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Good Food Goes Along for the Ride in a New Chevys

They promise to be fresh with you. And if they’re not, you can call their 800 number to complain.

At recently opened Chevys Mexican Restaurant in Fountain Valley, each employee stands behind the “Fresh Mex Pledge.” Among its 10 vows are that frozen beef, chicken and fish will never be used; all fried items are cooked in cholesterol-free oil, and no cans will be found on the premises except for pure olive oil (and they invite you into their kitchen to prove it).

The decor is festive flea market. Tablecloths are purple, pink, yellow, red and aqua. Plastic bougainvillea wind through latticework on the ceiling. Neon cacti, mountain scapes and howling coyotes take up residence over the bar. And the “walls” that divide seating areas are boxes of beer--Tecate and Carta Blanca (the bottles inside, it should be noted, are empty).

Beyond the beer walls and the red, white and green balloons is Chevys’ pride and joy, affectionately called “El Machino.” This impressive piece of high-tech machinery produces 900 fresh, hot flour tortillas per hour. Children and adults alike delight in watching the flour balls being flattened, cooked and sent by conveyor belt to a basket, where they are scooped up and brought to your table within three minutes--management says--or they are thrown out.

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Chevys’ founders, Warren Simmons Sr. and Warren (Scooter) Simmons Jr., “figured that the consumer today would rather pay for good food than for an expensive building,” said Greg Landauer, vice president of operations.

And good food it is.

Customers are greeted with a basket of freshly cooked, thin tortilla chips served with a tangy salsa, which Chevys promises is blended hourly from charred tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. And guests needn’t worry about the salsa staying fresh, because another bowl is brought to the table to replace the one you haven’t yet finished.

Chevys offers the traditional Mexican combination platters of enchiladas, tacos, burritos, tamales (handmade every day on the premises) and chiles rellenos, ranging from $6.95 to $10.95. But its specialties are its fajitas and sizzling platters.

Beef and chicken fajitas come marinated and mesquite-broiled and are served with flour tortillas hot off “El Machino,” pico de gallo (or “rooster’s beak,” a mixture of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos and cilantro), guacamole, rice and Chevys’ own Beans a La Charra. The secret to these wonderfully flavorful beans--made with bacon, tomatoes, onions and peppers--is that “we cook the heck out of the bacon,” says manager Sharon Gardner.

Tired of chicken? Try the San Luis ($13.95), a sizzling platter of tasty mesquite-broiled quail and jumbo shrimp. For parties of three or four, Chevys offers Plato Gordo, generous portions of beef and chicken fajitas, quail and jumbo shrimp served on a sizzling platter with tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, rice and beans. Gordo goes for $41.95, but be forewarned: You’re not leaving the table until you finish everything.

For those with lighter appetites, there are soups ( sopa de tortilla, a Mexican vegetable soup, is $3.25) and salads (ceviche--white fish marinated in fresh lime juice--is $6.95).

To wash all this down, you’ll want to order a Top Shelf Margarita ($4.50) or one of seven brands of beer, available by the bottle or in buckets of five for $12.75.

Among the desserts, the Cajeta ($3.25) and Dirt Cake ($2.95) are worth saving room for. The Cajeta is vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut and topped with caramel or chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. The Dirt Cake, which looks like a cup of potting soil, is actually a fudge brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and covered with Oreo cookie crumbs.

Chevys, a chain of 34 restaurants in Northern California named after Scooter Simmons’ first car, chose Fountain Valley for its Southern California debut. Another Chevys just opened in Irvine, and No. 37 is under construction in Del Mar.

Chevys Mexican Restaurant, 18727 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley (in Callens Corner shopping center). Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11 p.m. (714) 963-3008. In Irvine, 4700 Barranca Parkway (in Woodbridge Village shopping center). Same hours. (714) 559-5808.


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