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Cheap Chic: Marieta’s Mexican Fare is Standard but Carefully Presented

Located near freeway ramps, the restaurant is a case study in making a medium-size building seem enormous.

Marieta’s is everything you want it to be—family Mexican restaurant, low-volume sports bar or just a place to end up because you haven’t eaten all day and you could really, really use a plate full of enchiladas and cheese-swirled beans.

Located below the freeway ramps where Interstate 8 meets state Route 125 in La Mesa, Marieta’s is easy to find: Just look across the street from all the auto dealerships. Once inside, location is moot: The interior is a case study in making a medium-size building seem enormous. Three dining rooms are separated by Spanish arched doorways and festive hangings; and each booth-lined, dark-green-carpeted space forms its own sonic bubble.

Many of the black-vested food servers are older gentlemen who oversaw the restaurant’s inception in 1986. Marieta’s salsa has just the right amount of kick for kids and adults alike—making your eyes water without making you drink a pitcher of water in response. You can wash away the pain with Marieta’s signature margarita, which is augmented with Grand Marnier and orange liqueur.

The food is cheap chic—standard fare but carefully presented (dinners run $10 to $15). Portions are oval-plate large, necessitating sharing or splitting or sackin’ for later. Some entrees arrive with the warning “Muy caliente!” Your chicken fajitas will sit and sizzle on the skillet for a good long while. Guacamole has never looked greener, and the carne asada does not skimp on the “carne.”

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