TWIN PICANTES

We eat chips and salsa till butter drips down our arms. Then we wait a very long time for the rest of our meal. We entertain ourselves by watching this microcosm of the town in action. Everybody knows each other. No one leaves the restaurant without stopping by two or three tables. It gives me a good feeling: Here it is Saturday night and families are out together, even the older kids. Kinda reminds me of the small town I grew up in. Sniff.

We notice a lot of folks at the tables around us eating cheese crisps instead of chips. As we blot our hands on several napkins, my accomplice and I begin to suspect that maybe there's a reason.

Finally our dinners arrive. They are served on doubled plates, one stacked under the other--to avoid burns, I presume. Chimichangas are very popular at the El Rey. Now I know why. Our chimi has a flaky, light crust and is filled with tender beef and green chile strips.

Other standouts include a chicken enchilada stuffed with succulent white meat and onions, a dense but amply sized red beef tamale, wonderful pork-flavored creamy beans and another fabulous chile relleno which tastes of roasted longhorn cheddar. On the negative side of the ledger, add in some very watery Mexican rice and a pan-fried shredded beef taco which is strictly ordinary.

Still, on the whole, I'd say the El Rey serves up a meal worth a drive to Globe any day.

Back at the Cloud Nine, we watch the miserable Casualties of War on cable. My mind wanders. I am still trying to define Miami-Globe Mexican food. It isn't enough to say it's plainer or simpler than standard Sonoran fare. The enchilada sauce seems lighter in color and weight, less red, than what I'm used to. Everything seems less gloppy. Also, there is a noticeable absence of cilantro. Exhausted, I fall asleep pondering pools of butter.

The next day we drive into Miami for lunch at La Paloma Cafe. We pull up just as it opens. We seat ourselves and within five minutes, six of the other beige booths are filled. By 11:45 a.m., every table is occupied. In contrast to El Rey, the wood-paneled walls of this comfy cafe are unadorned with brewers' brand names. It's Soda Only at La Paloma.

Again, we notice that everyone knows each other here. Not only that, the customers are so regular that the waitresses ask them if they need menus. Many say no. I'm impressed.

As at El Rey, La Paloma charges for chips. We contemplate ordering a cheese crisp, but I must know if last night's buttery corn strips are the exception or the rule. We order chips. They are awful: stale, hard to chew and oversalted. I vow not to make the same mistake again.

But that's just about the only disappointment at La Paloma. The green chili, especially, is superb. Strips of green chile and tender cubed beef are combined in a mild mixture that really pleases my palate. A flour tortilla that comes with it is hot, already buttered and as good as any I've scarfed down at Carolina's in South Phoenix.

Speaking of green chiles, cooks from Miami-Globe know how to make chile rellenos just the way I like 'em. La Paloma's have a fluffy, noneggy coating and are nicely compact and warm.

I also like a red beef tamale that is dense and moist but has plate height. It's stuffed with tender shredded beef and topped with enchilada sauce that is as thin as El Rey's, but redder.

Service at La Paloma Cafe is fast and efficient. The food is less expensive than El Rey and portions seem a little smaller, but maybe that's only my perception because I feel like I could eat a lot more. It's that good.

After an educational jaunt to Besh-Ba-Gowah, the local Salado Indian pueblo, we return to our home base for some rest and relaxation. It's Sunday afternoon and there's not much on TV. I watch a PBS show on Robert Frost and allow my lunch to digest. Stranded without my Judas Priest records for guidance, I am hoping tonight's dinner at La Casita Cafe will make things clearer.

We leave the Cloud Nine at dusk and roll through Globe's deserted downtown unaccosted. Of the three restaurants we've visited here, La Casita is the least crowded. It is also the fanciest. The spacious dining room has high molded-tin ceilings, heavy Spanish-style chairs and real wood paneling. The waitresses wear black and white.

I am hedging my bets tonight. We order chips and a cheese crisp. We also ask for a dish of the "extra hot sauce" listed on the menu for $1.50. At first our waitress tells us they're out of it, then brings us a dish. She warns us to be careful. "I can hardly eat it," she admits. "My aunt and mom grow their own chiles. That's why it's so hot." It is as fiery as an inferno blast, but I love it. They could sell this stuff as essence of chile. My accomplice, a.k.a. "Mr. Jalapeno," even seems to be affected: he's poured and drunk several glasses of water in quick succession.

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