MEX SURROGATE

At this he laughs and laughs. My accomplice and I look at each other, then back at him. "Cheesecake," he gasps. "Yeah," I say. "The flavors you list on the menu sound so good: jalapeno, prickly pear, margarita. We'd like to try a piece."

The man wipes his eyes. "Well, you see," he says. "It's frozen. And the cook and I just ate the last two pieces."

I am disappointed and envious. "Is it good? The jalapeno sounds great."
He looks at us funny, then gets a kind of sad look in his eye. "Well, you folks must be the second ones on the planet to ask for it." His sigh is barely audible. "Actually, we don't carry those flavors anymore. Just plain. Not much call for jalapeno cheesecake. Couldn't give it away." And that just about summarizes "gringo Mexican." It is, in a word, unadventurous. If Tommy Gringo's Mexican Cantina survives, it will be in spite of its location. The food is par for the course. The name says it all.

Ajo Al's Mexican Cafe, 9393 North 90th Street, Scottsdale, 860-2611. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (or so), Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (or so), Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. (or so), Sunday. Tommy Gringo's Mexican Cantina, 10305 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 596-1633. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 to 9 p.m., Sunday.

anywhere

When I want Mexican food, I want the real thing. If I were satisfied with cute names and phony decor, I wouldn't need to live in Arizona.

ajo al's

He'll ask me if I want a take-out container and I'll have to say no. We'll probably both feel embarrassed.

tommy gringo's

"We don't carry those flavors anymore," he says. "Just plain. Not much call for jalapeno cheesecake. Couldn't give it away.

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