Sagebrush Cantina just celebrated 12 years in Lake Orion. (Ankur Dholakia / The Detroit News)
There's life in the quaint downtown section of Lake Orion even on a quiet Tuesday night, and most of it seems to be centered at the Sagebrush Cantina.
The big, lively restaurant dominates its block, and even before 6 p.m., most of the tables are filled, and seats at the bar -- where there are many more tequilas than wines -- are at a premium.
It's nothing out of the ordinary for Dia Zaraga's popular restaurant, which celebrated its 12th anniversary last week in the slick, high-ceilinged quarters that were completely rebuilt after a 2004 fire destroyed the original, historic building. The redo took two years, but the customers returned.
"You should see it on weekends," says one regular. "There's sometimes a two-hour wait."
Sagebrush Cantina obviously draws its crowd from a larger area than just the village of Lake Orion (population 2,715, according to the last census).
The cartoony, laminated menus include the expected dishes -- enchiladas, burritos, nachos, tacos and fajitas, all done with flair -- as well as a few departures, including mandarin orange chicken salad with honey-mustard dressing, and fish and chips.
Most people order one of the many Mexican combinations, offered in triples, such as the enchilada/burrito/tamale at $9.95, or in doubles, typified by a taco/burrito at $8.95.
Combos include rice, beans and the house chicken-rice soup or fresh green salad, and the accompaniments are as well-prepared as the mains.
Don't look for upscale amenities here. Napkins are paper, tables bare-top. But this place delivers where it really counts, from the warm tortilla chips and salsa with which everyone starts to the steak, fish or shrimp tacos with pico de gallo and fresh cilantro.
The woodsy first-floor space will soon be doubled when the second-floor dining room is completed, and that should ease the crush.
Why is one restaurant packed on an early spring Tuesday evening, when others are hoping for just a few warm bodies?
In the case of this friendly, festive spot, it's undoubtedly the combination of appealing fare in a very affordable price structure, and enthusiastic service by the young staff. The foamy house Margaritas don't hurt, either.
Sagebrush has a twin in Fenton, at 14284 N. Fenton Road, (248) 629-3955, which opened while the original was being rebuilt.
Brent Wilson, from left, A.J. Mueller and Liam Judd chow down from the ...
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