People who enjoy Mexican food eventually come to the point where they like specific flavors and styles of cooking. Some prefer dishes from just one region in Mexico; others go for cuisine they first encountered in Texas or California. They realize that the taste of even so-called Tex-Mex dishes will vary from region to region along the Mexico-U.S. border. Keeping that in mind, many Mexican food aficionados tend to choose a different restaurant for each item they especially like. They visit one café for tamales, another for enchiladas.

On a recent dining adventure, we visited El Mexicano which has recently opened in the Hammond Aire shopping center. The cafe’s colorful décor and Latino music create a festive mood for diners. The menu here is as varied as you’ll find in most Mexican restaurants. There’s plenty to choose from, however, a combination plate will give you a chance to explore which items you like best.

El Mexicano also has a large selection of lunch items. Served daily, they include a variety of combination dishes.

Typical of most Mexican restaurants, rice and beans come with most dishes. El Mexicano’s rice is delicious with a touch of chili powder and enhanced with just the right amount of diced carrots and peas to dress up the dish. The beans, topped with melted cheese, are thankfully not soupy.

For lunch, chicken fajitas ($8.50) arrived sizzling, with an excellent marinade seasoning, including a touch of pepper, garlic and onion. Grilled with onions and green peppers the chicken is served with pico de gallo and sour cream. With four fresh, flour tortillas, there’s plenty enough to make your own fajita wraps.

Lunch plate No. 8 included a beef taco, chicken enchilada and chalupa. The chicken enchilada is packed with marinated chicken and covered with melted cheese. We especially liked the crispy, flat chalupa and taco, each topped with fresh, crisp lettuce, tomatoes and a generous amount of soft, shredded Monterrey cheese. The ground beef filling in the taco was lightly seasoned and browned perfectly.

We tried the restaurant’s small bowl of chile con carne ($2.75), mentioned in the menu as “muy caliente.” Be prepared, this is not the typical north-of-the-border chile con carne made with ground or chunky beef. Instead, the thick, tomato-based red sauce is fiery hot and contains small cubes of beef. It’s a true chile like you will find in the interior of Mexico. We tried a spoonful of the sauce over single tamale and loved the rich, fiery flavor.

Returning for dinner, our guest ordered the Steak Old Mexico ($12). This seemed like a bargain with a combination of rice, beans, guacamole and flour tortillas. However, the marinated grilled steak was thin and grilled well done and not anywhere near medium rare as expected. It was a tough, poor grade of beef. It was topped with a heaping amount of grilled onions and green peppers, which somewhat saved the meal.

Cameron al mojo ajo ($13) is an excellent dish, especially for anyone who likes garlic. This rich meal features a casserole containing about 10 medium shrimp sautéed in a butter sauce with several spoonfuls of finely diced garlic. Served with a generous helping of rice and beans, it was garnished with a lettuce-and-tomato salad. The shrimp were tender and filling.

We recommend the restaurant’s cheese dip ($4.75), which was a cassoulet of melted Mexican cheeses, blended with just enough red pepper to give it a spicy kick. Obviously, this will go well with popular drinks like margaritas or Mexican beer.

The fried ice-cream dessert easily served two people. A large scoop of vanilla ice cream was covered in a flour tortilla and deep fat fried, heavily dusted with sugar and cinnamon and sweet, caramel sauce.

El Mexicano has a nice children’s menu for kids under 12. The plate with rice, beans and a taco is probably a good way to introduce a youngster to Mexican flavors. You can also order chicken nuggets or a cheese burger with fries ($4.75).

We would suggest El Mexicano anytime for the queso, chalupas and tacos. We also were impressed with the friendly wait staff that went out of their way to be helpful and explain the menu.