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Little Bites: Out with the Old, In with the New (Menus) 

An industry roundup of changing menus in Central Oregon.

It may be a few weeks before patio dining season truly begins in earnest, but Bend restaurants are already busy this spring with menu changes and expanded hours. Downtown, the popular Mexican bistro El Jimador has reopened with a totally revamped menu after a prolonged, if temporary closure. The new menu was developed by co-owner Baltazar Chavez who partenered up with owner Roberto Anaya to reinvigorate the restaurant, which like many others has struggled to stay viable in Bend's fragile economy. However, Chavez, who still owns his namesake restaurant on Bend's westside, said he is confident that customers will embrace the new menu, which leans heavily toward more seafood and authentic preparations.

"I grew up in Mexico eating seafood. My dad was a fisherman. I ate seafood everyday and I still love it," Chavez said earlier this week while walking me through his new lunch menu.

The noon-hour menu includes such enticing dishes as lobster enchiladas ($11) and Camarones al Mojo de Aja (shrimp in a butter mushroom garlic sauce, $11). While the prices are slightly more than a grab-and-go affair, diners are greeted with hefty portions and, based on what we saw, colorful and creative preparations.

Diners can expect to find many of the classic Mexican dishes on the dinner menu with entrees ranging from $12-20. We made a mental note of the Camarones con Tocino (bacon wrapped prawns, $16). Another attractive option for the time pressed or chronically thrifty is the new happy hour, which includes a number of smaller plate options and an ample array of drink specials. Speaking of drinks, if you're searching for the perfect tequila shot, you'll most likely find it here. El Jimador has 33, yes 33, different brands of tequila on the shelf, including a few "f**k the recession" shots at $25 a bump.

In other downtown news, 900 Wall recently opened its doors for the lunch hour and has rolled out a new mid-day menu that includes plenty of reasons to add 900 back onto your mid-day rotation. In addition to several wood-fired pizzas, 900 is offering a bevy of sandwiches including the incomparable 900 Wall burger. But don't overlook the wild shrimp sandwich served with avocado, aioli and bacon or the Carnegie Pastrami sandwich with gruyere.

Finally, Tart Bistro announced this week that it has revamped its menu to sharpen the focus on its French influences. Tart owner Corey Donovan assures the menu will remain both accessible and affordable and that the new direction will offer diners a range of options that come directly out of the French bistro tradition. Among the new menu items are succulent confit duck leg and wings, rustic pate de campagne, wild mushroom fricassée, and a smoked salmon Salad Nicoise.

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