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Help with Tex-Mex please!

Hi All,

I usually frequent Rio Grande in Bethesda (best steak fajitas I know of in DC/MD) and Cactus Cantina for my Tex-Mex cravings, but I'm in the need of something new. Do you guys have any suggestions?

Guapos is decent but I prefer Rio. Lauriol Plaza is identical to Cactus Cantina imo and Cactus is closer to me. Ive only been to Austin Grill once and I thought it was terrible. Ive been to El Mariachi on rockville pike (it was ok), Tia Queta in Bethesda (more Mex-Mex, not bad nothing great, it's a crime they serve chips from a bag rather than homemade though), and that's really it...

Any Tex-Mex (great fajitas, chips, chile con queso) places you guys recommend? There has to be something I havent tried yet.


P.S. I plan on trying that place in Layhill, El Napolita (sp?) soon, even though it is more mex-mex seafood focused (I love seafood).

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  1. curious, what didn't you like about Austin Grill. I haven't been in a couple years, but have always held it in high esteem. Wish there was one closer to me.

    I agree that Rio has the best steak fajitas around, and am also jonesing for a new mexican find (particularly in Northern VA).

    On the Border has really impressed me recently, especially for a chain. I always tend to get the same thing, carnitas fajitas, because I like them so much, but they also have good chips and salsa, queso, and yummy beef brisket tacos.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Meg

      you know, i dont even remember what I had there, and Im not sure I even ordered fajitas... all I know is that I distinctly remember leaving austin grill and saying, "that place sucks, im never going back." maybe ill have to give it a second shot...

      On the Border is good, but I consider Rio to be better.

    2. If you go to El Napalito do not expect the fajitas to be great, they are ok, but only ok. On the other hand, they make the best chili relleno in town. I always order fish when I go there (well a chili relleno to start, then fish) because they do it so well.

      3 Replies
      1. re: dinwiddie

        yes, i wasnt planning on getting standard tex-mex dishes there. good to know about the chili relleno. im excited to try it out.

        any other reco's for when I got to El Napalito?

        1. re: MarcDC

          Actually, the carne asada is pretty good. But I always ask about their specials. We went last night and the sea bass was excellent.

        2. re: dinwiddie

          fans of chile relleno should try the superb mex-mex version at La Sirenita in Hyattsville's Little Mexico area, Edmonston Rd.

        3. This is not my reccomendation, but this is secondhand. How about Guajillo?

          4 Replies
          1. re: jpschust

            hmmm... never heard of it, do you know where it is? (ill google it in the mean time)

            1. re: MarcDC

              Guajillo is in Arlington, on Wilson Blvd. between Rosslyn and Courthouse (right next to Ray's the Steaks). Good to very good Mexican food.

              1. re: jaydreb

                thanks, ill have to check that one out.

            2. re: jpschust

              Guajillo is good. I wouldn't call it Tex Mex, but it's a great change up from the usual Mexican, with great ambience to boot (i.e., it's not a dive) if that's what you're looking for. Beware of long lines on weekends for a table.

            3. In my opinion, Chipotle on US1 College Park is better than any of the more classic restaurants I've tried in the area.

              2 Replies
              1. re: pmfurdyn

                Chipotle is burritos basically, not what I would consider a sit down tex-mex place where you go to have chips, salsa, chile con queso, margaritas, fajitas, tacos, etc

                that being said, they have good burritos.

                1. re: pmfurdyn

                  Less than a mile from the CP Chipotle (and across the street from the Greenbelt outpost) you can get very good, authentic Mexican cooking at Costa Alegre. It's more Mex-Mex than Tex-Mex, though.

                2. I have had some fun times and good food at El Paso Cafe off Glebe Rd in Arlington (reminds me a lot of Rio Grande actually but more 'mom and pop'). In addition, they make good margaritas and have a live mariachi band on weekends sometimes. FYI - it doesn't look like much from the outside so don't be scared off.

                  Also, I think lots of Tex-Mex places can have 'off nights' because of crowdsand kitchen turnover, so I would encourage you at least to give 'South Austin Grill' a try (maybe rather than the original Austin Grill). There is one in Burke and one in Old Town and I have enjoyed both - the Old Town one more so. The pork carnitas are one of my favorite Tex-Mex entrees in the area.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: baconjen

                    thanks for the suggestions baconjen!

