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Moving mountains

Henry Galvis grew up in Colombia, so it must be his 10 years in Mexico and another 15 in the States working in restaurants that gives him the expertise to run a genuine Mexican eatery that combines real food with great service.

Galvis' first Maria Bonita is still going strong in Daytona Beach, an award-winner that caters to fans of burritos, tamales and cold cerveza. His new location, out on a commuter stretch of East Colonial, brings a taste of Zacatecas to Orlando.

Nestled by the Sierra Madre mountains, the northern Mexican region of Zacatecas is known for simple yet intensely flavored cuisine and unique combinations of seasonings. Aside from crisp and overstuffed fajitas, there's nothing "Tex-Mex" about this menu; dishes at Maria Bonita have a look of authenticity. The cool, green avocado in the wonderfully lumpy guacamole ($3.25 for a side) has the bite of roasted peppers with threads of fresh cilantro. There's nothing processed about the standout the cocktail de camarones ($6.25), large juicy shrimp mixed with spicy pico de gallo, bits of onion and avocado.

A welcome part of Maria Bonita's specialty list is mole (translated as "concoction"), a rich sauce that takes on as many different flavors as there are cooks to tweak the spices; recipes can take years to perfect. Pollo en mole is tender chunks of boneless chicken in a dark and aromatic "mole negro" sauce of everything from cloves, cinnamon and thyme to black pepper and cocoa. Less familiar (if you know mole at all) is the New World "pollo en mole verde" that blends native tomatillos, cilantro and onions with chilis for a tart and pleasantly hot experience (both $8.95).

Chile relleno ($8.95) shows the cuisine's mestizo (mixed culture) roots, with a poblano pepper stuffed with shredded beef (cheese is also available) and topped with chilis and tomatoes that catch your interest without being fiery. Non-meat eaters can enjoy enchiladas, chimichangas and burritos stuffed with beans, green peppers, cheese and even cactus for the adventurous (from $7.50 to $9.95).

Some offerings from the kitchen take a page from the tropics, with Cuban dishes, hot off the grill. Grilled steak Palomilla style ($9.95), is tender and tart with a squeeze of lemon. They claim ropa vieja -- shredded beef stewed with peppers and tomatoes in a wine sauce -- is one of their most popular items ($8.95).

The servers are friendly and attentive, and care as much about the food as the chef obviously does.

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