Where: Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, 1331 W. Walnut Ave. Dalton, Ga.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Price range: $2 (refried beans)-$13 (shrimp fajitas).
Alcohol: Full bar and wine.
Directions: Exit 333 on I-75 toward downtown Dalton; turn right into the Kroger shopping center on the right.
I have a few fundamental beliefs about food: coleslaw is a side, not a topping; my grandmomma's biscuits are the best in the world; and everyone should have their own "regular" Mexican restaurant.
At college, in Rome, Ga., our regular place - and by regular I mean sometimes twice a week - was a restaurant called Las Palmas. So I was pretty excited when Las Palmas opened a location in Dalton, Ga., earlier this year. When my wife and I joined some friends for dinner there last week, we weren't disappointed.
Most of the combos are $8.50 for dinner, though lunch is a bit cheaper.
We splurged on the $7.50 Fresh Guacamole appetizer, which seemed a bit expensive until we saw what they meant by fresh. A staff member pushed a cart to the table, scooped an avocado into a bowl and started mixing and mashing in other ingredients at our request. My wife is a guacamole snob but said the dish passed her test with flying colors.
The chips and salsa were not only free (another fundamental food belief of mine) but were crisp, tangy and spicy without being too hot. I had the Fajitas Texanas ($12.49), which included flavorful chicken, tender steak and plump shrimp. It also came with a plate of guacamole and other toppings in a taco salad shell. It cost a little more than the combos but was worth it. All of the meat was tender and well seasoned.
My wife ordered a Fiesta Quesadilla ($7.25) and thought the cooks did a good job blending the peppers, cheeses and chicken. It was cut to look like a star, which she appreciated.
Our friends enjoyed their meals, though one said the pico de gallo on his Hidalgo Chicken ($10.99) was nearly overpowering.
For dessert, we shared a sopapilla ($4.49) and a chocolate chimichanga ($4). I'm fairly certain the chimichanga was not an authentic Mexican dish. It was a fried tortilla with a chocolate bar inside and topped with ice cream and cinnamon. The sopapilla was the better of the two, and the cinnamon-sugar covered tortilla remained crisp despite the ice cream on top.
All of the dishes arrived on colorful, decorative plates, which is a minor detail that added to the overall atmosphere.
The food came quickly. The staff was fairly attentive and explained a couple of the dishes to us.
When I ran out of tortillas for my fajitas, the waitress brought me another pair for free. On the downside, my wife's water glass did sit empty for a few minutes, and the staff brought us our ticket before asking if we wanted dessert.
The Dalton location, like the one in Rome, is part of a strip mall, which is not ideal. Inside, however, the restaurant is much nicer than expected. It's divided into half a dozen small dining rooms, which helps minimize the noise when the staff breaks into "Cumpleaños Feliz" for birthday guests.
Las Palmas has all the ingredients to again be my go-to Mexican restaurant, were it not 30 minutes from Red Bank, where I live. While I'll keep searching for a place to call my own in Chattanooga, I would warn anyone traveling Interstate 75 or living in North Georgia that once you try Las Palmas, it's very easy to become a regular.