Colorado Cafe

6655 Old Dominion Dr.



Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.

Prices: Soups and appetizers $1.75 to $4.95. Sandwiches and entrees $2.95 to $12.95.

Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express. Non-smoking area available.

For some reason, the chili con carne here is not touted, but it should be. Indeed, on the menu it sits inconspicuously between the potato skins and the curly fries, even though it's probably the best-executed dish at the three-month-old Colorado Cafe, which is tucked away rather inconspicuously in the McLean Square Shopping Center.

The restaurant is divided into two parts -- a bar with a few booths and tables, and a casual dining area. Bright and brassy neon decorates the walls, along with charming cartoon-like drawings inspired by the Southwest.

The limited menu also has a Southwest orientation -- chimichangas, fajitas, soft tacos -- plus a small smattering of such disparate dishes as tuna steak and chef's salad.

I'd start with the chili, which is available only in an appetizer-size cup for $2.95. It has no chunks of beef, Texas style, nor is it perfumed with cinnamon, Cincinnati style. But what I especially like about this version, which comes with much lean ground beef, black beans and tomatoes, are the heady spices -- ginger, cilantro and hot peppers -- and a thick consistency that makes it a perfect dip for the accompanying corn chips. Successful chili franchises have been built on less.

Another good opener is the black bean soup with a well-rounded flavor enhanced by a touch of fresh cilantro.

Deep-fried strips of chicken, on the other hand, were clumsily cut and had an odd, not-of-this-planet texture.

The best of the entrees was a heaping platter of barbecued pork and chicken ($9.95) with coleslaw and crisp, curly fries. Almost as good was the chicken chimichanga ($7.50), which could have benefited from a bit more seasoning.

For a lighter meal, try the nicely grilled chicken breast atop a mound of lettuce in a tortilla shell garnished with chunks of avocado and tomato.

Although the menu gives star billing to the fajitas, the beef fajitas I tried fell short of the ideal, the strips of skirt steak not having absorbed the flavor of the tomatoes, onions and green pepper. The accompaniments include black beans, instead of the usual refried pinto beans and an overly creamy guacamole.

Neither was I won over by a not-very-tasty batter-fried catfish.

The bar stocks a variety of Mexican and other beers and produces a better-than-average margarita, all of which can be enjoyed with the large, complimentary basket of corn chips and chunky salsa.

For dessert, the brownie was fine, but even better was the fried ice cream, covered with cornflake crumbs under a mountain of whipped cream.