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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Hot and Trendy Are the Words for Marix--If the Subject Is the Ambiance

Marix is an Urban Cowboy set with updated Southwestern art direction--a natural attraction for post-work rowdiness, girls’ night out, boys’ night out, singles on the make, couples on a date.

Young attractive waiters and waitresses wear white shirts and bolo ties; back in the kitchen, pretty Latino women wear white peasant blouses as they flip tortillas.

Marix hasn’t missed a trendy beat: the open kitchen, the stick furniture, the sparely decorated walls, enormous paintings, open-beamed ceilings, skylight, the incredible level of white noise. And drinks? How ‘bout a Fuzzy Navel and Sex on the Beach--these are just two of the listings on the menu.

You’d expect to pay a lot for all this, but the food is inexpensive. The only problem is that it’s not very good. This is basically familiar, institutional, franchise Mexican fare with a few blue corn tortillas, chipotle chiles and black beans thrown in as the Tex part of Tex Mex.

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A quesadilla was an undercooked, paper-thin tortilla and gobs of bland cheese. Ceviche was rubbery and dull. The nachos with beans, cheese and jalapenos, although mountainous in size, were a disappointment: The beans were pasty and tasteless, the cheese was tough, and the jalapenos weren’t even spicy hot.

Although the gazpacho, the soup that came with dinner, was fresh and quenching, the other option, a dinner salad, was a dismal bed of old lettuce topped with a whipped “Italian” dressing that looked like gooey pink stuff you’d put on your hair.

There was a good shrimp Diablo: a tangy chipotle chile salsa brought out the sweetness of good, sweet large shrimp. My barbecued chicken was oddly mushy, but I liked the calabacitas , a sauteed corn-and-squash mixture that came with it. For a dollar extra, you could get deep-fried, puffy sopaipillas with honey instead of plain tortillas. They were hot, sticky-crispy and wonderfully satisfying.

Fajitas , though a somewhat basic, unadorned version of the Tex Mex favorite, are as good as anything on the menu. The meat--chicken, beef or shrimp--comes sizzling to the table with sauteed onions and raw peppers. Guacamole and salsa and tortillas come on the side.

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Each time we visited, we were certain that we had no enthusiasm left for dessert. Nevertheless, we ordered. The flan and a sundae with a good, bittersweet house-made hot fudge vanished effortlessly.

Every time I left Marix, I’d find myself admiring the pretty Southwestern exterior--pale stucco, handsome wood door--and wishing that the food, if nothing else, was as alluring. Then again, Marix is not really about food. It’s about going out with people you know and maybe running into a few you don’t.

It’s about having a night out without spending too much money; it’s about having a choice of a dozen brands of tequila and Sex on the Beach.

Recommended dishes: fajitas , $6.50-$11.50; shrimp Diablo , $11.95; flan , $1.95.

Marix, 16240 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 789-5400. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday with bar till 1 a.m., 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday with bar till 1 a.m., 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday. MasterCard and Visa accepted for purchases of more than $10. Minimum food order $5. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$35.


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