Sagebrush Grill & Cantina

10376 Lee Hwy.

Fairfax City


Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers $1.25 to $4.50. Sandwiches and entrees $3.95 to $12.95.

Cards: Visa, MasterCard.

No separate nonsmoking section.

In a back-to-the-future move, the Juliano family, owners of three Rocco's in Northern Virginia, decided to convert the Rocco's at this location to the Tex-Mex theme of the family's first restaurant in Calabasas, Calif. Out went the spaghetti and pizza and in came the fajitas and barbecue.

At the four-month mark, however, diners should proceed with care.

In the familiar nacho platter, for example, a mass of oozing cheese had hopelessly trapped the mound of flour tortilla chips. Other starters to avoid are the batter-laden onion rings and the so-so basket of chips and salsa.

But once beyond the appetizers, there are some nuggets to be mined. The hamburger arrived perfectly cooked with a good, meaty flavor. The hickory burger slathered with a hickory-smoked barbecue sauce was a winning combination for $4.25. A side order of fries ($1.25) coated with a light, seasoned batter is a good complement.

A red, zingy barbecue sauce boosts the ratings of the ribs and chicken to an acceptable level. The combo, a half rack of baby back ribs, a grilled chicken breast, fries and tossed salad, is a good deal for $9.95. The sauce also enhances the winning pork BBQ sandwich ($4.75).

Shrimp fajitas ($12.95), a recent special, turned out pretty well. The large, sweet shrimp, quickly seared with sliced onions, arrived sizzling and were accompanied by guacamole and sour cream, plus a particularly potent pico de gallo, the relish of chopped onions, hot green peppers, and tomatoes.

The fajitas combo of chicken and beef was less successful. The beef was flavorful but tough, while the chicken was tender but tasteless. The side dish of tired guacamole looked like the last scrapings from the bottom of the bowl.

Two other dishes that missed were the chili, which lacked depth, and the chicken-fried steak, which had a floury nutmeg-spiked white sauce that was at odds with the ground meat.

As for beverages there is an above average margarita and a good selection of Mexican beer.

Dessert choices are limited to ice cream and a dense and stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth cheesecake.

The college-age wait staff is friendly enough if not polished or efficient, reflective of the unevenness of the food.