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Maria's Mexican & Latin Cuisine

Maria's pollo a la parrilla, grilled chicken breast

Maria's pollo a la parrilla, grilled chicken breast served with a mango salsa and sweet plantains. (Feb. 27, 2013) Credit: Doug Young

Heaps of snowy lobster meat, crisscrossed by fresh asparagus spears, garnish a bowl of deep coral lobster bisque. One sip unleashes torrents of flavor, subtle hints of fire.

How gratifying it can be to rediscover a place like Maria's Mexican & Latin Cuisine, which used to seem somewhat ordinary. No more. The oddly shaped corner restaurant, embedded within Nesconset, has clearly reasserted itself. "We're always looking for new recipes, new specials," said co-owner Maria Mones, who works with her partner, Maria Mendez and chef Carlos Botello.

One afternoon, Botello sends forth a chicken and green chili soup rife with tender poultry and vegetables. It's every bit as delectable and decorative as his lobster bisque.

But not everything comes up to the level of those soups. The salsa on the table somehow manages to be both pallid and spicy.

And a tomatoey shrimp seviche is served way too cold. There's also a surfeit of mayonnaise-y "house special sauce" on an otherwise fine shrimp-stuffed avocado.

But Botello's quesadilla Cubana -- filled, Cuban sandwich-style, with roast pork, ham, cheese and pickles -- is an inspired treat. And his ensalada de pollo con mango -- moist, smoky, grilled chicken breasts sliced over mesclun with spicy mango salsa and vegetables -- has both eye appeal and verve.

Winning, as well, are three soft corn tacos al carbon -- respectively, chicken, pork and beef grilled with pineapple and topped with pico de gallo and avocado. Chicken breast and shrimp in a spicy-smoky chipotle sauce turns up piquant and delicious. Lots of lively flavor in the shrimp in garlic sauce, even if the shellfish is a bit overcooked. A shame, though, that the highly savory ropa vieja -- a classic Cuban shredded beef dish -- hasn't achieved tenderness. On the other hand, Botello's garlicky Cuban roast pork with rice, beans and sweet plantains is irreproachable.

Conclude with a house-made finale, such as the rich, creamy chocolate flan or a semi-frozen strawberry margarita pie.

It's not hard to see why Maria's is jam-packed, even on weeknights.

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