After one meal at Maria Bonita Mexican Grill, you may feel ashamed to ever go to Taco Bell again.

Upon returning from Mexico after an extended period of time in the country, I set out on a quest to find Mexican food that reminded me of what it was like to eat in Mexico. I could only find a few taco shops that really did it for me, but there were no full menu restaurants that gave the effect of eating real Mexican food.

After eating at Maria Bonita, the search is over.

When we arrived and saw that the restaurant was located in a strip mall, I instantly thought that it was going to be just another cheap knock off. But entering from the strip mall exterior to the interior of Maria Bonita seemed to symbolize leaving Americana behind to walk across the border.

The walls of the restaurant are decorated with knick knacks from places in Mexico where the owners have lived. There are banners that are spread across the ceiling that make you feel like you are part of a fiesta.

After flipping through the tri-fold menu that has well over 100 different choices, my wife and I both decided on combination plates. I ordered a beef taco, a chile relleno and an enchilada with a side of rice and beans for $8. My wife ordered two tostadas, a beef burrito and the sides for the same price.

One of the hidden gems of Maria Bonita is the waitress, Maria (not the Maria of the restaurant name), who serves all 13 tables in the restaurant with the help of an assistant. I don’t think that I saw her stop moving the entire time we were there. She makes you feel as though you have your own personal Mexican mom for the evening, calling all the men “Campeón” and the women “Princesa.”

Maria started us out with the traditional chips and salsa, but what surprised me was that we were also given sopa de arroz, a staple appetizer with a Mexican meal.

I listened as others got their food and continually heard the words “Oh my! That’s so big!” or “That’s so much food. There is no way I can eat it all.”

My plate was no exception when it arrived. While most restaurants give you food on small circular plates, Maria Bonita delivers your meal on a huge oval plate so that all the food can fit.

The burrito on my wife’s plate was so big we started laughing. It was worth pulling out her camera to get a picture of it. It was too big to even start eating and didn’t fit comfortably into a regular sized takeout box.

The food came with lots of cheese, including queso fresco on the tostadas, which is one of my favorite Mexican cheeses and which I had never seen in the other Mexican restaurants I had tried. Each item that came on our combination plate tasted like what you would expect in a real Mexican meal and none of the items were below our satisfaction.

The rest of the menu ranged from $6-$17 in price and featured traditional items such as mole, flautas, molcajetes, licuados and aguas frescas. If there were any way you could still be hungry for dessert they offer pastel de tres leches and flan, among other things.

My $8 entrée has since turned into two more meals and when you do the math, you see how, money- and authenticity-wise, it’s well worth it to give Maria Bonita a try.