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Best Mexican & Margaritas in DC Metro?

I'm in DC regularly for business, and I find myself always on the lookout for good mexican food and margaritas. I've tried Oyamel, Mixtec, Rio Grande, and Austin Grill. Oyamel was good but it felt like they tried way too hard. Egg foam on a margarita? Come on...I'm from Texas. Mixtec was recommended as more authentic, which it was, but their food wasn't that good and their margaritas were undrinkable. Rio Grande and Austin Grill are uninspiring chain restaurants. I can find food that mediocre back home.

Surely there are other options? Isn't there someplace with a full bar (with good tequila options) that serves good, authentic Mexican food? Price isn't an issue. It can be nice and expensive, or it can be a dive. I just am hungry for high-quality, delicious Mexican food in a place where I can get a good margarita. Any ideas? Thanks.

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  1. I've been hearing interesting things about Casa Oaxaca and am intrigued by "Cazuela de Queso con Salsa y Chapulines"

    varied comments on the board:


    1. what about alero? i know it is your average ol' chain but i think it fits the bill as far as yummy margaritas and good tex-mex food. very low key establishment as well, which IMO should always accompany margaritas.

      2 Replies
      1. re: polly parker

        I like the Dupont location of Alero the best. Fajitas and margaritas there - can't go wrong.

        1. re: MDoodle

          I agree... and their Chiles en Nogado is truly delicious... :)

      2. >>Rio Grande ... are uninspiring chain restaurants. I can find food that mediocre back home.

        If from TX, RG is just Uncle Julio's.

        Can't vouch for the Rita's, but the places in Bladensburg are generally regarded as the true Mexican (recent link below). No Rita's for sure, but Pepito's in Adam's Morgan and Gaithersburg, and finally TECC in Arlington.

        These are for the basics. If you're wanting to specify a particular style or region of Mexico, just specify and it may be around here. Folks from LA rarely seem to be happy with the offerings, for instance. And in general the true Mexican population is thin - not true for Salvadoran, Bolivian, Peruvian...


        2 Replies
        1. re: Dennis S

          I'm not a margarita drinker, but I do know the places in Bladensburg. I doubt that they have that kind of a liquor license. His best bet is probably Austin Grill.

          1. re: Dennis S

            Just to post on an appropriate thread - we finally have made our way through a decent portion of Teocalli's newly expanded - and more authentic - menu. Last night I had the bistec encebollado, my wife had pechuga de pollo, and we got some yuca con chicarron as well. First, everything was very good. The stand-out though was the cabbage with the yuca. My God - the stuff was insanely good. The yuca itself was a bit too bland and dry, the pork was good, but I think I'm ordering sides of the cabbage now every time I go!

            Anything off the expanded menu takes time - about 15 minutes. Also, even if you order something that you'd think would come off the line, I think it's specially prepared. I had a chimichanga a few weeks back and the chicken was not the chicken off the line (which is good).

            And as a note, they have sopas as well but I haven't gone there yet.

          2. I don't know about the food, but the margaritas at Tortilla Coast are quite good.

            1 Reply
            1. re: HilkaryIC

              TC's food is nothing special, but the room is lively.

              1. Guapos margaritas are quite good.

                1. I think you may have to give up on the good, authentic Mexican food quest. Around here, there is nothing even remotely resembling the Mexican food in CA or TX.

                  Strangely, I have friends from TX who love Cactus Cantina. I can't figure it out, because every time I've been there, the chips are stale, the food is terrible, and the margaritas taste like they come from a mix. It's especially strange because when I visited these very same people in TX, we went out for amazing Mexican food.

                  I prefer Guapo's. The margaritas are good; the food is ok.

                  PS - LOL on your description of Oyamel. It's a nice atmosphere but I agree on the food.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: sacrilicious

                    I don't mind Cactus Cantina or Lauriol Plaza (same owners). If I am going to Lauriol Plaza though their cuban inspired dishes are better. I think the one cuban owner had much more influence at this restaurant.

                    Cactus is good in a Rio Grande sort of way. I have never had stale chips, but I find the salsa bland, your right about the margs tasting as if from a mix. I have had some good dishes though. I had had some extremely moist and juicy pechuga de pollo.

                    But I again think Guajillo is better than both of them. But Cactus can have a nice tex mex bar feeling which maybe why your friends liked it. The big roomy, loud bar with the floor that looks like it could fit some line dancing and stuff all over.

                    1. re: ktmoomau

                      I agree with Guajillo- this is where I go for my Mexican fix. It is true Mexican- not Tex-Mex.

                    2. re: sacrilicious

                      Interesting you all mention Guapo's. I sometimes stay at a hotel in Bethesda, and there's a Guapo's right there. I've walked by it a dozen times and wondered if it's any good. Maybe I'll check it out...thanks.

                      1. re: sacrilicious

                        I agree...I moved here from California three years ago...and I still haven't found anything even close to what I am used to in CA. My husband dragged me to some place called California Tortilla in the Fair Oaks area. UUGGHH!!! I am craving some mexican food that I am used to...even a chicken soft taco from Del Taco. I never thought I would miss Del Taco!!!

                      2. We like Mi Rancho in Silver Spring. Better than Rio Grande/ Austin Grill. Were not experts but we like their Cuervo Gold Margaritas on the rocks.

                        1. I'm from Texas also (H-Town!), but I really enjoy Lauriol Plaza. They have great margaritas but the sangria is better.

