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Good mexican restaurants around MoCo for SoCal transplants?

We recently moved from Southern California and we are looking for some great Mexican restaurants around Montgomery County.

Preferably real Mexican and not so much Tex-Mex. Habaneras, cactus burritos, crispy carnitas style, mole, crunchy chimis, and goat tacos, pozoles, would be awesome.

We have been to Tia Queta in Bethesda; Rio Grande, Pepitos, and Taco Bar in Gaithersburg; Mi Rancho in Silver Spring and Germantown; el Mexicano in Germantown and North Potomac/Darnestown; Taco Tecuba (decent carnitas) in Germantown; we even tried the Salvadorian restaurant Juanitas near Redland (shady grove Metro) and it was decent.

Any suggestions? Nothing fancy, just awesome spicy mexican food is all we are looking for... Thanks in advance.

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  1. Get thee to Riverdale, where there are a dozen good choices.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Mister Big

      The now food editor of Washingtonian magazine, Todd Kliman, won a 2005 James Beard journalism award for writing several articles - including this one about this cluster of restaurants:
      Good News: these restaurants haven't changed; Bad News: no worthy additions in more prime zip codes where I can find a tamale that reminds me of something from Grandma's kitchen.

    2. This is a frequent request from recent SW/CA transplants to this area. We don't have a critical mass of Mexican immigrants here. Most of the Hispanics in this area, and on the East Coast in general, are from Central and South America and the Caribbean. Different food.
      The Mexican population in the DC Metro area has largely settled in the area that Mister Big mentions, around Riverdale in Prince Georges County. Lots of choices out there and it's not that far from Montgomery County.

      8 Replies
      1. re: MakingSense

        OK...in Riverdale, which restaurants would you guys recommend?

        1. re: dodomaster

          La Sirenita, El Tapatio, Taqueria Tres Reyes, and Alamo are the places that seem to be most favored over in PG county.

          These places aren't representative of the full range of Mexican cuisine, and not all of it is spectacular. I've been happy with tacos, tortas, and soups (tripe, seafood, pozole).

          Oh, and there is a decent place in Rockville - El Mariachi in Ritchie Center.

          And disclaimer on all of these places - they may be the best that the DC area has to offer, but they will be no better than middling to someone from SoCal.

          1. re: DanielK

            Thanks for the suggestions...

            Somebody told me to go to Los Cabos, close to UMD...
            Is that place any good?

            1. re: dodomaster

              GOOD LORD NO!! Fortunately for you and everyone else, I'm pretty sure Los Cabos has closed, anyway. In the event that I'm wrong, though, you would be wasting your time going there. The food is execrable.

              There are actually two good options near UMD: Costa Alegre, which is as good as any of the places in Riverdale, and Taqueria Esmeralda, a taco truck usually located in the parking lot of the Los Amigos market. That said, they probably won't make you forget about SoCal anytime soon.

            2. re: DanielK

              I can vouch for la Sirenita, El Tapatio, & Taqueria Tres Reyes in Riverdale. All are pretty good, authentic, & inexpensive. I'm curious if anyone has tried any of the taco trucks along Edmonston in Riverdale?

              1. re: potrzebie

                I've been to some of the taco trucks, though it's been a while. Good eats, but nothing stands out as head and shoulders above any of the other places nearby.

                1. re: alopez

                  Thanks for all the do's and don'ts...I guess its Riverdale for some good eats...

                  Any good place for tamales?

                  1. re: dodomaster

                    Search for the highly reviewed Salvadorean/Tex-Mex places - since tamales aren't specifically Mexican, those you can find pretty good around here.

        2. I think part of the problem is that people ask about "Mexican food" as though there is only one style of cuisine in that country. Some of it isn't even spicy. Do you want Oaxacan? Veracruzana? Comidas tipicas? A menu that has all of these probably isn't what you want as it is unlikely that any one restaurant does all of it well. In its heyday (at least 15 years ago), Tia Queta did a credible job, but no longer. Mi Rancho is the worst of the worst. I am sure the only reason it survived is that it was the only restaurant in that part of Silver Spring (except for the Tasty Diner on the corner) for many years. I haven't tried the Riverdale places yet. We really enjoy Azucar (Layhill Road) and Samantha's (Langley Park), same owners. Mostly Salvadoran, but absolutely superb food at great prices. The area best known for Mexican food is around Flower Avenue in Takoma Park - lots of carts/stands during the day, selling pupusas, tamales, etc. But in recent years, the cuisine in Takoma Park has diversified, so it is no longer a center of Mexican food and I don't know what to recommend there.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Just Visiting

            Being from SoCal, we would be partial to cuisine around the Baja California area, although we have pretty much traveled all over Mexico (Ensenada, La Paz, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Los Cabos, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Mexico City, Cancun, Cozumel). Nonetheless, from every area, we have enjoyed all the food and washed down with either good Mexican beer (Pacifico - my favorite) or good all fashioned tequila (Patron).

            1. re: Just Visiting

              As a SoCal native, I can tell you that you will be eating less Mexican food than you are used to, and forget about Machaca. I've never seen it here. There are some good places (I'm partial to El Tapatio and Taqueria Tres Reyes in Riverdale/Blandensburg), but also El Charrito Caminante in Arlington, Tacos Pepitos in Adams Morgan, and Taqueria Distrito Federal in Columbia Heights. The best Mexican food I have had on the East Coast is in Philadelphia (Taqueria Veracruzana is one of the best places I've ever been to).

              1. re: ChewFun

                Yeah you are probably right :(
                Thanks for all the places you quoted...i'll take my time, and visit each one and hopefully find one that's semi-decent...

