When a restaurant is driven by passion, you know it: The food is that much more vibrant, the service that much warmer and more professional. Such is the case at Escorza's Mexican Restaurant in Levittown, whose Mexico City-born chef-owner, Rene Escorza, clearly loves what he does.

Escorza began his career at 18 as a busboy at the very Italian Piccola Bussola in Huntington. He rose through the ranks to become manager and, after 21 years, left to open a restaurant honoring his Mexican heritage. In a well-appointed Levittown space done in bold colors, he serves the classics he learned from his mother, along with a few originals. What unifies the repertoire is the level of culinary skill.

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Which means that you may pause to note how artfully presented the rich, resonant tortilla soup is. And to admire the picture-perfect seafood salad, a sprightly cilantro-strewn composition of calamari, mussels, clams and shrimp dressed with olive oil and lemon. During a tableside preparation of guacamole, a waiter offers samples on nacho chips, to gauge whether the spicing is to everyone's liking. A little more jalapeño, pico de gallo and salt, and it's perfect. Avocados also turn up as neatly breaded "fries." It's an appetizer you'll want to see everywhere.

Tacos, ordered authentic Mexican-style, come on soft corn tortillas topped with chopped cilantro and onion. Best are the spicy chorizo and succulent tongue versions; you'll want to bypass the dry white meat chicken and uncharacteristically dull fried fish. Note that on Tuesdays, all tacos go for $2 apiece.

Steak fajitas, a Mexican-American favorite, come out bright and flavorful, available with either corn or flour tortillas. Another hit is shrimp a la diabla, jumbo sauteed shellfish in a smoked jalapeño tomato sauce that blends Italian and Mexican traditions. Another piquant and savory hybrid is pork chops a la Chilango, the thick and juicy meat pan-seared with broccoli rabe, cherry peppers, white beans, lemon, garlic and white wine. Escorza also scores big with mole poblano, fork-tender cutlets in a deep, dark, nuanced dried pepper and chocolate sauce.

While churros and flan will end the meal well, it's hard to beat the moist and milky tres leches cake, a well-rendered classic at a restaurant that honors both tradition and initiative.