ARLINGTON -- Whether you have a favorite Mexican restaurant or not, Playa Bonita may become your new preference.
Playa Bonita has three locations. The first opened in Marysville, the second in Granite Falls and the third, which we visited, in downtown Arlington about eight months ago. On the Saturday night my friend and I stopped for an early dinner, the parking area was almost full; it was overflowing by the time we left. This was our first clue that dinner was going to be a little better than most. As soon as we were through the door, we were warmly greeted and led to a booth for two toward the rear of the dining rooms, which display the anticipated Mexican tiles in tropical colors against deeply textured stucco walls with intermittent arches. My friend and I started with house-style margaritas ($4), warm chips and salsa with a tomato sauce base. We added an order of guacamole ($3), which was filled with bits of smooth avocado and onion -- indications that it's house made, not frozen. We munched away while studying the menu, which includes two pages of house specials ($11.75 to $14.75) and 45 traditional combination plates ($8.75 to $10.25). The halibut fajitas ($14.75) and Acapulco burrito stuffed with halibut, calamari, shrimp, scallops and crab ($13.25) are two of the house specials unique to Playa Bonita, which means "pretty beach" in Spanish. My friend ordered his favorite -- chicken fajitas ($12.25) that included strips of marinated chicken, onion and bell peppers served on a sizzling platter plus a second platter of toppings and fillings -- lettuce, guacamole and sour cream. He rolled it all into corn tortillas. After a few bites, we decided the marinade, with other spices added during grilling, made these chicken fajitas exceptional. I ordered a giant platter of everything. It's called Los Tres Hermanos ($17.95) and includes grilled chicken, pork and carne asada (marinated and thinly sliced strips of grilled beef) plus rice, beans and guacamole. It was served steaming from the kitchen but I didn't wait for it to cool. The chicken was seasoned differently than my friend's but was just as tasty, as were the pork and carne asada. If I were forced to choose one of the three, it would be the carne asada because it tasted better than the same dish in other restaurants. For dessert, we split a flan ($3), which was a little overcooked, but after such a great main course, we decided we could forgive a thin layer of dark brown on the bottom. By the way, a table or booth toward the back of the dining room usually means minimal service, but at Playa Bonita, the service was attentive without being intrusive. The Herald reader who sent the e-mail that said, "You might want to check into this very fine Mexican restaurant," was right.