The neighborhood holds few culinary options for hungry gamblers who manage to pull themselves away from the Vortex and other "Real Time Bingo" machines. A Subway shop and a pizza joint are around the corner (at 714-718 Minnesota Avenue), but closer to the casino is Taqueria El Camino Real (903 North 7th), where the cooks roll fresh corn tortillas off a hand-turned machine, then grill them in a tiny kitchenette at the front of the dining room. The intoxicating aroma of the tortillas certainly whets the appetite for a plate of tacos and burritos. The tacos arrive nearly nude -- it's up to each customer to heap them with chopped onion, cilantro, pico de gallo or salsa from four small bowls delivered to the table with the food.
Diners who insist on returning to the casino to tempt fate should stop to say a quick prayer to one of the two images of Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging on the wall or pop a quarter in one of the trinket machines near the entrance, where gumballs and plastic toys share space with, yes, an Our Lady of Guadalupe jigsaw puzzle.
Over in Riverside, the venerable Argosy Casino (777 Northwest Argosy Parkway) is undergoing a renovation that includes its restaurants. The former Constellations fine-dining venue is closed (it will reopen later in the year as a steakhouse), and the old Sundial Buffet underwent a serious rehab in May and is now the Terrace Buffet. Its theatrical décor boasts almost every architectural style since the Renaissance, and a tidy, well-appointed buffet serves all the traditional standbys: crunchy but dry fried chicken, gristly pork chops, faux sushi, sliced baron of beef, and anemic desserts.
"Customers tell us the food is a whole lot tastier now," said our tough-as-nails waitress. Tastier? Well, maybe. It's definitely prettier. Each night boasts a different theme, such as Friday's "Seafood Extravaganza." But after Wednesday's "Mexican Night," I almost drove back to El Camino Real. Trust me: It's a better bet.