Caliente spices it up with diversity, authenticity

Got a craving for Mexican?

Little touches can distinguish the great Mexican food from the mediocre.

A squeeze of lime over a taco or the light fluffiness of the rice can make a meal stand out.

Caliente Mexican Craving introduces several of these touches into its Tex-Mex cuisine. Packed with the usual enchiladas, quesadillas and fajitas, the menu also offered specialty items like kabobs and a fajita po-boy.

Our meal began with light, crispy chips and mild salsa with a strong black pepper flavor that should appeal to all diners, except those who love to suffer through heat.

For an appetizer we chose the signature Caliente sampler ($12) with stuffed, fried jalapenos, Mexican eggrolls, nachos, guacamole and quesadillas. The eggrolls’ seasoned black beans, corn and chicken inside a crisp tortilla shell outshone all else on the platter.

Some restaurant sampler platters lack a diversity of flavors — everything tastes greasy or cheesy — but Caliente’s sampler kept the taste buds active.

Our party chose a variety of entrees, and all came presented in an appetizing and visually appealing manner. The Chihuahua chicken ($10) was seasoned, grilled chicken breast, onions and peppers served over Mexican rice with a thin coating of chile con queso. The moist, lively rice made the dish. It was far from the brittle, tasteless side dish many restaurants serve, an insult to the home-cooked version usually called sopa — translated as soup — because it is cooked with a broth and has a cacophony of flavors.

The entire table salivated over the camarones a la diabla ($13), 10 grilled shrimp that had been sautéed in a chipotle sauce. A cheese dipping sauce came alongside, to add another layer of taste for the shrimp and also for the vegetables.

The accompanying generous serving of grilled vegetables – carrots, squash and zucchini – had a nice, peppery zing.

Two Tex-Mex standbys — the chicken quesadilla ($8) and the chicken fajitas ($14) — also impressed our table. The meat had a delightful citrus accent, the guest said, as if lime juice had just been squeezed on top before it left the kitchen, adding a touch of authenticity. The bell peppers and onions were also nicely grilled to a soft texture.