A Sense of Place 

On American Way, tastes of India and Mexico.

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Culinary adventures abound on American Way, near where the Mall of Memphis once stood. If you like Indian food, tacos, or sweets, then the ultimate eating staycation is just a short drive away.

Regal Indian Grocery & Maharaja Cafe

4273 American Way, Suites 1 & 2 366-5555

There's one strip mall in particular that is bursting with promise, and it is anchored on the left by the Regal Indian Grocery. The grocery is more of a market, offering a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Pick up some garlic paste, soap, and maybe some breath freshener and then make your way to the Maharaja Café, which is tucked inside to the right.

The Maharaja Café is a discovery that you don't want anyone else to know about but can't stop telling everybody. It doesn't seem like much from first glance. There are too many booths crammed into too-small a space that features outdated wallpaper and carpet. Ignore the old video-store vibe and focus on the smells coming from the small kitchen. The aromas should be more than enough to convince you to take a seat.

The menu is small yet comprehensive and features all of the well-known Indian dishes as well as a few surprises. You absolutely cannot leave without trying the Chicken 65 — a superbly spicy and crunchy dish. Everything is made-to-order by a friendly and attentive staff. The food is reasonably priced, which is good, because it is also more than a little addictive.

La Ilusion Panaderia

4273 American Way, Suite 9 369-0212

La Ilusion is clearly the go-to place for pinatas, since they have every shape and character you can think of. Better yet, the grocery has aisles and aisles of candy with which to fill them. The numerous candy shelves are sure to delight both grown-ups and kids. Some of my favorites are Kranky Candy (Rice Crispies covered in chocolate), Paleton chocolate and cream lollipops, and Bubbaloo chocolate "gum." There are marshmallows the size of your fist and candies in flavors that Americans don't usually think of — red chile, jalapeno, and tamarind, to name a few. You can buy items in bulk or as singles. (Singles are closer to the register in back.)

Additionally, La Ilusion is a panaderia that features freshly baked pastries, cakes, and other desserts. There's even a cooler full of paletas — Mexican popsicles — tucked behind the display cabinets. If you have a sweet tooth and a sense of adventure or simply want to plan a party, this place is most definitely for you.

Tacos Borolas

4273 American Way, Suite 7 791-4379

Big cities have taco trucks. We have Tacos Borolas. It's a restaurant with a small kitchen in back and a huge grill out front on the sidewalk. You can walk up to the grill and order and dress your own tacos or you can go inside and have the waitress bring them to you. Each taco is $1.75, and you have a choice of steak, spicy pork, beef tongue, beef tripe, or Mexican sausage. (Shrimp tacos can be ordered from the restaurant kitchen for a little more.) A condiment bar (both inside and out) features cilantro, lime, onion, radishes, and three salsas of varying heat. Four seems to be the number of tacos to make a meal.

While tacos are the restaurant's focus, the menu also features a few other traditional dishes like tortas (sandwiches) and burritos. (Sorry, you won't find unlimited chips or cheese dip here.) The staff is really sweet and accommodating, so give Tacos Borolas a try.

Asian Grocery

5054 American Way

368-0068

Asian Grocery, tucked behind a defunct Piggly Wiggly adjacent to an abandoned Walmart, is an Indian grocery superstore. Not only does it contain every spice, every curry, every rice, and every other ingredient you might need to make your favorite Indian dish at home, it has a full arsenal of frozen Indian foods and fresh, exotic produce. But what makes Asian Grocery stand out is the small kitchen in back, which specializes in freshly made, traditional Indian street foods known as chaat.

For $3 to $6 each and about 15 to 20 minutes of your time, you can get a taste of what it must be like to live in India. Featured menu items include dosas, samosas, papdi, pani puri, medu wada, idli, uttapam, bhel, and ragda pattis. Take a group and try everything, or take your time discovering these special treats. Good bets for starters are the dosas (crepes), samosas (stuffed pastries), and papdi (nachos with Indian flavors). If you're nice, the owner might even give you a lollipop on your way out.

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