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Andale Latino Grlll: Going way beyond Chipotle

The menu spans 21 Spanish-speaking countries: offerings include made-on-premises arepas and empanadas in addition to the more familiar burritos and bowls.

You'll see the smiling workers behind the cafeteria line, the cheery colors, and the tortillas. But don't go to the home-spun Andale Latino Grill in Feasterville seeking a "Mexican" experience.

Andale's concept spans 21 Spanish-speaking countries: a made-from-scratch menu that includes house-made arepas and empanadas in addition to the more familiar burritos and bowls.

These bowls are built on a variety of bases: cilantro lime rice, brown rice, yuca, fried plantain, warm quinoa mix, or lettuce. Choose a protein such as tilapia, shredded beef, grilled steak, shredded pork, or chipotle-marinated chicken, and add black-eyed peas, black beans, pinto beans, or grilled vegetables. Finally come the toppings, including chimichurri or various salsas.

Andale, tucked between a UPS Store and Cold Stone Creamery in Lower Southampton Village (144 E. Street Rd., Feasterville, 215-494-9505), is the passion project of Reza Ghassemi, a courtly veteran of the hotel food-and-beverage business, and his wife, Mirna, a chef.

Reza Ghassemi left his native Iran in 1979 during the revolution. Though he had studied economics and political science, he found himself washing dishes at a hotel in Beverly Hills. Decades after working his way up the F&B corporate ladder - and since meeting Mirna, born in Honduras - he decided to chase his dream of building a restaurant from the ground up.

Ghassemi studied the 800-pound gorillas of the fast-casual restaurant world - Chipotle, Qdoba, and Panera. When it came time to sample their food, Chipotle, in particular, left him bemused. "I went in there and ordered, but I ordered everything separate - the meat, the rice, the beans, the guacamole, and the pica de gallo," he said. "Then I brought it home and tried it. There was no flavor until you put the pica de gallo on."

He and Mirna set out to do it tastier. They opted to bill their cuisine as Latino, rather than Mexican, building on the common denominators of rice, beans, yuca, and plantains.

Then came the fun part: menu-testing. "I love the science of food," he said last week, as Mirna and her cooks washed and prepped vegetables and meats. The idea, he said, was to refine the recipes "until your tongue starts dancing."

Take the guacamole, which starts with the usual avocados, cilantro, onion, jalapeno, and lime. Then note the green tomatoes, bell pepper, parsley, and red vinegar. It's more of a Venezuelan guasacaca - a brighter, peppier guac.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.