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Two Moons takes twist on traditional Mexican

Mexican food: for some people, the mere mention of the stuff makes their stomachs churn faster than they can say "Taco Bell." After being bombarded with countless urban legends concerning the quality of this cuisine's ingredients, who hasn't ever left a Mexican restaurant without wondering exactly what they just ate?

But at Charlottesville's Two Moons Kitchen, it is virtually impossible that such questions will ever cross patrons' minds. For the last three years owner Kathy Hannigan has been serving up Mexican-inspired entrees featuring only the freshest organic ingredients, and the quality she guarantees is clearly reflected in each dish.

Nestled at the end of 14th Street on the Corner, Two Moons greets customers with a relaxed yet funky atmosphere. Yellow walls set a cheerful tone and stars bedeck the high ceilings. A bar/counter area stands in one corner, and the restaurant's lunch menu is painted decoratively on the wall above it. In warmer weather, patrons can sit outside.

"I wanted it to be as much like coming to my home as possible," Hannigan said.

The food, however, is anything but ordinary home cooking.

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    A wonderful way to begin a meal at Two Moons is with a bowl of tortilla soup ($2.75), a uniquely prepared delicacy. Crumbled tortilla chips and a sprinkling of Monterey jack cheese are mixed into the soup's spicy base, a homemade chicken broth seasoned with cumin, paprika, garlic and chili. A wedge of lime completes the soup.

    Appetizers are by no means limited to soup. The menu boasts hand-made tamales, quesadillas, salads and two variations of nachos, which Hannigan describes as "amazing."

    When it comes time for an entrée, vegetarians, vegans and meat-lovers alike will be satisfied with what the restaurant has to offer.

    Two Moons offers an extensive selection of burritos, from basic chicken to the "three sisters," which includes roasted butternut squash and roasted corn, black beans and rosemary for seasoning.

    "The burritos were what the restaurant was built upon," Hannigan explained.

    "The Works" black bean burrito ($8.00) proves to live up to Hannigan's claims. It comes stuffed full of black beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and cheese and is topped with enchilada sauce, pickled red onions and sour cream. Every ingredient was incredibly fresh.

    The roasted new potatoes and Jicama slaw, which are served on the side, compliment the meal well. The potatoes are served hot, and although they are a bit oily, they are delicious.

    The Salsa Verde is another essential side item. Two Moons offers five variations of salsa to choose from, ranging from mild to very spicy. The Verde salsa, which includes scallions, cilantro and lime, was tangy and not overly spicy. For a unique taste, try the Summer Squash Salsa, with zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper, onion, lime juice and cilantro.

    The rice and vegetable burrito ($4.25) includes an array of fresh vegetables, including carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuce and onions. Two Moons' guarantee of quality and freshness holds true in this dish as well. All the vegetables used at the restaurant are either ordered from organic producers or actually grown in Hannigan's own garden.

    Those hungry for other Mexican dishes can enjoy a variety of tacos, tostadas and enchiladas. Even the restaurant's "Moonburgers" have a southwestern flair, as most come with a choice of salsa amongst other toppings. The beef can be substituted for marinated tempeh.

    For those who still have room, don't leave Two Moons without sampling the restaurant's flan ($3.00). Its rich, creamy texture with a drenching of caramel sauce provides a perfect ending to the meal.

    Two Moons boasts a wide array of patrons from both the University community and around Charlottesville.

    Hannigan notes that in addition to students, "we get a good showing of staff, U.Va. professors and families."

    Lunch at the eatery, which Hannigan said attracts a crowd of "regulars," is a laid-back affair.

    "The people we see at lunch come here practically every day," she said.

    Instead of formal service, lunch patrons fill out an order form and pick up their meals straight from the kitchen.

    "I love food ... I cook all kinds of food," Hannigan said of her love for all things culinary. Two Moons Kitchen also offers to cater any type of event, from tailgate party to formal wedding, with any type of food.

    Two Moons participates in the Corner Meal Plan, and its prices are extremely reasonable, ranging from a $1 corn tamale to the $9 chicken burrito.

    But with the plethora of Mexican restaurants scattered around Charlottesville, what makes Two Moons rise above the rest?

    "What sets us apart is freshness, high quality, and a homey, casual feel," Hannigan said.

    And she is definitely telling the truth. Judging from the food's high caliber, Two Moons is well on its way to restoring the reputation of Mexican food.

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