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DIABLO'S CANTINA

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Monte Carlo

3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702-730-7979

website

$15-$40

Daily 11am-12am

Mexican

B+

AT A GLANCE

What is it?

Excellent Mexican food in a festive environment.

Where is it?

At Monte Carlo on the South Strip.

What kind of food is served?

Lots of enjoyable choices without being overwhelming.

What is the atmosphere like?

Great dining room with terrific views of The Strip.

How is the service?

Fantastic.

What are the prices like?

A bargain compared to most restaurants on The Strip.

What else do I need to know?

They have a great outdoor patio on the second floor.

What's the bottom line?

One of the best Mexican restaurants on The Strip.

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FULL REVIEW

You'd think being located in the Southwestern US in relative proximity to Mexico, that Las Vegas would be able to do Mexican food really well. You'd be wrong, mostly. I've sampled many of the places that offer up this type of cuisine in the city and with a few exceptions they are mostly bland affairs that don't do it justice.

That's partly why Diablo's Cantina at Monte Carlo is such a surprise and an outright delight - so much so that I picked it as my favorite restaurant in Las Vegas for 2007. They do Mexican food not only "right" but "exceptionally" and although the bar is pretty low in Vegas, I'd pit it against even the best of the Mexican joints in Los Angeles, a city that really knows how to do the cuisine well.

The space is a clear winner before you even get to the food. Located at the front of Monte Carlo there is direct access from both the casino inside and The Strip outside. A wall of windows provides great people watching opportunities and the big bar, various tables, and booths cascade up almost as if providing stadium seating for the parade of humanity that passes by in front.

The second floor is a big outdoor nightclub and although it was much, much too cold on the night we visited for it to be of any value, on warmer nights this is going to be a great place to party.

The menu is broad ranging like most Mexican eateries but focused in a way that many of them aren't. Do you really need 18 different taco options and 36 different burritos plus endless combinations of each? No, you need 5 or 6 of the best in each category so that you're not sitting there in a state of indecision for hours.

Starters include the basics like chips and salsa - yes, you have to pay a few bucks for what other restaurants provide for free - but these are not chips out of a bag and salsa out of a jar. These are warm, handmade tortilla chips with three different salsas that range from mild to "Oh my God where is the water?"

Other appetizers offer up things like empanadas, loaded potato skins, calamari, chicken wings with multiple dipping sauces, and a Mexican pizza that was practically devoured by the hungry table. It was served piping hot on a crispy tortilla loaded down with multiple cheeses, chorizo sausage, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Absolutely delicious.

Main menu items feature a handful of salads; shrimp, fish, steak, chicken, or pork tacos; multiple burritos; stuffed quesadillas of all stripe; sandwiches and burgers including a massive 15 oz monster that they practically dare you to eat; and full entrees like bacon wrapped filet mignon, grilled shrimp or salmon, tequila baby back ribs, and sizzling fajitas.

One of my dining companions went for the Club Quesadilla, three-layers of steak, pulled-pork, guacamole, and sour cream that was nearly and inch thick. The flavors practically danced off the plate and it is a perfect choice for those with more delicate palates who can't handle the spicy stuff.

The other two dishes that came to the table were the fajitas, steak and chicken. The plates were in fact sizzling as advertised and were loaded down with tender morsels of meat, warm flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa, cheeses, and sour cream. They were fantastic although, as usual, way too much food for any normal human being to be able to consume.

Desserts include a variety of temptations - we tried the cheesecake and were glad we did. It was not only topped with moist cherries but also had a layer of same stuffed into the creamy middle and topped with fresh whipped cream.

There's also a full drink menu with the usual broad variety of margaritas and the like.

Prices fall into the low to moderate range depending on what you're ordering. Our table of three did two appetizers, three entrees, dessert, and soft drinks for about $80 including tax but that's primarily because two of us went for the fajitas, which fall on the upper end of the menu offerings. You could easily get out of there for less than $20 per person and still come away very, very satisfied.

Service was stellar - friendly, knowledgeable, and almost frighteningly prescient. Every single time I thought to myself "I need a refill" the waiter walked by with a fresh glass before I had a chance to ask for it.

Fans of Mexican food will have a hard time doing better anywhere on The Strip than Diablo's Cantina.

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