By CAROLYN NEIL
Cox News Service
ATLANTA - Some like it hot, and, according to trend watchers with the National Restaurant Association, even more diners are joining the spicy food fan club. As a result, Mexican food, already in the top three of favorite restaurant styles, is poised for even greater popularity.
That’s good news for flavor seekers who are trying to eat less fat, because more Mexican restaurant menus are getting their zing from zesty calorie-free ingredients such as hot peppers, smoked chiles, fresh salsas, dried spices, tangy limes and cilantro and other pungent herbs.
While traditional Tex-Mex menus first attracted us with their liberal use of high-fat ingredients such as melted cheese, fried tortillas and gobs of sour cream, the latest taste trend is closer to cuisine south of the border. Mexican restaurants are featuring more grilled fish, fresh vegetables and beans made without lard.
More casual taquerias, which first migrated to California and Texas, have made their way to the Southeast.
So, now, Mexican food lovers are standing in line to watch tacos or burritos being built to personal specifications at outlets such as Willy’s California Style Burritos, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Chipotle.
Sure, you can still load up on the queso dip and fried tortilla chips, but the great thing about these places for folks who want to eat healthier is that you can easily personalize your ingredients.
So pack your tacos and burritos with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, onions, cucumbers and jalapeos. Now, you can get black beans or pinto beans instead of refried beans .
Try to resist the urge to bury all of those good-for-you flavors with shredded cheese, guacamole and sour cream. A little goes a long way.
One word of caution: Some of these flour tortillas are as big as a baby blanket -OK, maybe not quite that big - so watch how much and what you’re stuffing into it, to keep your calories in check.
It’s also not a bad idea to share it.
Carolyn O’Neil, a registered dietitian and author, writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: healthyeating AT ajc.com