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Just moved from LA...need REAL Mexican!

I'm originally from Maryland but have lived in Los Angeles for the past six years. Now I'm back and my Mexican tastes have changed since living in LA. Everyone here thinks that Rio Grande is good Mexican!! ha ha! I need some real, authentic, hole in the wall Mexican in the Bethesda/Rockville or surrounding areas. Help!!! A good sushi place too if anyone knows of one...

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  1. First you need to specify what "Mexican" you want. LA Mex is not real Mex just as Tex Mex ain't - though both are a fine thing to search for. (See - there are some who will argue with you on the RG reference AND be right)

    Second - specifics help - what ARE you looking for. Dishes, tastes in dishes, etc.

    Third - There isn't much true Mex here. A decent amount of tex mex, and some very southern mex. Apparently very little baja mex, or so-cal mex.

    Now - that you have that. The area is great in mid-AM and northern SO AM food. Peruvian, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Yucatan-ian(?), etc!

    Let us know your distinct cravings. Open your mind and stomach. Let's go from there.

    Welcome to the area!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      Hm...well, last I checked the places I went to in LA were run by, cooked by and served by Mexicans. Tito's Tacos, La Cabana. I don't think you can really argue that it's not really Mexican. I'm talking about where the chips are homemade, the refried beans are fabulous and they know what a real fish taco is. or dare I say, some fabulous Sopes. I don't want tex mex, I can find that in plenty of places. I want the place that most people in DC don't know about and won't go to because they think the food is weird.

      1. re: novice16

        I feel bad for all LA and SF transplants. The realization that we have no real Mexican or good burritos is a common one.

        My recommendation is Taqueria Districto Federal in D.C. on 14th and Otis. It's tacos and posole, but very good.

        1. re: Culocho

          I 2nd the TDF recommendation. Two things though: the cross street is Oak, not Otis and I'm pretty sure the posole is only available on the weekends.

        2. re: novice16

          La Cabana used to be one of my regular haunts in the 80s. Yum. Your best bet for authentic Mexican food is in Riverdale/Bladensburg. The places are mostly not on the main drag, but there is some good stuff there, especially. They are on Edmonston, mostly. Taqueria Tres Reyes II is really good. El Tapatio is also good. Some of the places are Spanish language only. I always say that if goat, tongue, rabbit, or liver are on the menu, it's going to be a good place. What I really miss is machaca. I've never seen it here. Also, you're not going to get the fried tacos you find in some of the older L.A. places, like La Cabana or Gilbert's El Indio. Now if only we had some of the Mexican chains they have in L.A., like Pachanga, They are like really good versions of Baja Fresh. I'd also love it if there were some Oaxacan places here.

          1. re: novice16

            To say in LA it's served by Mexicans is missing the point. The stuff in TX is as well and it's different. Less Baja influence to start with, and the LA area puts a spin on things.

            Mexico is a large country with distinctions throughout, and the immigrated areas end up altering what's put out.

            Fish taco - for instance. There's the baja breaded style which you're probably referring to, but there is the grilled style

        3. I have only spent a few days in Mexico but Taqueria el Caminante Charito seems close to the real deal. Their lengua tacos with salsa verde are outstanding, as is the pork, chorizo is ok. The tortas sandwich with its chunk of avocado is very good, as is the tamarind drink they serve and the pupusa revuelta is tasty and has a little hint of herbs. This isn't like the tex-mex I have eaten, or the california mexican I had in San Diego, but it is closer to San Diego I think.
          No tables, just stools, but there is a park nearby with picnic tables. TECC is not only outstanding, but 3 meaty tacos run $6!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ziv

            He used to go on vacation for two weeks a year when he was in the truck/trailer. I asked him once where he went, and he said "home". Asking where that was he said Southern Mexico.

            If someone could ask him, his Dad or Mom, that'd be great. I will next time I'm there, but that'll probably be a few weeks.

            Just like you're missing your Tex Mex and the OP is missing their LA Mex, the reality is that we should be happy with our DC Mex, Guatemalan, Peruvian, Salvadoran, etc.

            1. We've run into the same problems, and we live in Gaithersburg. There are a couple of so-called Tex-Mex places, but they don't live up to what we like. I used to live in Nuevo Laredo years ago (when it was fun and safe), and enjoyed many different kinds of foods there.

