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Tres Hombres features fair fare

Still perched atop their warehouse, the familiar carpet guys -- Andy, Phil and Don -- now hold a sombrero and hawk the taste sensations of traditional Mexican-American food at the recently relocated Tres Hombres.

The Tres Hombres folks struck a deal to move their neighboring digs to the new casa, and a wide-open space it is. Just what you'd expect from a former retail carpet showroom.Though the ceiling suggests a barn-like tone with planked lines dropping down to plant-covered, lofty spaces, the expansive space helps the total absence of windows go almost unnoticed. There are traditional Mexican color schemes -- bold turquois, purple, yellow and coral cover the booths and chairs, while a wall-size mural sets a tropical tone for the environment. With a full bar bordering the main eating space and a carry-out market near the front, Tres Hombres accommodates folks of varied time schedules and appetites.

That's one of the advantages of the seasoned (since 1984) menu at this cantina/grill. You can swallow enormous plates of tortilla and cheese combinations, or you can opt for a lighter fare.

On the lightweight side, a cup of authentic pork and hominy-laced posole ($2.25) satisfies even discriminating tastes. The complimentary chips arrive slightly warmed but leave a lingering aftertaste that doesn't disappear with the punchy salsa.

An Hombres tostada ($7.99) features a trio of corn tortillas, each with different stuffing, with loads of shredded iceberg, a nip of guacamole and salsa, a passable combination.

There is more cheese on the plate with the enchiladas cangrejos ($11.99), one of several seafood options. These crab-and-vegetable tortilla fillers lack zip and contain a mushy textured crab layer.

The Baja tacos ($10.99), another seafood option, load flour tortillas with swordfish chunks, lettuce and cheese, all suffocating in the heavy-laded tomatillo dressing.

The basic taco ($1.99) brings a soggy shell with ordinary flavor to the table, while the side chile relleno ($2.95) is buried in an less than fully-cooked floury batter.

The batter for the expected Mexican flan ($2.99) must get an overdose of gelatin. While the subtle flavor satisfies, the rubbery texture detracts from the predictable custard smoothness.

Other desserts, a typical fried ice cream or a vendor-produced lime cheesecake extend the final course selections.

Selecting a meal at Tres Hombres involves choices that yield lots of cheese, beans, rice and tortillasall presented in the manner of the '80s (or before). It's an economical choice and one that still holds the interest of many locals.

Tres Hombres 3298 S. Highland Drive, 466-0054

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight

Payment: All major credit cards and checks.

**1/2