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Jan 14, 2002 08:50 PM

Found: good, cheap mexican

  • t

Ever since moving to this area 4 years ago I have been on a search, as have many, for good Mexican. Having grown up in Southern California I missed the simple, cheap food that was so easily accessible there. I tried Lauriol Plaza, Cactus Cantina...they were sufficient for the craving but little else. Then I found El Tamarindo in Dupont/Adams Morgan, at 18th and Columbian. While incredibly cheap and yummy, it still specialized in the Salvadoran side of things. Then I found Taco House in Arlington/Crystal City on the 23rd Street restaurant row. Yummy fajitas, enchilidas, and a pretty good combo plate. Specials are good too. For the most part quite cheap and friendly service. They have a patio which is nice in warmer times but the inside is just as good, with those big oil paintings of people in traditional clothing. It really reminds me the most of the food I would get in Southern California. Normally I wouldn't want to let the cat out of the bag but it looks like their business has fallen off a bit post-Sept. 11. I just wanted to share with those seeking good cheap Mexican.


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  1. Rio Grande Cafe is Uncle Julio's from Dallas. (Cactus Cantina copied Rio Grande when it first opened many years ago.) Baja Fresh is the same as the popular southern California chain. California Tortilla in Bethesda is really good and Gaujillo on Wilson Blvd. rivals some of what you would find in Tiajuana (ceviche, mole, serious top shelf margaritas). There's also a place on Mt. Vernon Avenue whose name escapes me that is quite good.
    I'll try the Taco House within the next week or two.
    We still need In 'n out Burger. I'd kill for a double double animal style or a four by four!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Joe

      Taqueria Poblano, 2400 Mt. Vernon Ave. Pretty good, and the tacos are baja/SoCal style. Still looking for a good carne asada or machaca burrito though.

      Had In N Out last week when I was in cali for a wedding. Oh the burgers...

      1. re: JJ

        Guajillo has excellent carne asada, by far the best in the area.

    2. Once I went to a huge Mex/Salvadorean place in the Bladensburg/Cheverly area. It might have been on Kenilworth Ave. My table companions knew at the end to have an authentic Latino dessert of cream cheese topped with some sort of gelatinized fruit topping. Sounds weird but it's good. Can't remember the name of place tho - the only one I have down on paper is the Alamo on Kenilworth Ave, near Value Village. Yes I know the neighborhood is questionable...

      6 Replies
      1. re: Lori

        I haven't been there in many years, but I'll bet the Alamo is the place you're talking about.

        1. re: Lori

          The place Lori describes on Kenilworth Ave. is Celito Linda.

          1. re: Pablo Naruda

            I've passed by Mexico Lindo on Rte 450/Annapolis Rd) in Cheverly, right near BW-Pkwy, Rte 202 & the PG Publick Playhouse (beautiful venue for theatre & concerts BTW, folks - a restored deco movie theatre). Any comments on that place?

          2. re: Lori

            The restaurant Lori is talking about on Kenilworth Ave. is "Celito Linda"

            1. re: Lori

              My favorite is Tequila Grande in Vienna. Not a very fancy name but the food is delicious and not all that expensive. I love mexican food and am quite picky :)


              1. re: Lori

                Just as a side note, across the street and about a half block down Kenilworth (towards 410) is a little Mexican hole-in-the-wall place called Taqueria Tres Reyes II. This place has some of the best authentic cheap Mexican food I've ever had. It definitely helps if you speak Spanish, though, as the last few times I've been I had to wait for the girl at the counter to find someone in the back who spoke English. :)

              2. I haven't checked this board in a few days, and so missed this post until today. It sounds like I am not the only transplanted Southern Californian who is constantly in search of the flavors of home. Taqueria Poblano was started by a homesick L.A. native, and is quite good for antojitos. No one has mentioned Tia Queta in Bethesda, which is not cheap, but has good Mex-Mex food. And Guajillo in Arlington is good. Which leads me to my big rant. Most people in this area do not understand the differences between Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex food. Locals are always asking me if I've been to Guapo's or Cactus Cantina when I complain about the dearth of Mexican restaurants in this area. The primary difference is corn, and specifically nixtamal/masa, lime-treated corn, which when ground is used for making tortillas, tamales, sopes, gorditas, etc. It is the defining aroma/flavor of true Mexican cuisines. And that leads to my other big rant about Mexican food in the DC area. No one uses fresh masa to make fresh tortillas in the local restaurants. Even Guajillo, which is one of the few places that makes fresh tortillas, uses Maseca, masa harina, the instant masa flour which is sold in supermarkets. (I don't know about Andale, haven't gotten there yet, but they are supposedly making fresh tortillas, as well.) There is a tortilla factory in this area, which makes masa from scratch (it's somewhere on the way to Baltimore), but the woman who runs Guajillo didn't know about it. I have started making my own masa from scratch, but the other problem is that none of the local Latin markets have the right kind of corn--the only dried corn they have is the large Peruvian "mote," or else dried sweet corn. What I need is dried field corn--the kind used for making corn meal. I brought back fifteen pounds in my suitcase, the last time I was back in CA, but I'm almost out. If anyone knows where I can get dried field corn, I'd appreciate hearing about it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: zora

                  Can't speak to the dried field corn, but I can heartily recommend Mixtec (south side of Columbia Road, just east of 18th St in Adams-Morgan). I used to drive down from Baltimore to eat at this place before moving to DC a few years back. Real Mexican food. Way better than the Tex-Mex that I grew up on (not that there's anything wrong with that). A friend of mine from Mexico City swears by the place as well. Surprised no one else mentioned it. Maybe the tortillas were better 10 years ago, and my Tex-Mex hospitality roots are offended by their charging for chips and salsa, but they place is undeniably great and deeply satisfying. On the bang for the buck scale, this is my favorite place to eat in Washington. My advice on the menu is: be adventurous -- you will be rewarded.

                2. For the Baltimore contingent, how about El Salto in Brooklyn Park (one in Parkville, too) My favorite Mexican around and the fact that it's the cheapest just adds to its appeal. Refried beans with lard, chile rellenos that make cardiologists wealthy, incredible chicken soft tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, a delicious shrimp cocktail/gazpacho....The atmosphere is an old Wendy's gutted out and repainted - put the food more than compensates for the lack of atmosphere. Lunch Specials are $4.00 and most dinner entrees are under $7.00. There are about 50 different combinations on the menu. No trendy Californian variations here, this is authentic Mexican.