              So, the only best solution we've come across is for me to make our own. Enchiladas and Tacos are "comfort food" for me, so when I get the "need" I make my own Enchiladas. The sauce is fairly easy to make, and when I do it, I try to make everything the day before, that way the spices/herbs have a good chance to marry in with whatever meat I'm using.

              If I use chicken, I buy the rotisserie, but if i do beef or pork, I do them in a slow cooker in the sauce the day before, let it cool and clear off whatever fat congeals at the top. Then it's a matter of pulling apart the meat and rolling your own.

              1. As a lifelong L.A. resident who moved out here a few years ago, the closest I've found so far is Pepito's Bakery in Adams-Morgan and El Charrito Caminante in Arlington. Both are as close to the "taco truck" experience I have yet found, although both are in retail locations.

                2 Replies
                1. re: biscuit

                  TECC was in a truck (actually a trailer) until he earned and saved enough to open the storefront - which was probably around 2005.

                  The trailer was over at the end of Pershing where it meets 50 - just across from Ft. Myer's. Before that he was in Ballston.

                  There was a time when the ABC store tried to run him off. After a while they were successful and he kept switching locations. Then he shut down for a while entirely while getting the storefront going. I had a really hard time during this period - including recruiting someone fluent in Spanish and asking any Hispanic we saw in the area. I contemplated making ads using a pic of the trailer I had - "Have you seen this truck?"

                  1. re: biscuit

                    biscuit -- have you tried Taqueria Distrito Federal? I get take-out more often from Pepito's, because it's closer to my place, but I think TDF is a bit better.

                    To the OP -- Just fyi -- Ann Cashion studied the supposedly best LA taco trucks to model Taqueria Nacionale on, trying to recreate their salsas, etc. I think she probably uses better ingredients than most more "authentic" taquerias, actually.

                  2. I can sympathize (10 years in SF) all I can really say is - see a Burrito Brothers? just keep walking.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: hill food

                      THANK GOD somebody else realizes how abysmal their "burritos" are. I went to the one in international square and was quite sorely disappointed.

                      OP, i feel for you...i love mexican food and have been very disappointed by the selection around these parts. there IS a burrito cart at 17th and K that serves pretty decent (albeit meatless) ones. i always douse mine in tons of hot sauce. they're not the quality that you're used to, but they'll do to sate a craving.

                      People are always raving about Oyamel but i haven't been there so i don't know. From what I hear, i'd say it probably isn't authentic or at all like what you're used to, but i'm sure it's still good food in its own right.

                      1. re: littlew1ng

                        I think that Oyamel is authentic, I say as an Angelino, but it isn't common. It's probably more Mexican food cooked by an ambitious Mexican cook rather than just a good Mexican cook. It's not a combination plate kind of place.

                        1. re: littlew1ng

                          I don't mean to completely trash BB - just not what I'm looking for. the cart at 17 and K NW is ok, I just wish he'd make his own pico rather than rely on bottled salsa - how hard is that? (maybe that's changed, it's been a while) what really astounded me with that story was how hard he had to fight for his license selling veg burritos, at a time when one was really rolling dice eating at the dog carts.

                      2. Good luck. We moved from Ventura County CA area next to LA 6 years ago and I have been looking, trying, tasting, and feeling disappointed with the local mex food around here. I certainly miss the crunchy carnitas tacos and savory and gigantic carne asada burritos. Forget about getting decent fish tacos...

                        In Gaithersburg, there is a hole in the wall place called Pepitos which is also a bakery. Decent tacos and burritos, but compared to LA, it is middle of the road... There's El Tapatio 2 in Gaithersburg, and yes its just plain average. Their carnitas were lifeless, unspiced, and just plain jane. On the Washingtonian, next to a gas station is a little liqour store that also serves Mexican food - Taco Bar. They have decent suadero (rib meat) and chorizo tacos, and terrific pozoles - maybe as close to your LA taste as I can find. Riverdale / Bladensburg area joints were also just average...

