Low-key atmosphere and great Tex-Mex are La Carreta's specialty

Cheap Eat$

Brenda Tavakoli

When controversial Cougar columnist Kevin Pennell suggested we visit his favorite hole-in-the-wall, I was more than a bit skeptical.

After all his drunken, drugged nights in Amsterdam and God-only-knows where else, Pennell could not possibly have enough brain cells left to know good food when he saw it.

Ironically enough, Mr. Pennell proved a reliable source. All those cases of the munchies he's dealt with have molded him into quite the authority on good Tex-Mex chow.

Many Tex-Mex places' (Tapatia, Ninfa's, etc.) ideas of decorative drama are brightly colored cutouts, sombreros and woven rugs in vibrant colors. La Carreta, in contrast, opts for a relaxingly low-key setup. Their idea of decor seems to be mismatched plates, a black and orange "No Smoking" sign right off the Home Depot shelves, cinder blocks walls and a concrete floor.

Though comfort is not La Carreta's forté (no plush chairs or cozy booths here), diners don't have to worry about elbowing one another. The setup allows for plenty of room.

Carreta's offers standard, delicious fare for incredible prices. I partook of the chicken enchilada plate ($4.60). It boasts three chicken enchiladas wrapped in orangey-red corn tortillas smothered with enchilada gravy and cheese. Rice and beans also accompany the enchiladas, which were generously stuffed with mostly white-meat shredded chicken.

Kevin chowed on the Special Dinner No. 1, which features guacamole salad, a beef taco, chile con queso atop a crisp chalupa, rice, beans and two cheese enchiladas.

The cheese enchiladas were appropriately sauced with gravy and filled with gooey, precisely melted cheese. Add onions for extra texture, crunch and super bad breath.

Another popular menu item, the economy plate, features two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans for a mere $4.05. Other offerings include the taco plate or fajitas ($6.40).

All in all, La Carreta plays its Tex-Mex tune appropriately well, with no punches, no surprises and no heavy-on-the-wallet meals.

La Carreta

208 E. 20th St.

(713) 862-0685

Sunday - Thursday, 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday,

8 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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