From left, indulge in a hefty beef burrito at Fuzzy’s, snack on tacos from Tin Lizzy’s and dig into Costa Vida’s big Mexican spread.

It’s next to impossible to be sad inside a Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. At least that was my takeaway—along with an overstuffed stomach—after a lunch visit in Ankeny, Iowa, where the restaurant’s vibrant yellow, green and red color palette, boisterous Baja wall art and massive margaritas enhance a party vibe. Ample portions emerge from the kitchen in quick succession after ordering at the counter, including a hefty fajita beef burrito slathered in queso and a plate of chicken chilaquiles complete with refried beans and Latin-fried potatoes. At $7.99 and $6.99, respectively, Fuzzy’s hits its value proposition squarely on the head. But thankfully our dishes don’t taste like commodity ingredient Tex-Mex. The chilaquiles in particular are expertly seasoned, the chicken tender and moist, and some Fuzzy’s Butt Burnin’ Hot Sauce offers the perfect amount of heat. The one ding on the experience? A strawberry margarita that skipped the blending step, resulting in a thick rope of super-sweet flavoring suspended in margarita mix.

The upshot: The festive feel inside Fuzzy’s Taco Shop is enhanced with food that brings just enough flavor nuances to satisfy a foodie without the accompanying big bill. —L.M.

In Atlanta for a reporting trip and looking to try a new taqueria, I grabbed a patio table at Tin Lizzy’s Cantina and scanned the QR code menu. Starting with the fried buffalo shrimp, it had a surprisingly good texture for $7 shrimp, plus homemade buffalo sauce had the perfect amount of kick. Next was a fajita taco sans meat, though I did appreciate the Beyond Meat plant protein option. It came with sliced avocado, grilled peppers and onions, romaine and spicy ranch, always a great combo, plus the onions were grilled enough for this picky, raw onion-averse reviewer. Since I turned into a flexitarian during the pandemic (basically a lazy vegetarian) and wanted to mix it up, I tried the buttermilk fried chicken taco with cilantro slaw and ancho lime sauce, the best of the bunch in terms of taste, but it lost points for a few chewy bites of chicken. Both tacos cost about $4 each and came in a 6-inch soft flour tortilla, which didn’t fall apart while I was eating, the hallmark of a good taco joint.

The upshot: The patio setting felt chic, comfortable and COVID-friendly with tables spaced apart and use of QR code menus. Is Tin Lizzy’s the best taco franchise? No, but I’d pick it over the one that ends in “bell” any day. —C.E.

The immense portions and exceptional customization at Costa Vida blend the best of the local mom-and-pop Mexican spot with fast casual polish. I got the enchiladas with steak and verde salsa and a smorgasbord of toppings. My wife ordered the taco salad, also with steak, and we split the small nachos as an appetizer. All the food runs under a belt-driven oven for a blast of dry heat for melty cheese and a bit of caramelization. The nachos were a big hit, though we should have added some extra salsa to spice things up. There were a paralyzing number of options for first-timers. The salad was a winner, and the spicy ranch dressing was a notable complement to the rest of the flavors. The enchiladas were tasty but the pinto beans were notably moist. That moisture, however, soaked up in time for leftovers, as if the whole meal was destined for taco slop. That’s a good thing—we were both about full after the small nachos anyway—and having leftovers helped rationalize the $40 bill.

The upshot: The restaurant was bright and lovely and well-spaced for COVID. There was, however, just one receptacle, something my recycling-savvy wife noted. Why have aluminum packaging if it’s just going in the trash? —N.U.

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