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Cheap Eats; Extensive menu, combos galore at new Don Patron

Saturday evening, Don Patron Mexican Grill was full of happy people with their hands wrapped around enormous goblets full of bright green liquid. We guessed that the chartreuse drinks were the lime margaritas, which have their own section on the menu and range from a glass for $5.50 to monster size for $18.

The drinks were a striking sight, but John, Pat, John and I were there to eat, not down a margarita in a glass the size of a basketball. And although our server was friendly, he did not linger or stop back at the table often enough for us to ask. So the mystery of the margaritas was not solved.

Don Patron (which might mean something like "Mr. Boss" in Spanish) opened several months ago in the spot previously occupied by another local Mexican restaurant, 5 de Mayo. The new spot retains the same cozy ambience, with a few murals painted on the walls and comfortable booths filling most of the room.

The menu is so extensive that it's almost stunning, although descriptions of various dishes and many pictures are helpful. There are 28 different lunch combinations, ranging from huevos rancheros ($4.99) to combinations of burritos, quesadillas, taquitos, chalupas and nachos, none costing over $7. Dinners are made up of the basics and every combination of them, and most cost between $7 and $9.

We were not ready to order dinner when the server dropped off our drinks and then we waited a while for him to return, a delay we didn't mind because of the basket of warm, crispy chips and the dish and refill carafe of saucy, semi-spicy salsa. Once we ordered, though, the food arrived in a flash, blazing hot, so it all evened out.

Our first pick was the Enchilada Supreme ($8.75), a dish of four enchiladas -- bean, chicken, cheese and beef -- lined up next to each other and topped with a Mexican cheese blend, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. Each hearty enchilada was very good, and the differences were interesting.

Our second choice was a dinner number 28, a beef burrito, a tamale and a quesadilla ($8.75). Just as a sandwich looks lonely without chips or fries, I thought these three items looked lonely on the plate without a side of rice and beans, but since there was plenty of food on the table, some of each got slid over from another plate. All three were good, though.

The quesadilla was a flat, warm flour tortilla -- like all the others we ate, utterly fresh -- enclosing a thin layer of melted cheese. The tamale was made with shredded, tender beef cooked inside cornmeal dough; the burrito's beef was ground and topped with lettuce and tomato inside that soft flour tortilla. All were deliciously spiced.

The Pollo Adobe ($9.79) started with a butterflied chicken breast, marinated and grilled, then covered with sweet peppers, spinach, onions and a few mushrooms. The menu says the dish is then "smothered with our special cheese sauce," which worried us, but the sauce was unobtrusive and did not interfere with the fresh taste of the chicken and vegetables. This dish came with a puddle of hearty refried beans dusted with melted cheese and semi-dry Spanish rice.

We violated Cheap Eats price limits by ordering the beef fajitas ($12.39), but we had two very good reasons. First, it's likely that any group of diners will contain a person who prefers plain food and wants to avoid the sauces or the combinations of Mexican cooking. Those people should go for the fajita, which is served with meat marinated in mild spices served sizzling on a heated griddle and, on a separate plate, tender-crisp vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream and guacamole.

Our second reason was that fajitas are generally big enough to feed two, and that was the case here. Two foil-wrapped packets of flour tortillas contained three tortillas each, and more are generally available upon request.

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com

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 DON PATRON MEXICAN GRILL    

3 pennies (out of four)    

"Fast, hot, good."    

WHERE: 3870 Union Road, Cheektowaga (681-2484)    

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.    

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes