It's beginning to look a lot like time to visit a shopping mall? Yep, 'tis the season for mistreating your Visa and Mastercard.

It's beginning to look a lot like time to visit a shopping mall? Yep, 'tis the season for mistreating your Visa and Mastercard.

But if malling around purchasing gifts you can hardly afford for people other than yourself sounds like a bummer, I have a suggestion that might help ease the experience. How about an all-in-one meal deal in an upscale shopping center that, for about $10, includes a good brunch dish plus dessert and a dull-the-pain cocktail? Ho ho ho, yeah, that can happen.

Most people know the Polaris-located Cantina Laredo as a white-tablecloth Mexican restaurant with a kind of pricey-side menu. That's mostly true except for its surprising Sunday brunch, when dishes served with drinks, sides and even a sweet run considerably cheaper.

The brunch starts in a roomy booth or at a nice table in a kitsch-free Mexican eatery that defies expectations of its over-La-Bamba-ed genre. Here, amidst blond wood and tasteful appointments, you'll be treated to the best free tortilla chips and salsaanywhere in Columbus.

Accompanying still-warm, ungreasy chips - which arrive in gleaming silver bowls -are a dynamic duo of dips. One is a terrific and toasty tomatillo that's served warm and delivers a mild chili punch; the other is a chilled, piquant and fruity roasted tomato salsa that shames nondistinct versions deposited to tables at legions of nondistinct Mexican restaurants.

To up the appetizer ante - especially if in a group - I recommend splurging on the excellent and huge "Top Shelf Guacamole" ($9.50). Prepared tableside in a little ritual emphasizing its utter freshness, it's made right and tastes right (i.e. featuresdetectable cilantro and chilis).

Eight entrees compose the Sunday brunch menu (served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and each generously comes with either a pleasantly fizzy mimosa or a potent Bloody Maria (moderately spicy Bloody Mary made with tequila).

What's more, they're also served with a warm, soft and sweet roll, scalloped potatoes (a bit homely looking but rich, tangy, peppery, crunched-up with breadcrumbs and fairly irresistible) and a good-sized flaky fried flour tortilla bowl sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and filled with lots of ripe mango, cantaloupe and strawberries.

Main course-wise, Migas Con Huevos ($10) were easy to like. A simple but colorful and flavorful combo, they were a large mass of eggs carefully scrambled with sauteed tortilla strips, bacon, mild jalapenos and diced tomatoes.

Also capitalizing on the innately comforting charms of toasted corn in the form of tortilla strips (and not just made with common old chips) were Cantina Laredo's excellent Chilaquiles ($10). Strands of chicken -lots of them - were married to the tortillas via a deep, red mole-like cascabel pepper sauce in this almost-stewy,eggless entree.

At least as good, even though it was missing the menu-described poblano peppers, was the Carne Asada y Huevos ($13). A lean but excitingly juicy, medium-sized flank steak bore attractive grill marks and smoky grill flavor. Crowning the "mmmmm"-eliciting meat was a flattering lime and onion-heavy chimichurri sauce. Two perfect over-easies added to the deliciously indulgent brunch.

Who knows, cocktail-loaded, shopping-break deals like these might just have you waltzing away thinking "credit-card crunch be damned" while joyously humming "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable