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Mucho Gusto

A sign went up in a local strip mall several months ago, advertising a new restaurant called Mucho Gusto.

"How exciting!" I thought. "It's even got an avocado on its sign."

I'm a sucker for good Mexican food "¦ and avocados. I was so ready for it that in my zeal I piled six co-workers into my car for a lunch trip in December. I was so bummed — the sign was ready but the restaurant was not.

So, here we are three months later and finally, it's open. A friend and I decided we would meet up for lunch there. Unfortunately, so did everyone else in Medford.

Mucho Gusto — the phrase in Spanish can mean essentially "nice to meet you," or "my pleasure" in response to "thank you" after being served food — is decorated very nicely. It's clean and sparse, and there's interesting stuff to look at while you're standing in a cafeteria-style line waiting to order. On the two days we went, we stood in line for about 15 minutes before getting up to the counter to order. At times the line was at or out the door.

Their menu is small, with only four entrees to choose from and a kids menu, but that's OK because Mucho Gusto is not the type of restaurant you'd go to for an involved sit-down meal. But it's a great place to go for a relatively quick Mexican meal at a good price.

I ordered the Mucho Rita ($6.50), a build-it-yourself burrito. There's a choice of corn or flour tortilla and your choice of meat (roasted chipotle chicken, braised beef or pork, fried cod or even chipotle tofu; all can be doubled for $1, but you get a lot already). As you move down the line you get to choose your own toppings. It's your standard fare, with choices ranging from cheese (colby/jack or cotija) and lettuce or cabbage to what kind of salsa you'd like, from mild to hot.

My dining partner and I like hot stuff, but the hottest salsa was a corn and chipotle that didn't go over well — best try pico de gallo and lay on the jalapeños and hot sauce. There's also delicious fresh guacamole and three sour creams: plain, lime/cilantro (tasty) and chipotle. Neither of us were particularly fond of Mucho Gusto's chipotle offerings, though my friend declares himself a chipotle fan.

The burrito was large, and came with a small portion of organic chips and salsa. I was a little put off because it was lukewarm; I expected it to be hot considering it had just come off a steam table. It tasted pretty good though, I have to admit. The food was nice and spicy and had a good flavor. My only other complaint is that the tiny salsa cups aren't really conducive to actually eating the salsa.

My friend had the $6.50 taco plate with one fried flour crispy shell and one soft grilled corn tortilla, and chipotle chicken and marinated pork for the meat. He said it was good except for the chipotle.

He really liked the beans and rice on the side and remarked that the black beans (pinto also available) were still intact and not the typical bean soup you get at most Mexican restaurants.

On our second visit, I had a tostada that tasted great and was nice and hot. My dining partner had the tacos again but with fish and beef this time. The fish is apparently fried fresh and kept away from the steam table, so we had to remind the servers that the fish hadn't made it to the taco by the time we were at the register. It took five to 10 minutes after that for the fish taco to arrive, but it was worth the wait — lightly battered chunks of cod.

Overall, the quality is great, the staff was friendly and helpful, and all the items are fresh and made right in front of you.

With a concrete floor, exposed ceiling and hard surfaces everywhere else, the place is very loud — from conversation to the Mexi music on the speakers. The advantage is you can carry on a relatively private conversation despite being surrounded by people.

If you're on a tight lunch hour be aware there could be a wait before you sit down, probably not much different than at other restaurants. If it's your day off, they also offer frozen rum daiquiris, margaritas and "frozen citros" with Stoli, each $5. Bottle and draft beers are $3 and bottomless soft drinks are $1.75.

It's a good cross between a sit-down Mexican restaurant and a taco stand, and we'll be back.

Mucho Gusto is at 1251 E. McAndrews Road, Suite 104, Medford. A phone number was not available at the date of this review. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

— Angel Blazer, for the Mail Tribune