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RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Cheese sauce flows freely at Anita's in Little Rock

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Photographs by Jennifer Christman

The Ribeye and Chicken Combo is, like many items at Anita’s Cantina & Grill in Little Rock, topped with cheese sauce.

Comparing Anita's Cantina & Grill to Applebee's, which formerly occupied its southwest Little Rock space, would be comparing apples and oranges.

Sure, it still looks like an Applebee's, down to the big central bar, but locally owned Anita's offers a massive five-page menu of Mexican food. And that's not including breakfast, offered from 7-11 a.m. daily. For night owls, there's karaoke on Friday and Saturdays.

Anita’s Cantina & Grill

Address: 6 Mabelvale Plaza Drive, Little Rock

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 or 11 p.m. daily (as late as 2 a.m. for karaoke Friday-Saturday)

Cuisine: Mexican

Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Carryout: Yes (50 cents charge per order), and delivery through Waitr

(501) 529-8190

Of course, that's if you can find it. Though located near retail businesses like Home Depot, Anita's is tucked away in a crevice of Mabelvale Plaza Drive that's easy to overlook. We must figure low visibility was partially responsible for Applebee's undoing. We wish better for amiable Anita's, though the restaurant wasn't busy when we visited on a Sunday after church or a Saturday evening.

With nothing particularly exotic on the menu, Anita's, despite its southwest Little Rock location, skews more American-Mexican.

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Photos by Jennifer Christman

Not only is the menu huge, the portions tend to be, too.

The menu is divided into Appetizers/Salads, Nachos, Side Orders, A la Carte, Famous Authentic Fajitas & More, Cantina Favorites, Vegetarian Combinations, Anita's Favorites, Anita's House Specials, Mariscos Seafood, Kid's Plates, Desserts, Lunch Menu and Lunch Specialties. Prices ($1.75 for a chicken taco up to $28.99 for a platter of fancier fajitas for three, with many entrees $9.99 or less) are reasonable; there's something for every budget and appetite.

And there's a full bar, but if there's a menu for that, I never saw it. The frozen house margarita I ordered seemed a bit on the watery side, but my disposition did detect the tequila. By process of elimination, we figured we were charged $3.98 for the margarita on the simple receipt, calculated on a basic cash register without listed itemization. (Unlike Applebee's, there's no Dollaritas promotion this month.)

There's really no need to order an appetizer, as Anita's serves, "compimentary" (as it says on the menu) warm chips and spirited salsa. (That's with meals; ordered separately, they cost $2.)

But that didn't stop us from ordering cheese dip ($3.99 small, $7.25 large) and, on our second visit, the Queso Flameado ($6.99). The creamy white cheese dip was standard. The Flameado, a filling skillet of melted Monterey jack cheese, chorizo, onions, peppers and tomato, served with tortillas and pico de gallo, was gooey -- and greasy from the sausage -- in a good way.

Though the menu is expansive, we realized (oops) several of the dishes we ordered for the purpose of a well-rounded review were quite similar, including some combination of chicken, and/or steak with cheese:

• The Chori Pollo ($10.25), served with rice, beans and tortillas and garnished with lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo, featured a skillet of grilled chicken breast cooked with the aforementioned greasy chorizo and topped with cheese sauce.

• Julio's Combo with Steak and Chicken ($9.99) featured, well, steak and chicken on a bed of rice with bell peppers and onions ... and topped with cheese sauce.

• And the Ribeye and Chicken Combo ($16.99), served with rice and a salad of lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado and fresh bell and jalapeno pepper slices, featured a grilled ribeye and chicken breast topped with grilled onions and peppers ... and topped with cheese sauce.

In each case, meats were plentiful, particularly the Ribeye and Chicken, which had a whole steak and a decent-size chicken fillet. And, with the exception of the requested medium-rare Ribeye that came out more medium-well, they were pleasing. And topped with cheese sauce is never a bad thing.

The only entree we ordered that was a bit different was the delicious Jalapeno Shrimp ($12.99), eight shrimp, stuffed with fresh jalapenos, wrapped in bacon and grilled on skewers. A heap of rice, a salad (similar to the one served with the Ribeye and Chicken) and a side of corn rounded out completely cheese-sauce-free plate.

Southwest Little Rock has so many other places serving more interesting and authentic Mexican cuisine.

Still, if you're in the neighborhood of the former southwest Little Rock Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Anita's is certainly worth a visit.

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The Jalapeno Shrimp features eight shrimp stuffed with fresh peppers and wrapped in bacon at Anita’s Cantina & Grill in Littl... + Enlarge

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The Chori Pollo is chicken breast cooked with chorizo and topped with cheese sauce. + Enlarge

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Anita’s Cantina & Grill is in the former Applebee’s on Little Rock’s Mabelvale Plaza Drive. + Enlarge

Weekend on 04/12/2018

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