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Californian needs a Mexican food fix...

I'm a recent SoCal transplant, and I am appalled by the lack of good Mexican food in D.C. I am having a massive craving and need help. Please... any other Southwesterners here who know of good Mexican food in the city?

I've tried Lauriol Plaza, Guapo and Tia Queta (all on recommendations). The food was fine, but it wasn't down-home, tasty Mexican with a little kick that makes you go back begging for more. (Just to let you know what I'm working with, one of my co-workers recently told me, "Chipotle is pretty good." Seriously?)

I'll take any recommendations... though if I can avoid the Salvadoran/Peruvian knock-offs, that would be great. My stomach thanks you.

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  1. Get thee to Riverdale. Ten good Mexican restaurants and bakeries in a ten block area.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Mister Big

      What intersection should I start with? Any favorites?

    2. Guajillo in Arlington is absolutely delicious. Mole enchiladas. they've also opened a restaurant in Adams Morgan called 'Casa Oaxaca.' I haven't been yet but the Post food critic was raving about it before it opened.


      1. I would skip Guajillo. There is nothing like SoCal Mexican food here, although Taqueria Poblano gives it a good try (it would be middle-of-the-road in L.A.).

        The best tacos/burritos in town are at Taqueria Distrito Federal on 14th Street. Very good Salvadoran versions at Taqueria El Charrito Caminante in Arlington.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MartyL

          Taqueria Poblano on Mt. Vernon Ave in Alex is very good - I've eaten many place in LA and TP does it just as well. It is a small place, so either go early or prepare to wait

          1. re: MartyL

            There is nothing 'Salvadoran' about the goat taco at Taqueria El Charrito Caminante, which is excellent. I don't claim to be an expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn....

            And if you want to get more of a 'down home' taste, then I also recommend Tacos y Tortas Guadalejara in South Alexandria, especially the huaraches con birria, but it is probably a fur piece from where you live .

          2. I think I am well qualified to field this question, as I am transplanted Californian now living in Baltimore, and I lived in DC for 3 years. I know what you are looking for. I ate regularly at Tacos Morenos in Santa Cruz for four years, and then lived in the Mission DIstrict in San Francisco for three years. I am sorry to say that I have given up on the search for satisfying Mexican food on the east coast. I just can't take any more disappointment. My only suggestion is to go out west more often.

            4 Replies
            1. re: honeybee926

              Honey Bee, where do you eat Mexican in Baltimore.......

              1. re: Roundwood

                I generally don't but I am interested in trying some of the places in Fells Point mentioned on these boards - I know they will not be anything like the California Mexican the OP is looking for, but I've heard good things and I am curious (and I'll confess to the occasional Chipolte carnitas tacos when I am having a fast food emergency - on the road, ravenous, and in need of a quick, cheap meal - at least I know the pork is good quality, not the usual mass industrial mystery meat, and the food is clean and flavorful)

                1. re: Roundwood

                  Not Baltimore, but up in that direction....Try El Paraiso in Owings Mills on Reisterstown Road, near the 5 Guys, Aldi and Office Depot. Not 'true' Mexican, as I think it is owned and run by Salvadorans, but they make some really great food.


                  1. re: Pool Boy

                    There's always the Tortilleria, which in addition to fresh tortillas, makes terrific tacos. They sometimes have cabeza as a special, and it's fabulous. It's on Eastern Ave. in Fell's point. Much further down Eastern Ave, La Sirinita is also very good Mexican. I don't believe either are California or Baja style, but you can't get more "authentically" Mexican than these places.

              2. I grew up in Texas, but have been living on the East coast for the past two years now. I completely understand your longings, trust me. I know that Tex-Mex and Cali-style Mexican food are generally a bit different (as far as I know, Tex-Mex tends to be a bit greasier and gooey-er, while Cali/Baja style tends more towards fresher and lighter preparations). Regardless, I think I can safely recommend Rosa Mexicano, which is in the Chinatown area.

                I've only been once, and didn't try too many things...but I thoroughly enjoyed what I did have, and I feel that their prowess at tableside guacamole is generally a good sign for the rest of their cuisine.

                My friends and I shared an order of their tableside guac. It was fun to watch the fellow prepare it - he was clearly well practiced. The guac itself was, i thought, perfect - just the right balance of lime, cilantro, fresh tomato, pepper, salt, and jalapeno to balance the buttery avocado without overpowering. The chips were fine, slightly too salty and slightly too oily but still far better than most I've had since my big move. The fresh corn tortillas that also came with the dish were delicious.

                For my entree, I had the enchiladas suiza. Now, if I recall correctly, back home in Austin suiza meant they were served in some sort of creamy/sour cream based sauce. These were simply basic chicken enchiladas w/ a slightly tangy green tomatillo sauce and cheese melted over the top. They were tasty.

                The side dishes were, unfortunately, disappointing. The black beans had no flavor and an odd texture. I'm not usually a big fan of Mexican rice, and ours looked very unappetizing (it was far yellower than I'm used to - perhaps they added turmeric for some reason?) so I didn't try it.

