Bandera isn't just a nightspot

Greer Wylder

Bandera is a Thursday night hot spot, featuring a center-staged

rectangular bar, where Corona del Mar's bar crowd mingles and

entertains. Yet the restaurant's best feature has always been classic

American food with a touch of Southwestern flavor.

"We are first and foremost a restaurant," Bandera General Manager

David Myers said.

Bandera founder George Biel also owns Houston's and other

restaurants. The Houston's chain has about 55 restaurants, including

Gulfstream in Newport Beach, Palm Beach Grill in Florida, Rutherford

Grill in Napa and Cherry Creek Grill in Denver.

Houston's newest concept restaurant, Cafe R&D;, just opened at

Fashion Island in Newport Beach. It's a sophisticated and casual cafe

that serves a simple menu of American classics, including sandwiches,

salads and desserts.

Bandera, which opened in 1996, offers a casual, fast-paced dining

experience, with Houston's quality standards. Bandera serves dinner

nightly. Its trademark red booths parallel the dark bar set on two

levels. The design is both rustic and contemporary.

The signature stone oven burns hardwood, where meats and chicken

slowly roast. Their rotisserie chicken receives most of the

attention. It's seasoned with herbs de Provence, fennel seed and salt

and pepper, and it is served with rice and a healthy slice of tomato

($15). The sliced leg of lamb also fares well; it's served with a red

chile sauce and marinated cucumbers ($19).

Even with Lawry's Five Crowns restaurant just down the street,

Bandera claims to serve the best seasoned prime rib in town. Bandera

serves its aged prime rib roasted on the bone with mashed potatoes

($26). In the kitchen, Bandera's chefs fillet the snow-white meat of

black grouper or premium sea bass daily for its blackened fish with

rice and seasoned vegetables (prices vary). The frequently ordered

8-ounce filet mignon and chicken enchilada platter, served with

tomato slices and marinated cucumbers, is nicely priced at $26.

Other house specialties from the simplified, one-page menu include

everyone's favorite Macho salad with roasted chicken, avocado, dates,

almonds and fresh goat cheese ($12) and the popular BBQ beef back

ribs with mashed potatoes and roasted peanut coleslaw ($23).

Bandera's appetizer selection includes a grilled artichoke that's

first steamed, then cooled, split and scraped well before it's

grilled; it's served with a homemade remoulade ($8). The kitchen

cooks up at least 200 skillets of cornbread a day ($3) and is known

for its appetizer of spicy jalapeno queso dip with warm tortilla

chips ($5). The side dish of mashed potatoes is uniquely sauteed with

cabbage, scallions and parsley then seasoned with salt and pepper

($2). Whole chickens to-go make a popular takeout dinner ($12).

There are just two desserts to choose from -- homemade Oreo ice

cream sandwiches ($8) and banana cream pie with homemade caramel and

crushed chocolate ($8).

* BEST BITES runs every Friday. Greer Wylder can be reached at

greerwylder@yahoo.com; at 330 W. Bay St., Costa Mesa, CA 92627; or by

fax at (949) 646-4170.

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