                    1. re: baconjen

                      I'd pass-o on El Paso. ROACH crawled up on the wall behind me, as next table diners looked on in horror. Staff did not seem surprised AT ALL. Not too quick to act either. That was it. Never will go back -- esp. as the food was just mediocre.

                    2. It's funny - I've been going to Rio Grande forever -- two hour wait you can count on. And no matter how much I say I'm gonna move on, I have **never** ordered anything else but beef frajitas. They're that good. And I haven't found anywhere else in the DC area that comes close.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: xnyorkr

                        I wish I could find another place that does it as well just for variety's sake. It doesnt need to be prepared the same way (and I would prefer if it wasnt) but it needs to be just as delicious. We dont have a great tex-mex selection in this area.... nothing like Dallas, TX (my younger brother goes to college there)

                      2. Silverado's (part of the GAR group) in Annandale gets very good reviews for their fajitas (served with cowboy beans and cumin rice as sides). They also make a decent salsa to go on their chips. There used to be a bigger selection of Tex-Mex food on their menu, but they've switched over to more "just American" fare.

                        1. Mi Rancho in Silver Spring is the other one that comes to mind as being in the Rio Grande-Cactus Cantina model (which I, too, prefer to Austin Grill for my Tex-Mex fix -- and I think you're also right that Guapo's is close but not quite as good).

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                            We love Tex Mex at our house and have tried about everywhere in Northern Va and DC that you are mentioning.

                            I would encourage you to try Austin Grill again - especially the Old Town location. They have the absolute best wings ever! They are marinated in a dry rub for 24 hours and then grilled. We usually share those and an order of beef fajitas and it is a great meal.

                            For fajitas, I think Guapos is very good - they are one of the few places that ask how you want the steak cooked and actually do it to order. If you are close to the Shirlington location during the week, they have a killer lunch buffet that would allow you to try lots of their dishes.

                            I like Lauriol for the outdoor seating and the chips and salsa, but overall, I think the food has gradually gone downhill. We were there last week and were very disappointed.

                            Guajillo is good, but not really tex mex. But, worth trying.

                            Taqueria Poblano in Del Ray is very good, not really Tex Mex, but one of our favorite places for a weeknight meal. Their "tostada" which is more of a huge salad with shredded beef is so good and fresh with guac, pico, etc.

                            And, then there is El Puerto on Rt. 1 in Alexandria which is your typical tex mex family-owned joint with the 30 or 40 combo choices. Sometimes that gloppy melted cheese and red sauce just hits the spot.

                            1. re: DC Gal

                              DC Gal, at some point ill give Austin Grill a shot again, but I have to tell you, the uber americanized menu is really a turn off. Yes, I know Tex-Mex IS American but you know what I mean... wings, texas chilli, and sandwiches at a tex-mex place?

                            2. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                              Second the nod for Mi Rancho. We've converted several friends who were longtime Rio Grande (Bethesda) regulars who were fed up with the long waits and parking hassles.

                              1. re: tubman

                                Great! Thanks tubman and Bill on Capitol Hill! I'll give Mi Rancho a try

                                1. re: MarcDC

                                  I too wanted to like Mi Rancho given the hassles of Rio Grande, but I found the food sub par -- the old congelled re-fried beans of past days, and speaking of chille rellenos -- uneatable lumps of cheese. Also, I don't mind dumps if the food is worth it, but it's just a dump. Fajita Coast on University Blvd and Colesville has potential -- it's a direct rip off of Rio Grande, a big place that's never packed.

                                  1. re: Marissa

                                    I was finally able to get to Mi Rancho.... some thoughts:

                                    1. The chips and salsa are very very good
                                    2. The chile con queso is terrbile, tasting similar to melted velveeta with little to no chiles in the cheese (it also gets very coagulated once it cools down)
                                    3. The margaritas are average, nothing to write home about yet nothing wrong with them
                                    4. The beef fajitas are good but were overcooked. I got the dish with the three accompanying butterflied shrimp and while the shrimp was good, it did not come with butter. While this isnt necessarily a bad thing, I was expecting butter bc both Rio and Guapos serve butter with the shrimp. When I did finally ask for butter it was just normal melted butter vs. the "mexican" butter served at Rio and Guapos (which i think has some chardonnay in it and some herbs and garlic)
                                    5. The rice is average and the refried beans are terrible
                                    6. They DO NOT have fresh jalapenos, only canned, which is a HUGE disappoint for me. How can a Tex-Mex (or any mexican place) not have fresh jalapeno peppers

                                    While Mi Rancho was a nice change of place from Rio Grande and Guapos I will definitely not being making a specific trip back there. Im back to square one, still unable to find a local (DC/MD/VA) Tex-Mex place that is capable of unseating Rio Grande with Guapos and Cactus Cantina tied at the #2 spot.