                Atmosphere, decor, service were all good. I would go back, especially for the guacamole and tortillas. I would NOT say this is as good as what I get back home in Texas, but it certainly fills the void better than anywhere else I've tried.

                I assume people are going to ask, so:

                In DC, I've been to Oyamel (WAY overrated. I've been twice now, have tried quite a few of their dishes, and really don't understand the fuss. And they butcher their guacamole by dumping in far too much salt, sigh.) and La Plaza (hole in the wall in Eastern Market neighborhood - it was fine, good chips and salsa, bad queso, decent enchiladas. Nothing special.)

                I actually live in Philly and am just in DC for the summer, so the rest of my east coast Mexican experiences have been in Philly. They have not been very good. On the upside, all of this sub-par restaurant experience has really inspired me to develop my Mexican cooking at home! :-)

                Hope this helped!

                5 Replies
                1. re: Aloo0628

                  Is Tequilas still around in Philly? I think it was in the 1500 block of Locust.

                  1. re: Aloo0628

                    Really? Rosa Mexicana? I'm surprised. Every thing I've heard about it says its rather generic and not at all authentic. Maybe I should give it a try then.

                    How about the new lunch spot (forget the name) that is part of Johnny's Half Shell?

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      Rosa Mexicana has its strengths but it is by no means California-style Mexican food. I had a great meal there last December - good chips and guacamole, a braised short ribs dish that was fantastic, and a great tres leches cake. But I don't think this is what the OP is looking for.

                      1. re: Elyssa

                        Elyssa: well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by "authentic." I highly doubt that Rosa would be considered authentic MEXICAN by any means. But the guac and enchiladas are definitely reminiscent of the stuff I used to enjoy back home in Texas; definitely more "Tex-Mex" than authentic Mexican. And again, the beans were not very tasty and the rice looked...interesting. So while I would go back, I would NOT say this is some of the best Mexican I've ever had, and I do hope there is better/more authentic food out there. That said, if you go, order the tableside guac and tell me what you think, b/c I really enjoyed it. :-)

                        thatfarmgirl: Yes, Tequila's is around still, but I've heard mixed reviews, so I'm scared to try it. Would you recommend it?

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          They had a really good tortilla soup there. I've only been once and was very drunk, but I want to go back just to try the soup again. It made an impression on me.

                      2. I'm from Hermosa Beach and I can tell you that there is authentic Mexican food here. Go to Bladensburg/Riverdale just over the District line in PG County. El Tapatio, Taqueria Tres Reyes are great. They are super authentic, though none of them have Machaca. Taqueria Poblano is good, but hardly tastes like Southern California. I haven't found that taste here, but that's partly because the Mexicans in the area are from different parts of Mexico and there are a lot of Salvadorans. Learn to love the Pupusa, give up on the Machaca burrito (which I have yet to find). At Taqueria Tres Reyes they even have Tacos de Buche'.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: ChewFun

                          I would add Costa Alegre, which IMO is as good as anything in Bladensburg (I wouldn't say any of them are as good as anything in CA, though, sorry). Tacos, sopas, and tortas are all quite good.

                          I was very disappointed in my last visit to Taqueria Poblano, although I thought it was better in the past.

                          Costa Alegre
                          5815 Greenbelt Rd, College Park, MD 20740

                          1. re: alopez

                            The Taqueria Poblano in Arlington now borders on atrocious.

                            1. re: Steve

                              I am with Steve on this one, TP on Harrison leaves a bit to be desired, TP Del Ray is pretty good. I really like TECC on Washington Blvd in Arlington, tongue, pork and goat tacos are excellent (chorizo only fair) and the tortas is pretty good too, as is the tamarind drink.

                              1. re: Steve

                                I like Taqueria Poblano, even the one on Harrison. That's not to say I've never had a bad meal there (I have), but I've been there enough to ride through the rough spots. It's still the only place I have found East of Utah that serves a crispy/chewy taco (search my earlier posts for a full description of what I mean). The salsa is decent and, more often than not, the chips are fresh. I lke TECC (though I wouldn't call it Baja style). I need to get to Bladensberg/Riverdale.

                            2. re: ChewFun

                              ChewFun is right. If you want Mexican, Prince Georges County is where you gotta go. DC and the East Coast in general just don't have many Mexican immigrants. Not like the SW and California. Most of the Hispanics are Central and South Americans and Caribbeans. So we just have a different type of Hispanic food. There IS life beyond Mexican.
                              The Mexicans in the Metro area have mostly located in the Hyattsville, Laurel, Riverdale area and there are quite a number of restaurants out there. ChewFun has named some of the well know ones. Some other places have Mexican items on their menus to please the folks who live in the neighborhood.
                              Check the City Paper restaurant website by area for places in those towns. They list lots of greasy spoons that haven't yet shown up on CH. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/fo...

                              1. re: ChewFun

                                Where are El Tapatio and Taqueria Tres Reyes located?