                Boy...i guess all my previous binges with all the taquerias in LA will be hard to duplicate, but then again, its only 3000 miles away...

                1. re: dodomaster

                  You should learn to love pupusas. They are readily available and often delicious.

                  1. re: ChewFun

                    Just got back from El Tapatio #2 in Gaithersburg, which is the second restaurant of the original from Riverdale, and I'm sad to say their carnitas tacos were just okay. Almost no flavor and not finely chopped. Last week, we went to the El Mexicano in Darnestown, and while that place is also just okay, it had at least some decent carnitas.

                    Over the holidays, we took a trip to visit my folks in Southern California (Oxnard, Santa Barbara), and boy, the Oxnard tacquerias and the famous Lilly's in Santa Barbara (home of the tacos de ojos - eyeball tacos) had excellent carnitas. Nice and crispy outside, soft and juicy inside, spicy-flavored and marinated, and the pico and the sauce was just perfect.

                    So, my quest for something similar here in Maryland continues :(

                    1. re: dodomaster

                      We too are Santa Barbara transplants, having moved to Charles Town, WV in 1981. I currently work in Washington, D.C. and haven't really found anything truely authentic downtown. I am always comparing Mexican food here to Rose's Cafe in Santa Barbara, which while not a "beautiful" place, had great food. Since my husband is a retired chef (originally at Harry's Plaza and Joe's Cafe), we do a lot of Mexican cooking at home. Also if you're ever out in the country, there are several very good Mexican restaurants in our area.

                      1. re: 504028

                        Hey, actual SB expats...I went to school at UCSB in the 80s and we moved to Germantown, MD in 2003. Yes, my Mexican quest is still on...I will be in a leadership management class in Shepherdstown, WV for 2 weeks starting next week...any good mexican restaurants around that area? We regularly go to Harpers Ferry and Charles Town (for the races), but I haven't seen any mex places...maybe I haven't looked hard enough.

                        I am specifically looking for street style tacos (crispy carnitas on the outside and soft inside, nicely chopped, with just the right spicy sauce, pico, and homemade tortillas...maybe some good tamales, tacos al pastor, maybe some fish tacos...

                        Hey, Joe's Cafe brings back a lot of memories for me...Its the last leg of my previous State Street crawl...

            2. I am looking for a place that has seafood cocktail (pulpo, camarones, etc) that is close to clinton.... can anyone help?

              1. try azucar off layhill road and bel pre drive in plaza del mercado shopping center, silver spring. Great food. I love the crispy fried garlic infused whole red snapper. usually nothing left but bones and eye balls. Ceviche is excellent. Worth the trip.

                1. There is a little taco place on Georgia Avenue about a half block before you get to the Quarry House. It is called Taqueria El Mexicano. The exact address is 8417 Georgia Avenue. Easy walking distance from the Silver Spring metro. My husband and I popped in for lunch. The owner is Mexican--I can't remember if he's from Oaxaca or Puebla--and we had a very tasty lunch of tacos with sides of rice and beans. He even made the tacos vegetarian for me. Very nice guy and we liked it a lot.

                  If you want to go up a notch, try Casa Oaxaca at 2106 18th St. NW, in DC. It's walking distance from the Dupont Circle metro stop--get off at the Q St. exit, walk to 18th, hang a left and walk a few blocks. I really liked it--I love Oaxacan food.


                  I concur about the Riverdale recommendations. We've tried El Tipatio, La Serenita, and the Alamo, and like them all.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: eam531

                    A place I'd recommend for very good Mexican food in Montgomery County can be found in the last place you'd expect it: a dingy little strip mall on an out of the way road. Tipicos El Encanto at 8035 Snouffers School Rd. in Gaithersburg is my favorite place for Mexican. It's a very small store-front restaurant, and presently all the tables have been removed (I have no idea why...), so I usually do take-out. The owners and those who work at the counter/answer the phone are very nice, though occasionally I get someone on the phone who speaks only Spanish. It's the closest I've found to casual, authentic mexican food in this area.

                    1. re: zinfandel

                      Thanks for the recommendation...can't find a website for them...do they serve carnitas tacos/burritos?

                      1. re: dodomaster

                        They don't have a website as far as I'm aware. I've not looked for carnitas previously, however their steak tacos are excellent... but I will look at the menu at home tonight and report back re Carnitas. :)

                  2. I have not been able to find any good mexican food that really hits the spot.

                    I also moved here from LA a few years ago and having all those street stands with carne asada burritos and green chile i cannot find even a place to mimick those.

                    I've gotten pupusa's at a few places around here and they are all very skimpy with their fillings compared to the places i've had in socal too.

                    i am still on the hunt for just a place to make some good burritos...not this chipotle stuff that everyone here loves to death

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: DavidC

                      Across from the Maryland DMV in Gaithersburg, off of Clopper Rd in Gaithersburg, are 2 taco trucks that have acceptable, although not great food. It may bring back memories of the 101.

                    2. You should try Taqueria Nacionale on North Capitol Street. It is only take-out, and only lunch and breakfast, but the carnitas tacos are just what you're looking for. It is cheap and fantastic.

                      1. I thought I'd mention I've recently ran into a really good Mexican Taqueria that reminds me of the food I've had when I'd travel to Mexico. They have home made sauces and burritos that are very tasty. The place is called Taqueria Atotonilco and they are located on the western side of 695 near Security Mall. Their website is here: http://taqueria-atotonilco.com

                        Taqueria Atotonilco - Authentic Mexican Food
                        1724 Woodlawn Dr, Baltimore, MD

                        1. There's a new Mexican restaurant on Norbeck Road just off of Georgia Avenue. It replaced a Korean restaurant that had been there for a while. Anyone been?