Real Mexican food in DC?
Does it exist?
So far the best I've found is Baja Fresh, and that's pretty pathetic.
In addition to Pepitos, try Taqueria Distrito Federal in Columbia Heights. It's as real as it gets in this town.
No, most of the taqueria in the area are limited to tacos, tortas, and tamales.
You will probably have to head out to the suburbs for anything decent.
For snack food, my three favorites are:
Arlington, Taqueria El Charrito Caminante, goat tacos
Arlington: Taqueria San Vicente, chorizo
Riverdale, MD: La Placita, tacos al pastor (this is located in an area of Hyattsville and Riverdale dubbed Little Mexico where there are quite a few grungy places. How much it's worth exploring is debatable)
Also good are the tacos al pastor at the California-inspired Taqueria Poblano, two locations in Virginia, but they are available only after 5:30pm.
For other items, your best bets are both in Arlington:
Oyamel, here I really like the wild mushroom soup, rabbit with hiutlacoche, salmon ceviche.
Guajillo, good carnitas.
If you are limited to Metro, then Oyamel (in Crystal City) has the most wide-ranging menu and is the easiest to get to.
My husband is absolutely bonkers for Mexican food so we tried Oyamel in Crystal City. Even he was disappointed (usually, he can find something positive about anything). Our neighbors raved about the place but other than the desert and hot chocolate, neither of us were impressed. The decor was nice though.
However, as another poster stated below, we both give a thumbs up to Picante! The Real Taco in Chantilly. We've been back twice now and haven't had anything that wasn't tasty.
I'm a displaced Texan and have not had much Mexican here that I liked until last week at Alamo (in the Riverdale "Little Mexico").
Here is the review I wrote for my blog:
My Bike was Not at the Alamo, but We Had a Great Meal . . .
5508 KENILWORTH AVE
RIVERDALE, MD 20737
Have you been to the Alamo restaurant in Riverdale? This part of town is often called "Little Mexico" and if our recent meal there is any indication of the rest of the restaurants in the area, we are very lucky to live somewhat nearby.
Anchoring a small strip mall in Riverdale bearing its name, The Alamo Restaurant looks like just another place to grab a meal from the road. I had seen it written up here and there and never really thought about until we moved a bit closer.
Walking in, it looked much more like the Mexican restaurants I am familiar with from the Dallas–Fort Worth area than any I've seen in DC. Cast iron décor, low lighting, dark paneling, red booths, etc. Think San Antonio, just off the Riverwalk, South Austin, or other Little Mexicos. It reminded me of home and the Mexican restaurants I grew up exploring with my uncle (who managed a downtown Dallas Tex-Mex place), my family, and friends.
We were promptly seated and gave the menu a quick glance as the chips and salsa arrived. A quick taste and I soon knew that we were in for a good meal. Out come these perfectly crisp, thick chips with a deep corn flavor, you know the type: fresh, opaque, deep golden yellow. We were served individual mini-bowls of incredibly well balanced salsa. This was fabulous -- a touch of cumin, miniscule red peppers, a medium heat that built and just sat there for the rest of the meal, tiny pieces of cilantro. I care deeply about salsa and want it to taste spicy, not too sweet, with touches of garlic and fresh tomatoes. This was a solid 8.5 on a ten-point scale.
Alamo Restaurant has an extensive menu, but it was easy to narrow it down to a few options we wanted to try. T and I decided to split one of the bountiful combination plates and add a seafood enchilada on the side because we were both curious about it.
T ordered an iced tea and I indulged and ordered a horchata, a sweet cinnamon rice milk. It was a cool, refreshing treat on a hot day. Now I was a very happy diner enjoying my seven hundred and fifty-third scoop of salsa and chasing it with my cool mega-sized horchata, but little did I know what pleasure was to come from the meal being prepared for us.
Here's a walk through of the combination plate:
CHALUPAS COMPUESTAS: medium sized tostadas topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. T, not a major fan of refried beans (gasp!), thought the beans were the best he has tasted. Refried beans often end up falling into one of the following categories: pasty with lumps, runny with bits, and, well, somewhere in between. The best refried beans in my estimation are neither wet nor gritty. They taste more of beans and less of the overpowering chili powder, garlic, etc. that many places load them down with. These were notable in a meal of notables.
FLAUTAS – The flauta was a delicious, wet, but not dripping, generous portion of meat packed firmly into a deep fried tortilla. After biting into the flauta, much became clear about the kitchen at the Alamo. 1. These folks know meat and understand texture. 2. The kitchen uses broths to flavor their meats and the flavors are both deep and enjoyable.
TACO – The taco was your basic hard taco. Ground beef topped with shredded cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. Again, the meat had a wonderful, moist, flavor. Hints of chili powder and the juices of the meat made this an A+ taco. It got a bit wet, so I cradled it with one of the freshly grilled corn tortillas that came with the meal. Yum!
RICE – T was especially impressed by the rice. A generous pile of fluffy (no crusty pieces) rice with a tinge of tomato flavor.
NACHOS – The combo came with two nachos, each with generous portions of the soft yellow cheese so popular in Tex-Mex cooking. On top of the cheese were two slices of pickled jalapenos, and beneath the cheese, a spoonful of the delicious refried beans.
SEAFOOD ENCHILADA - The seafood enchilada was a find. Flavorful shredded crab filled a soft, wet tortilla, covered in cheese, and served steaming hot. I'll get a plate of these next time.
SHREDDED TURKEY MOLE - The shredded turkey was the only item that was a bit newer for us. We've both had our share of mole by this point in life, but I did not grow up with it and T had it later in life as well. This mole was worthy of creating some future nostalgia though. A deep intense mole sauce soaked the shredded turkey. This was best eaten with a tortilla so we could sop up the savory and sweet juices.
The combo platter also came with a cheese enchilada, but we were less interested with all that was on the plate. It passed the test, but was not much to blog about.
I am still finding it hard to believe we found such a place. It felt so incredibly like home to me and I can't wait to find others who have left Texas and are looking for the real deal.
I should note that it was quite Mexican and quite Tex-Mex at the same time. For those interested in reading about the difference and learning some good recipes, I highly recommend Robb Walsh's The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos.
Last, it would be odd not to comment on the striking seafood platters that kept leaving the kitchen and the heaping bowls of seafood soup. We counted nine orders of the seafood soup coming out and the grilled seafood platters were generous with some fine looking shrimp!
We look forward to a return trip! It'll be a heck of a lot cheaper than flying to Texas for my fix.