl. Salads are $7 to $12. Quesadillas are $9 to $12. A trio of enchiladas is $14 ($16 with shrimp). Burritos are $13. Entrees start at $14 and top out at $22. Desserts are $7.