If you are looking for great, huge portions of Mexican food served with flair in a family restaurant, Chevys Fresh Mex in the Greenway Center in Greenbelt may be the place to try.
Spicy salsa and a basket of hot chips arrive as you are seated, so you have something to munch on while reviewing the comprehensive menu, which contains traditional classics and unusual creations. Even the list of margaritas is long and surprising. We tried prickly pear margaritas, which were served in huge blue glasses and tasted wonderful.
Although I could tell by checking out what was on the surrounding tables that entrees were huge and we didn't need an appetizer, we ordered Chevys Fresh Mex Sampler ($9.99). A friend had raved about the large platter of spicy wings, chicken and pork tamales, fajita chicken nachos and chicken quesadilla. The sampler was delicious and large enough to make a meal for two.
My favorite dish was one of the unusual menu choices: catfish tacos ($8.99). The tacos were stuffed full of cabbage, onions and spicy fish, which was moist and lightly fried in a beer batter. One disappointment was the slightly dry rice, but the corn bread pudding and the beans made up for it.
The beans at Chevys are excellent and available for takeout by the pint ($2.99) or quart ($4.99). There are three versions: beans a la charra (pinto beans with meat), vegetarian black beans and refried beans. In all three, the beans were firm and well seasoned--even the kids cleaned them off their plates.
A nice touch is the "create your own combos," which permit you to custom-order your meal (two choices for $6.99, three for $7.99). The catfish tacos are one of the few items not available in a combo platter. Our combination of three favorites: chicken enchilada (stuffed full of tender hunks of chicken) with a red chili sauce (not too spicy, perfect for my daughter); soft chicken taco (again, perfectly cooked chicken filled the taco to its edges); and chile relleno (cheesy, spicy, wonderful).
Fajitas, ranging from the expected grilled steak or grilled vegetable to the unusual barbecued salmon or grilled portobello mushrooms, are sure to please. My boyfriend's daughter selected a fajita combo ($11.99) of jumbo shrimp and grilled tropical chicken. The succulent shrimp was lightly barbecued with a mesquite flavor that did not overpower it. The tropical chicken was moist, with the requisite grilled pineapple.
For dessert, we had ice cream baked potato ($4.50). Vanilla ice cream shaped like a potato was rolled in cinnamon sugar and placed on top of a brownie with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. It looked just like a baked potato with a scoop of sour cream but tasted like a delicious chocolate ice cream dessert.
Chevys is a relaxing, friendly place. The tables are covered with red vinyl and the large windows let in plenty of light, giving the dining room an open feeling. Adorning each plate is a red tortilla cut precisely in the shape of a cactus.
The restaurant is noisy in that pleasant way that make you feel comfortable stopping to chat with friends at another table.
There is a complete kid's menu and, more important, a staff that makes children feel welcome. Yet Chevys also has a bar, a nice kid-free place to enjoy margaritas. Adding to the fun, during the week and lulls on the weekends, kids and adults are welcome to tour the kitchen.
Chevys Fresh Mex, 7511 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt, Md. 20770; call 301-220-0078. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
CAPTION: The Plato Gordo and, in the rear, the Fresh Mex Sampler with a blue margarita.