Chinese. Italian. Mexican. Except in the more expensive restaurants, these cuisines generally get short shrift in America, where the masses aren't seeking authenticity, but rather an approximation.

And so we are presented with restaurants like Mandy's in North Lakeland, a cozy diner that dumbs down Mexican to a level that might appropriately be termed Mexican Cliché.

Owners Anna Osorio and daughter Monica serve dishes that are ample, and plenty hot, just humdrum and overpriced.

We expect chips and salsa on the house, and the Osorios deliver with the ubiquitous packaged chips, warmed, and a small carafe of soupy, mild salsa perked with cilantro. A tasty, house hot sauce gives added kick.

Guacamole seemed appropriate, especially with a side order priced at just $1.25. Unfortunately, Mandy's side measured little more than a tablespoon.

The combo dinner beckoned with one hard-shell taco, burrito, an enchilada and tamale. Together with rice and beans the dish cost $10.85. Individually the items come with either chicken, ground beef or steak, but for some reason the combo plate is available only in ground beef.

And here's where the cook shows a lack of imagination, filling each item with the same seasoned minced beef generally reserved for tacos, and little else but a few specks of tomato and shredded cheese. The burrito wasn't really a burrito at all but a very small, soft tortilla rolled around a spoonful of the meat filling.

If you order the Mexican omelet (breakfast is served throughout the day), it too is wrapped around the same beef filling. Draped in melted cheese, it does make a hearty meal accompanied by nicely browned home fries and toast or biscuit, all for $5.75.

Little was special about the $7.50 lunch special, spinach quesadillas, a large tortilla folded and filled with a little spinach and cheese and cut in four pieces.

Oddly, Mandy's offers meat loaf, pork chops, collards, fried okra and other Southern staples.

A wedge of flan for $3 was the best of several desserts, covered in light caramel and whipped cream. Pass on the fried ice cream. This version uses cereal flakes and honey, and the result is disastrous.

The interior of the restaurant could use a makeover. It's dark and dated.

Mandy's does not measure up to the three stars it received when last reviewed in 2003. It gets two and a half stars.



Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@directgates.com or 863-802-7528.