By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

Fort Hood may be the country's largest military installation but - barring "DFACs," or mess hall-style dining facilities - there aren't too many places to eat on post, evidenced by the mass lunchtime exodus each workday.

One new restaurant on Fort Hood Street, just beyond Fort Hood's East Gate, has already become a favorite with post soldiers and civilian employees alike.

Las Margaritas Grill & Bar, which opened in March, was packed with diners sporting Army combat uniforms during a recent visit, their drab colors making the sit-down and takeout restaurant's warm, bright decor pop.

In addition to its namesake drink, Las Margaritas offers authentic Jalisco cuisine, courtesy of Jalisco native and longtime Killeen resident Maria Leon.

Leon and her husband, brothers and sisters own 18 Mexican restaurants between here and Waco, including México Lindo, with two locations in Killeen, and Taqueria Mexico in Harker Heights.

Leon's been in the business for almost 20 years, she said, and running a successful restaurant is about hard work and maintaining a quality product while keeping prices reasonable.

The Mexican state of Jalisco has a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Its spicy cuisine is one of the country's most popular and features salsas, seafood, a thinly-sliced grilled beef called carne asada and the supposed hangover cure soup called menudo, among other well-known dishes.

There's an emphasis on freshness and flavor that Leon said she strives to uphold.

Even the tortillas are handmade, said manager Gustavo Garcia. "Three ladies are here all day making tortillas."

Eating lunch out on the restaurant's breezy, enclosed patio Friday, Killeen resident and Fort Hood civilian employee Kidada Mitchell said she was enjoying her enchiladas al carbon.

Good food, coupled with the restaurant's location make it ideal for a workweek meal, she said. "It's right outside the gate, so we can make it in the hour lunch we have."

Her co-worker Kevin Brown said he was enjoying his Mexican plate, awarding the restaurant a "seven or eight" on a scale of one to 10.

"Hard to believe it used to be a Pizza Hut," he said, referring the building's one-time occupant.

Leon loves her Fort Hood clientele, she said, but she's also trying to boost evening and weekend business with a daily happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. and late-night karaoke on Thursday and Friday nights.

The restaurant also opens at 6 a.m. for breakfast. It closes at midnight, except for Thursdays and Fridays, when it closes at 2 a.m.

Most people eat inside the restaurant, Leon said, but there's also a drive-thru window.

Las Margaritas is at 412 N. Fort Hood St. For more information, call (254) 634-3700.

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