                          Of course, its no Goode Co. Mexican-- My favorite place in Houston.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: GeauxMeganGeaux

                            I'm from Houston, too! La Hacienda is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Houston. Or maybe Cafe Adobe. Greasy, classic Tex-Mex. Of course, that's not going to exist in DC...or even in CA. I realize that I have to set my sights somewhat lower. But, you guys have all given me some great options for my next trip to DC. Thank you!

                            1. re: foodiesf

                              i can't help but wonder why you want an ethnic cuisine here in DC that is so much less authentic and delicious than what you can get at home. To me the point of traveling is to try new things, and try the best of what the local area offers. I would suggest trying what DC has that maybe Houston doesn't like African food (Etete, Bikram, Tom Tom) or my own personal fave, Middle eastern (Lebanese TAverna or Skewers). Seafood is also quite good and somewhat regionalized (crab cakes or bay crabs, rockfish). We have a bunch of different kinds of oriental places (pho and other vietnamese food, Thai, even Malaysian). French & Belgian places abound (Lavandou, Bistro Bis, Brasserie Beck, Marcel) and are quite good. We even have really good Italian (red sauce - Anna Marias; northern- Obelisk) but what we appear to NOT have is very much really good authentic mexican. So next time you come to DC you might think about visiting some of these places and then you'll be really hungry for the 'real deal' Mexican when you get back home!! :)

                              1. re: DCDOLL

                                there's a reason why i asked my question, and it's not because i don't understand "the point of traveling" as you call it. the point of my traveling to dc is to conduct business for the restaurant company i own there. and i go to lots of nice meals in new and interesting places while i'm there. i've been to etete, brasserie beck, citronelle, vidalia, city zen, obelisk, central, charlie palmer's, acadiana, jaleo, matchbox ... and probably 50 other lesser-known dc restaurants, all in the past year. so i'm clear on the options in dc, and i'm clear about the benefits of trying new things...that wasn't my question.

                                i really appreciate all those folks who gave me and my friends some new mexican food options in dc -- which is exactly the question i asked. thanks hounds!

                                1. re: foodiesf

                                  i understand...wasn't trying to tell you your business, just making a suggestion because i don't think mexican is all that here. So don't get huffy, i was only trying to make helpful suggestions as a local

                          2. If you are staying in Bethesda you might also check out Tia Queta. Haven't been in a while but I have good memories of it.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: elizzy

                              it's garbage, don't waste your time.

                            2. I like Lauriol Plaza/Cactus Cantina. Never had a bad meal; service on the otherhand is horrible sometimes.

                              Guapos was by far the worst mexican food I've ever had. Went twice thinking the first time was a fluke, but no such luck. OnTheBorder was four stars comparatively speaking.

                              Up in the suburbs, there is a little mom&pop operation called El Mexicano. They are really good.

                              1. What about El Paso Cafe in Arlington? I wasn't blown away by it, but several people that I know from your neck of the woods think that it's the best tex-mex in town.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: slwh

                                  one word re el paso: cucarachas!

                                2. get wise to this guy - he's in the restaurant business and is checking out a sadly under-represented mid-range quadrant. If I have that right, best of luck to you. It seems like in DC (esp. outside of the expense account sphere) you have to either hit the top of market or be Mom and Pop. and as with so many places I just wish they'd take the gloves off and not underestimate what I might like.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: hill food

                                    Truly, my partners and me just love good Mexican food. Nothing more, nothing less. We tried Guapo's last night, and it was a solid B. Their carne asada was tender and had lots of flavor. And they had my favorite tequila -- Don Julio reposado -- and made a good margarita. Overall, it was good.

                                    1. re: foodiesf

                                      I was just fooling, but it does seem to be an area for improvement around here.

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        I may be a little late on this...but weirdly enought Red Rock Canyon has my favorite Margarita, it comes with an olive! Strange I know...but darn good! Comes with its own shaker as well. When I need a Margarita fix, that is the ticket.

                                        1. re: Redsgirl

                                          Is this the place near the intersection of Rts. 28 & 29? Stopped in recently hoping to try a new Mexican/Southwestern joint, and was surprised to find a Sweetwater-like menu and environment. My entree salad was just ok but my friend raved about their rotisserie chicken as some of the best she'd ever had. Surprised I'd never heard of this place before. Curious what other hounds think of it. I liked it enough to go back if I'm in the area, and will def. try their margaritas.

                                          1. re: Meg

                                            Red Rock Canyon is located in Gaithersburg at the Rio, I believe there is one in Silver Spring. Tasty grilled Tuna, hearty Veggie Platter entree, Wood grilled Ribs, Chicken, Fish. Warning: They use alot of pepper ...over all pretty darn tasty and very hearty portions.
                                            Again....Looove the Margaritas!

                                  2. i'll stand by cactus cantina up Wisconsin. Even if it's not the best, it's just all-around fun.

                                    1. Guajillo in Arlington is excellent, and to my understanding, authentic Mexican (not Tex Mex). A woman I know from Mexico City who is a chef (not at that restaurant) recommends it highly. I've never had a bad meal there.

                                      1. I'm surprised someone hasn't suggested Banana Cafe on 8th St SE. Maybe it's more Cuban than Mexican, but they've got nice food and a full bar (with various tequilas, as I hazily recall).

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: chinkleDC

                                          Rosa Mexicano? I prefer Oyamel, but since you've BTDT and want a good bar/margaritas, this would be my next pick.