                                1. re: nottooshabby

                                  They are in Bladensburg on the main drag (whose name escapes me, but you can do a web search). There are also places on Edmonston, a parallel street that at first will seem residential.

                                  1. re: ChewFun

                                    In my opinion El Tapatio is the best, especially for their tripe and al Pastor tacos. Easily the best of any that I've had in Maryland or DC.

                                    1. re: ChewFun

                                      El Tapatio - 4309 Kenilworth Ave
                                      Tres Reyes - 5403 Kenilworth Avenue

                                      my two faves are El Tapatio and La Sirenita (4911 Edmonston Rd), giving the edge to LS because it's bigger and you can be further away from the omnipresent too-loud jukebox music. tho I LOVE the guac at ET

                                2. At this time a year, Mi Rancho at 8701 Ramsey Ave. in downtown Silver Spring (walking distance from SS metro stop) is a good choice. Very nice shaded patio, good flour tortillas and decent array of Tex-Mex specialties (fajitas, shrimp, costillas recommended). OK, not as good as Texas, not as good as Calif., but on a nice evening after a few frozen margs or Negra Modelos, you might feel some of that ``little kick.'' We lived 5 years in San Antonio so I feel I know quality Mexican food when I taste it.

                                  1. I've been living here close to four years and I fly home to San Diego to get my fix. I've tried them all, and really nothing compares. There aren't a lot of Mexicans from Baja that come out here so there is a big difference in taste. If only I could clone Alberto's out here...

                                    Your best bet is to make your own Cali-Mex food at home. Find yourself a Mexican market, or even use the internet or ask your family and friends to send you a care package. The only thing that I wish I could find is an authentic tortilleria. Do any of you knwo of any good ones? I've found most of them incredibly bland around here.

                                    1. For authentic-style tacos, try Taqueria Nacionale on N. Capitol, near Union Station(take-out only). I especially like their green salsa.

                                      1. If you're wanting to stay in DC: It's not such great food (imo, some people like it a lot), nor Cal-Mex, but Mixtec in Adams Morgan definitely has a downhome feel, and its something of a neighborhood anchor. I'm pretty sure I've heard the owner is Mexican and travels back there for inspiration, and the posters of Mexican food covering the walls are great. It's also down the street (Columbia) from Pepitos which is a good taqueria.

                                        Someplace like Rosa Mexicano, in contrast, has food better than I expected, but it's in that upscale and expensive mode (not that there's anything wrong with that). Personally I think other restaurants do the guac-at-the-table thing better (Cafe Atlantico, eg), but I haven't exactly done a study of it. My point is not that it's bad at all, but not exactly down-home.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: mselectra

                                          A Texan here who has travelled extensively in Cali. Hate to say it, but good Mexican eats are just hard to come by in this area. Been here 5 yrs and have pretty much given up. Taqueria Nacionale is pretty good, but it's only open M-F 7-3:30pm. Please let us know if you find anything good. Maybe that place in Adams Morgan is OK, but I read a review in the Wash Post that was not very flattering.

                                          1. re: mselectra

                                            I'll add some kudos for Mixtec. I live across the street and eat there fairly often. I think it is quite good, reasonable, and authentic. The margaritas are also very tastey (but dangerously strong)...

                                            1. re: mselectra

                                              I just wanted to amend my earlier post about Mixtec to say that they've taken down all the food posters, which I had said I liked. I hadn't been there since they'd been doing renovations. When we went recently the son of the owner was waiting on us and he seemed pleased the posters were gone, I think he found them cheesy (so to speak).

                                              They are now decorating with these beautiful handmade tile pieces that the owner is having individually made in Mexico, so they're going up gradually.

                                              I know none of this is about the food -- just fyi.

                                            2. Have you tried Diego's in Severna Park. It's a little take out mostly place run by a family from San Diego that formerly owned a salsa company there. It's at 499 Ritchie Highway in a little strip mall.
                                              Here is a link:http://www.eatatdiegos.com/

                                              1. Also as a SoCal transplant, I've sought out that perfect Mexican meal, specifically the double corn tortilla Asada/Carnitas/Pastor taco, which doesn't seem to exist in this area. I've found, from the kind recommendations on this board, that a few places help to ease the pain, specifically El Charrito Caminante (in Arlington) and Pepito's (in Adams Morgan). Please report back when you have been to a few places. Would love to get more insight.

                                                1. i lived in dc before moving to tokyo. i have never been to cali (though i have been to mexico twice) and i don't know that much about mexican food, but i absolutely loved mixtec and miss it so much! located in adams morgan, very hole in the wall, cheap and down-home. right on the corner of columbia and 19th street (by the mcdonald's). get the pork. anything pork. and the mussel appetizer.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: taryn

                                                    Columbia and 18th, you mean ;), on Columbia just above the McDs. Don't know if it's really *foodie* downhome Mexican, but obviously has a following. I actually like their breakfasts best. Don't remember the mussels.

                                                    1. re: mselectra

                                                      oh thanks, what is sad is that i lived like one block from there, so i should know the address right? anyway, never tried the breakfast but i get cravings for that pork ;)