                        1. Having lived in San Diego and San Francisco, then moving to Germany of all places, then here, I feel novice's pain in not being able to get good Mexican. While DC is an improvement over Germany (they've been known to but anything from zucchini to carrots to green peas in their burritos), it's not going to match SD (let me know if you find a good fish taco around here with the cabbage and crema sauce), or the SF burrito parlors. That being said, I've found a good place that I love albeit totally different from SD or SF, and that's Guajillo in Rosslyn (on Wilson Blvd). You've gotten some good recs for some taco truck style places, but Guajillo is a full blown sit-down restaurant with a bar (awesome sangria btw). Like I said it's different, but the ingredients are fresh, like the chips and salsa on the table, and their carnitas are awesome. Highly, highly recommend it.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: mjhals

                            Gaujillo's is ok for what it is. Still, a very limited menu and the prices will shock an Angeleno. The people who own this also run Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan, which has a more interesting menu, but I've never been.

                            1. re: mjhals

                              First, mention of burritos in the same breath as "authentic" Mexican just dilutes any other argument that might be there.

                              Beyond that - for a fish taco, if you're not looking for Baja style, then try Teocalli in Herndon. They put the cabbage on, but no crema (not sure what style this is, to be honest).

                              That brings me to the biggest point which is already in this thread: Mexico is a big country with many variants. Localizations within the US is going to alter whatever the original source was. So, SD Mexican is just that. Probably mostly Baja style with a bit of SD flavor thrown in.

                              I do understand the general pain some are feeling - and it's warranted that what's offered in plenty in other places is thin here. However, there are many great options that are being overlooked.

                              It does make me wonder - if a Texan moves to San Diego - do they grieve the same? If not, how is the grief different? My guess is that's it's a lesser grief, but along the same line.

                            2. "authentic, hole in the wall Mexican in the Bethesda/Rockville or surrounding areas"

                              Unfortunately, years of Chowhound wisdom and scouting have produced nothing of the sort. My guess is for good reason, no Mexicans.

                              Closest possibilities:
                              Riverdale area of PG County, across the Anacostia River. I have been to La Serenita and Los Tres Reyes and thought very little of them.. El Tapatio is supposed to be the best of the lot, but I haven't been. That should be your first stop.

                              The only great tacos I've found are the goat or chorizo tacos at TECC in Arlington.

                              One hole-in-the-wall which is exactly as you would find it in LA is Guadalejara Tacos y Tortas on U.S. 1 South of Alexandria, VA. The place and the menu look LA. The only good thing I've had there is the huarache con birria. So if you are in the mood to visit Mt Vernon, or are looking for an excuse to visit Mt. Vernon, that is what I would suggest.

                              1. I understand your plight. I am a native Angeleno and have been looking for a long time.

                                For my money, El Ranchero or El Caminante Charrito (both) in Arlington come closest to tasting like the Mexican food in LA. There is some decent Tex-Mex around here -- and that's fine. It's just not LA.

                                Good luck in your search.

                                1. Lots of data, but what are you gonna eat? Best bet is to just go out and try different places. Since I get down to the DF at least once a year, I no longer fret too much about "the most authentic" Mexican. God knows there isn't an "authentic" Mexican joint anywhere.

                                  An understanding of what you think "authentic" Mexican would be helpful. Places in L.A. that you think are stellar. I go to L.A. on occasion and have enjoyed delicious meals from the common torta joint in Woodland Hills to Babita, La Casita, Loteria Grill, El Taurino, Taco King and Monte Alban. All great places that have delicious flavors.

                                  From there, it's easier to direct you towards places that might be more suited to your palate. I've done the Riverside tour and found some decent food there. Not the best pozole or tacos, but some decent food. Oyamel is well executed but falls short when compared to places like El Bajio or the husband and wife selling chicarrones tacos in front of the Crowne Plaza in Mexico City.

                                  In DC, I've found some nice mole at Casa Oaxaca in Adams Morgan and Taqueria Nacionale by the train station is pretty darn good too.

                                  1. I lived in SoCal for 4 years. I have found no LA/SD/"Inland Empire" Mexican in DC. I miss my tacos ...

                                    1. I came from San Diego and haven't really discovered anything. For Tex Mex there is Taqueria Poblano in Del Ray, Alexandria and I think they have another location in Arlington. This place reminds me of some of the places I frequented in San Diego: