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Quick, easy and healthy Mexican

September 04, 2003

DINING OUT

Las Barcas, the small order-at-the-counter eatery at Beach Boulevard

and Atlantic Avenue in Huntington Beach, is so popular it was bound

to grow. When the place next door became available two years ago, it

did grow.

Owner Alberto Denenburg and his sons, Steve and Bryant, have kept

the order-and-serve-yourself atmosphere with its authentic food based

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on recipes brought from their native village of Las Barcas,

Argentina, more than 32 years ago.

It is advertised as gourmet, but I'd call it family-style cooking.

It does seem to be prepared with the freshest ingredients they could

find.

I'm a sucker for tamales and these are good (a la carte $2.85,

dinner $6.95). The masa is thick and grainy, the filling of shredded

chicken (or beef) plentiful with two kinds of melted cheese on top.

Another favorite, which can be shared, is the quesadilla ($5.25),

a flour tortilla filled with savory beef and soft stringy cheese with

side scoops of homemade chunky guacamole and sour cream -- delicioso!

Everything here is homemade -- the three salsas at the small

self-service bar, range from mild to mucho picoso -- a piquant red, a

green and another very tasty red one.

The soft fish tacos ($2.40, with cheese add 15 cents) is one of

the selections marked with a heart to signify especially healthy,

despite the popular belief that Mexican food is not good for you.

Here, the tender fish is grilled and served in two corn tortillas

with lettuce and pico de gallo for a flavorful and fresh combination.

Las Barcas prides itself on a healthy approach to eating, using

only canola oil and no preservatives or MSG. My drink of choice, with

Mexican food, is horchata. (medium $1.50, large $195), which serves

as a good dessert, too.

The popular and wonderful Mexican drink is made of rice and milk

and sweetened with sugar, spiced with cinnamon and served cold with

lots of ice.

For our real dessert, however, we ordered flan, which was good,

but not outstanding.

Las Barcas is relaxed -- a fresh breeze wafts through the open

door from the ocean, which is just minutes away. No credit cards or

checks -- just cash.

Service is all plastic -- just dump your plate in the trash and

take your horchata with you as you leave.

* MARY FURR is the Independent restaurant critic. If you have

comments or suggestions, call (562) 493-5062 or e-mail

hbindy@latimes.com

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