                                    1. re: MarcDC

                                      I'm a displaced Texan (Dallas, Austin) searching for the good TexMex and Mex myself. I have to agree on Cactus Cantina. I always think I'm not going to like it, but I do. If I recall, Rio Grande is owned by the same people as Uncle Julio's a Tex Mex chain in TX that is known for their fajitas. Now if I could just get a Mercado Juarez, Aca y Alla, or Papasito's!

                                      My favorites --

                                      Alamo Restaurant in Bladensburg

                                      El Tapatio (just went today for Tacos al Pastor which were AWESOME


                                      Los Tios - consistent and flavorful in Del Ray

                                      La Lomita (near 14th and Penn SE) often delicious fajitas, warm and tasty chips.

                                      Good Luck!

                                        1. re: dcfb

                                          Alamo Restaurant is fantastic Tex-Mex. I'm from San Antonio. This place reminded me of home!
                                          The chips and salsa are wonderful. The fajitas were sizzling hot with fresh meat and plenty of guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.
                                          We go here often because the service is always friendly and food is consistently delicious.

                              2. I am hesitant to add my opinion here about my favorite place to eat every week because I don't want it to get too crowded, but here goes! El Andariego, in Ashton, MD is excellent. They are owned by Salvadoreans, and serve Mex, Tex-Mex and Salvadorean food. The fajitas are very good, but my favorites on the menu are: the rib and fajita combo, or just the ribs (costillo), tacos mexicanos, enchiladas super de pollo, and for Salvadorean specialties, cheese pupusas with this really great slaw, corn tamales, and fried plaintains. I love the refried beans here. The chips are fresh, the margaritas are fine, and the service is really friendly. There is often a wait on weekend nights. The most surprising thing here is the cheese flan dessert. I usually would not order dessert at a mexican restaurant, but cheese flan is one of the best things you will ever eat!

                                This is located in a strip mall at the corner of Rt 108 and New Hampshire Ave out in Montgomery County. Don't be fooled by the strip mall location.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: janemegg

                                  The strip mall rule should be a general one- Mark's Duck House with excellent Duck is in a strip mall. The best sushi restaurant in San Diego (Sushi Ota) is in a strip mall...

                                  1. re: janemegg

                                    I was here a few months ago and thought it mediocre, at best. The Salvadorean stuff was ok, but there are far better Salvadorean places in the area. Fajitas were pretty bad - the costillas were oddly sweet, as if they'd thrown american BBQ sauce on them. The chicken was a bit dry, and the steak chewy.

                                    Silver Spring and Wheaton have much better Salvadorean places, IMO.

                                    1. re: DanielK

                                      Daniel, I have to tell you, I've never been to a Salvadorean place, can you recommend one or two that I should check out for my first time? Is that place El Napalito salvadorean?

                                      1. re: MarcDC

                                        Samantha's in Silver Spring and Los Chorros in Wheaton are my favorite Salvadorean places in that area.

                                        Most (not all) of the "Mexican" places in the DC area are owned/run by Salvadoreans. They seem convinced that gringos won't eat Salvadorean food, so they put burritos, tacos, fajitas, etc. on the menu. They're rarely good, and also rarely a window into the kitchen's capabilities. Look for things like pupusas, tamales, seafood soup, and lots of grilled dishes. Most of them have a "Salvadorean Specialties" or some such section on the menu.

                                        El Nopalito's heritage seems to actually be Mexican, not Salvadorean - I just didn't think it was all that great. Especially compared to the better (and much cheaper) places in the "Little Mexico" area of PG County like La Sirenita, El Tapatio, and Taqueria Tres Reyes.

                                  2. My personal fav is La Plaza near eastern market on Capitol Hill. Definitely not fancy, but good, consistant food and super friendly owner/staff. Great neighborhood place.

                                    Plus, if you're pleasant they'll usually comp you a post-dinner shot of tequila. :)

                                    1. Alero in Dupont/Cleveland Park/U St. is decent for a laid back after work tex-mex meal.